3 myths about moving to the cloud and how to think about them

When the federal government issued its “Cloud First” policy more than a decade ago, the hype of virtualized infrastructure were promising a path forward for agencies to migrate to a safer, more secure, and more economical IT operating environment.

Over the last 10 years, as agencies threw themselves into cloud modernization projects, three myths evolved that continue to weigh down assumptions about moving to the cloud. While agencies have come a long way in understanding what’s required in setting up cloud services, understanding these myths is essential to the long-term success of any cloud initiative.

Myth 1: Cloud is cheaper

One of the biggest myths surrounding cloud migrations is that they are all, somehow cheaper and result in immediate cost savings.

Looking at the totality of the operation, agencies end up spending more because they are doing more with the cloud, taking advantage of opportunities to use a lot of functionality. These costs can be offset by new efficiencies.

Myth 2: Cloud is easy

For years, agencies have been sold on the myth that moving to the cloud is going to simplify IT — and lead to a single pane of glass to manage an entire IT environment.

The reality is, it’s just too complex in most use cases, especially in a multi cloud environment.
Many agencies turn to SaaS (software-as-a-service) tools and other cloud platforms to speed up modernization without having to invest right away in cleaning up the entire back end.

The reality is that it’s a lot more complex on the architecture side and the policy side. Traditional network folks have spent their careers trying to keep the cloud out or keep things from leaving the environment. It’s a challenge for policy folks who have to work through good security strategies to accept the transfer of data.

The good news is that cloud technologies have evolved significantly over just the last few years in terms of inherent cybersecurity capabilities, inherent openness, and agility and scalability.

There’s no lack of very good, scalable, agile technology that the government can use but it’s not a one stop shop, and it’s not out of the box.

The key is to get into conversations with vendor partners or integrator partners and figure out what works best in terms of the technology.

Myth 3: You’re the only agency facing a talent shortage

The IT talent shortage is all too real with all organizations going through the challenges of finding enough skilled workers.

But fresh talent doesn’t only exist outside an organization. Leadership cannot forget about the upskilling of existing talent. There are a lot of people in the federal government and other state and local governments who want to be doing public service and they’ve been doing it for a long time.

Summarized from fedscoop.com

Transitioning to Digital Service Delivery Starts with Identifying Citizen Needs

State and local agencies must identify the core areas that need the most significant push to digital service and then commit to creating initiatives that support modernization.

Citizens’ interactions with government have evolved immensely at all levels in the past year. The coronavirus pandemic exposed the fragility of critical government service delivery systems and the aging technology behind them.

At the onset of the pandemic, state and local governments needed modern solutions that gave government workers the right tools to maintain service delivery at a time when citizens depended on their governments most. Now, a year and a half into the pandemic, citizen needs are still continuously evolving.

On the Road to Modernization

According to recent research from MeriTalk, only 34 percent of state and local leaders were very satisfied with their organization’s ability to meet citizens’ digital service needs during the pandemic, and 82 percent agree that public services need to become intrinsically digital.

Some organizations are making progress, and the majority say the pandemic has accelerated digital government in state and local organizations by three years or more.

New Technology Solutions to Old Government Problems

To move forward, state and local organizations must use this moment as a springboard for digital action in various areas. Systems that can benefit most from digitization include healthcare, public records, social benefits administration, and tax processing.

State and local agencies must identify the core areas that need the most significant push to digital service and then commit to creating initiatives that support modernization including investing in new solutions.

Further, investing in a right-sized and efficient storage system like application containers for government can help provide a higher level of citizen services. Solutions delivered via an “as a service” model offer flexibility and agility while maintaining costs and allowing agencies to scale up or down without massive disruption.

Looking to the Future of Government Service Delivery

To adapt and continue to innovate in citizen services, state and local leaders must focus on building on the momentum of modernization while continuing to invest in scalable technologies like cloud computing and other flexible solutions with focus on digital delivery goals via electronic forms, mobile applications and digital processes.

By bringing users to the center of the digital experience, state and local governments can evolve services with citizens’ changing needs. In the current digital age, citizens expect to transact anytime, anywhere. They increasingly expect the same from their state and local governments.

Summarized from statetechmagazine.com

How state and local governments can prepare for ransomware

Over the past few months, ransomware attacks abounded. Agencies faced a barrage of malicious cyberattacks and often had fewer resources for protecting themselves. With the federal government preoccupied with the fallout from SolarWinds, state and local officials were oftentimes forced to defend their systems on their own when an attack finally occurred.

Because state and local organizations are especially vulnerable to the challenges in cyberspace, they need tailored guidance if they want to become more cyber-secure.

The primary recommendation is to increase state and local government resources for personnel and funding. States spend less than 3% of their IT budgets on cybersecurity, according to a 2020 report from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, and only 36% of states have dedicated cybersecurity appropriations. With cyberattacks costing states anywhere from $665,000 to $40.53 million in recovery costs, most current cyber budgets are simply insufficient in today’s digital age.

Luckily, state and local governments can bolster their cybersecurity knowledge by setting up systems that draw upon resources from the private sector with several states having begun creating volunteer programs to help strengthen their cyber capacity. Having commercial cybersecurity aid for sharing knowledge and tools between state and local workers — before a potential cyberattack — can drastically improve existing protocols.

Officials at state and local government should also establish a cyberattack response plan and a planning framework. Making each section of the plan as detailed as possible can increase cybersecurity capabilities for prevention and response in manageable, incremental steps.

Educating state and local organizations to establish better contingency planning structures, by following best practices based on past experiences, can make the challenges ahead more manageable.

Summarized from StateScoop

How Zoom enables agencies to reimagine government services

One of the silver linings emerging from the pandemic for state and local governments was that officials began to reimagine how to use video communications to engage with and deliver services to the public.

The inability to conduct business in person fundamentally disrupted agencies’ ability to achieve their missions. Government employees had to find alternative ways to work together even as they confronted the reality of working apart from one another.

Working for or with the government also required a different set of security protocols, which the Zoom for Government platform was designed to adhere to, enabling government employees to safely deploy specific applications necessary for their job function and protect the exchange of crucial data.

When the pandemic occurred, agencies not only adapted quickly to Zoom’s collaboration platform, but they also used the platform as a catalyst for innovation that can foster greater engagement between state and local governments and their citizens.

Expanding citizen engagement

Many government agencies discovered that public hearings held virtually on Zoom reduced barriers to participation by facilitating better engagement, expanding attendance, and giving council members access to a wider range of views.

Video communications can also help increase access to justice. During COVID-19 restrictions, courts at every level discovered that Zoom not only provided an effective way to conduct hearings, but also made it easier for constituents to attend hearings.

Empowering public workers

Zoom’s platform provided employees with greater communications options to contact and collaborate with one another, empowering workers to use whichever device works best for them or is best suited to the situation.

With Zoom Phone, for instance, agencies can also benefit from a variety of productivity and security features, such as the ability to support customers in an environment that supports HIPAA compliance. Zoom also helped public officials communicate timely information to entire communities, making announcements about school openings and vaccinations or conducting live and recorded meetings on public policy positions.

Another example of Zoom enabling agency leaders to reimagine their operations could be seen in their expanded vision for recruiting personnel from a wider circle of talent.

These and other examples represent more than stop-gap measures by government agencies to deliver services when meeting in person suddenly wasn’t an option. They offered a glimpse of what government services and citizen engagement can look like now — and how public agencies might build on those innovations in the future.

Summarized from StateScoop

How Federal Investment in Quantum Computing Affects State, Local Gov

Experts in quantum computing say the federal government’s continued support of the emerging technology will have implications for state and local government entities, particularly as it applies to economic development.

As the federal government continues to invest in the research and development of quantum computing, the time is nearing when state and local governments will have a role to play.

Quantum computing is a major emerging technology which can be used to solve complex problems far faster than traditional computing. George Thomas of the regional Potomac Quantum Innovation Center called the leap from traditional computing to quantum computing greater than the leap between traditional computing and the abacus.

The continued support of and progress for quantum computing at the federal level now means it has come time for other levels of government to prepare for the new tech. Some state governments are already laying groundwork for quantum computing, particularly in the area of economic development.

A handful of states — California, Illinois, Maryland and Virginia among them — are preparing for a quantum future, doing so by trying to ensure their region can be part of the market for companies researching and ultimately selling the technology. This can position states and the cities within them to benefit from quantum economically, bringing tax revenue and new jobs to the jurisdictions.

Quantum computing methods are situated to essentially obliterate traditional cryptography — as well as more mundane and grounded problem-solving activities, because quantum computing’s advanced speed means it provides a range of potential answers giving it the potential to improve supply chain challenges, logistics, scheduling and more.

The Trump administration put roughly $2 billion into private quantum research while Biden has demonstrated a similar commitment via support of legislation that would invest more than $100 billion in advancing a group of emerging technologies that includes quantum.

At this early stage it remains unclear exactly how quantum will develop, how it will be connected with users, and the exact ways lower-level government agencies will interact with quantum.

Still, the excitement around the potential for quantum — both in helping government become more efficient and in bolstering local economies — is growing, and it’s something that bears attention from state and local leadership.

Summarized from GovTech

Smart City Technology Improves Community Safety Efforts in 2021 and Beyond

Cities are a living ecosystem with constantly evolving needs. 2020 was a clear example when the coronavirus pandemic challenged national, state and city government leaders around the world.

Since then, cities and municipalities have dramatically changed day-to-day operations, shifted priorities, and reoriented strategic planning to help communities stay safe and connected.

Many cities depleted their budgets handling the COVID-19 emergency. Despite this, cities will face pressure to create jobs and continue providing reliable city services at an optimized cost.

City governments will build their 2021–2022 strategies based on which community challenges will be most urgent to address in a post-pandemic world. One critical area to focus on over the next few years is community safety.

Ensuring the safety of their populations was a top priority for city governments over the past 12 months. Besides the global impact of COVID-19 on regular operations, the U.S. also experienced the worst hurricane season on record and record-breaking wildfires in California.

2020 also saw an increase in civil unrest all across the globe. For city managers, these issues are similar in terms of the risk they present to their communities and the impact on daily life.

Streetlights Lay the Groundwork for Smart City Innovations

Many city governments have reallocated budgets to solve safety-related issues over the past year, cutting operational costs by focusing early smart city initiatives on projects that have near-immediate time to value.

For example, for many cities, smart street lighting has been the first step in transitioning into a smart city by improving citizen safety while decreasing electricity bills and freeing up millions of dollars to be used to address more time- and resource-intensive projects.

By deploying an anchor application, such as smart street lighting, city governments build an underlying communication infrastructure that can power the next set of smart city use cases.

By starting broader digital transformation initiatives with high-impact, low-risk smart city projects such as smart lightning, cities can lock in immediate return on investment while laying a foundation that encourages continuous innovation and accommodates various applications and use cases, including public safety.

Safety Will Remain a Key Concern for Cities

As safety takes center stage, privacy protection has become fundamental to ensure the security of connected smart city projects. Municipal leaders will increasingly rely on smart city technology powered by newly enabled Internet of Things (IoT) infrastructure and correlated sensor data to identify and act on public safety threats.

Beyond smart street lighting, smart city applications will help city governments immediately identify public safety threats, including riots, natural disasters, gas leaks and even pandemic hot spots.

Sensors Can Help Detect Public Safety Issues

Hurricanes, storms, floods, tornadoes, drought, wildfires and other natural disasters are becoming more frequent, intense, and costly. Smart sensors and advanced analytics can help communities better predict, prepare, and respond to these emergency situations.

By using sensors in tandem with predictive analytics, city governments can detect issues and drive outcomes during and after natural disasters. These include:

  • Detecting leaks and remotely shutting off water lines
  • Detecting if a pole is down to prevent safety risks and promote a quicker recovery effort
  • Pushing out alerts to communicate quickly with citizens, providing the most up-to-date information to ensure their safety
  • Using intelligent evacuation planning to best direct traffic and get people out of harm’s way

Cities and utility companies can use remote-disconnect devices and line and fault sensors to acquire much-needed intelligence and send repair crews with the equipment needed to restore service quickly.

How Will Smart City Tech Help Continue to Improve Safety?

Public safety has become a top priority for communities worldwide, and identifying threats quickly to ensure a rapid response is essential to mitigating risk.

To address this need, many cities are investing in technology to deliver critical infrastructure and services. With access to smart city technology, municipalities can unlock value for their communities and lay a foundation for future use cases.

As cities, municipalities and utilities look to further improve their services and their citizens’ safety during these unprecedented times, smart city technology will become more important to better prepare for and react to the next safety hazard.

 

Summarized from StateTech

Promoting Trustworthy AI in Government

President Joe Biden’s decision to elevate the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy to a Cabinet-level position underscores the importance of artificial intelligence (AI) in America’s future. Unlocking AI’s potential will be done with a focus on racial and gender equity. Technologies like AI “reveal and reflect even more about the complex and sometimes dangerous social architecture that lies beneath the scientific progress that we pursue.”

There’s no doubt that ethics must be foundational to the design, development, and acquisition of AI capabilities, and that government agencies should embed trustworthy AI as part of a holistic strategy to transform the way government operates.

Agency leaders can start by identifying areas where AI can transform internal operations and improve their public-facing mission services with minimal risk of bias. In championing the ethical use of AI, leadership must not only ask, can we do this, but should we do this and how can we do this in a way that promotes equity.

Building Trust

Many government agencies have begun adopting AI with an emphasis on building trust. Lack of trust in AI and the potential for racial bias can be serious barriers to AI initiatives. Government agencies can address these challenges with a focus on six key disciplines:

  • AI applications and data should be tested for fairness and impartiality, especially against systemic racial and gender biases.
  • Decisions made by AI algorithms should be transparent, explainable, and open to public inspection.
  • Organizational structures and policies should be in place to hold leaders responsible and accountable for decisions made using AI.
  • The systems themselves should be robust and reliable enough to produce consistent decisions.
  • AI systems should be safe and secure from cyber risks that may lead to loss of trust or physical harm.
  • The use of AI should be respectful of privacy and limited to its intended and stated use.

How Government Agencies Can Respond

  • Identify ways AI can transform operations and improve public services by first taking an inventory of AI readiness and then exploring opportunities to improve public-facing services and streamlining business processes in a way that puts ethics at the very core
  • Invest in developing and attracting AI talent through training that includes how to navigate the inherent potential for bias in AI technology while building employees’ trust in AI.
  • Develop a governance model with an emphasis on safe, reliable, and ethical AI by appointing leaders with responsibility for ensuring that AI practices treat citizens fairly and provide equal access to government services.
  • AI is a powerful force, and agency leaders can cultivate trust in it by proactively addressing racial and gender inequities that may arise from deploying AI technology.

Summarized from govtech.com

New Internet of Things Capabilities Will Come Online as 5G Becomes More Available

The concept of a smart city invokes specific imagery in peoples’ minds, from the  cartoon The Jetsons to the future portrayed in the Blade Runner franchise. Although there are no flying cars or glass tubes funneling people to work, the reality is that smart cities are already here, operating behind the scenes in surprisingly practical yet valuable ways.

Smart cities use advancements in digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), to improve the quality of life of their residents, save energy, and reduce emissions.

And as 5G wireless networks become more widely available and sophisticated, everything running on IoT connections, from vehicles, public transportation, water, and traffic management; public safety, and green technologies will experience massive innovations.

5G Will Improve Smart Transportation Systems

When equipped with 5G, autonomous and connected vehicles will become safer and more commonplace. Through 5G communication, artificial intelligence will have the power to make split-second decisions on roads and intersections. Smart cities also plan to build connected vehicle grids so autonomous vehicles can “talk” with each other and receive instructions to avoid congested areas and prevent accidents.

Connected vehicles using 5G have the potential to benefit the environment through reduced personal vehicle ownership and reliance on smaller electric motors, cutting down the use of fossil fuels.

Public transportation can also benefit from 5G networks via real-time and end-to-end visibility. Residents reliant on buses, subways, and light rails will get where they need to go faster and more safely through “journey-level intelligence” and fleet monitoring. Also, their overall travel experience will improve through advanced Wi-Fi connectivity and onboard communications, along with secure fare collection and mobile ticketing.

Smart Water and Traffic Infrastructure Gains from 5G

Smart cities will use smart water monitoring devices powered by 5G to track and detect leaks so that water departments can fix a problem right away. Beyond monitoring for leaks, smart cities can use sensors installed along riverbanks to watch for flooding with an increase in the accuracy and speed at which floods get predicted.

Often, traffic issues, such as poorly timed lights, are due to transportation agencies relying on outdated schedules and technology. By strategically placing 5G-connected technology at a central location, operating on an AI system, management can send and receive information concerning traffic patterns in real time. The AI system can notify traffic lights to adjust timing and eliminate unnecessary stops to allow for the uninterrupted flow of traffic.

5G Can Help Cites Make Residents Safer

Smart cities are using 5G to bolster the safety of their residents by addressing goals including earthquake warning and damage assessment, flood rescue, and homelessness data modeling.

Similarly, smart cities can use 5G capabilities to produce an alert system that notifies the cellphones of pedestrians if a dangerous or suspicious vehicle is approaching or even the origin of gunshots.

Several smart cities have different apps enabling residents to report potholes and problems with city infrastructure and communicate with city officials. The effectiveness of these apps and software will only grow with future 5G developments.

5G Enables Green Technology for a Cleaner Environment

The last foundational aspect of any smart city is its commitment to saving energy and reducing emissions. As 5G rolls out, there will be a direct increase in green tech applications.

5G will help smart cities and smart buildings move toward net-zero emissions and reduced energy consumption.

5G supports the management and automation of green technology such as solar panels, precision agriculture, and street lighting.

Smart cities also plan on using 5G through sensors to monitor air quality, sound pollution, and public trash bin levels.

Smart cities using green technologies have produced impressive results, including 10 to 15 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, 30 to 130 fewer kilograms of solid waste per person per year, and 25 to 80 liters of water saved per person per year.

Summarized from StateTech.com

Tips for Migrating State and Local Government Agencies to the Cloud

The coronavirus pandemic has changed how state and local governments do business, accelerating the need to move to cloud computing. The unseen reality of many government agencies operating in exile has shown the limitations of on-premises servers and data storage

By providing software and Infrastructure as a service, the cloud offers regular updates, transparent maintenance, and a high level of security. Technological environments, such as Microsoft’s Office 365 Government Computing Cloud, provide features and enhancements tailored for public agency users.

Migrating state, county, and municipal departments and their users to the cloud presents unique challenges compared with private sector transitions. Following are some tips for designing and implementing a successful governmental migration.

Plan, Prepare and Repeat for a Seamless Cloud Migration

No two migrations are ever alike and nothing wrecks a migration faster or more thoroughly than overconfidence, making it important to plan carefully and thoroughly.

Key questions include:

  • What will the journey be like for users when they stop using the source?
  • When will they start using the destination?
  • How can the journey be made with minimal to no disruption?
  • How will data be created in the destination?
  • Prepare for and plan to deal with legacy infrastructure,obscure apps that perform critical functions that were built by companies no longer in business.

Test with the Toughest Customers

Avoid the temptation to skimp on real-world testing, especially within government ecosystems. Run alpha and beta pilots to get a perspective on performance and to understand the dependencies of legacy systems.

Also, be sure to pilot with the loudest, most thin-skinned users — If you can make them happy, you have an excellent chance of acing the migration.

Manage Change and Avoid Trouble with Communication and Training

You can move all the data without incident and set up all the apps correctly and think you’re on the way to celebrating another success. But if on day one your help desk is inundated with calls from people asking, “What do I do now?” then you’ve failed on the organizational change side of the equation.

One major challenge is that rolling out sweeping changes to systems and coordinating user training tends to be more difficult in the state and municipal government space than with large or tech-savvy companies.

Clear communication and easy-to-understand training are the keys to enhancing comfort with and acceptance of the migration. Users need to know:

  • Why is the migration taking place?
  • What will be the future state and why is it better?
  • When will the change happen?
  • What disruption, if any, will the migration create in workflow?
  • How can they learn to use the new technology effectively?

Begin with Post-Migration in Mind

The best way to manage post-migration issues is to prepare for them at the beginning of the project. If users move seamlessly within the same systems with identical versions, then you have an advantage. However, if you’re moving from, say, Exchange 2010 and Outlook 2013 to Office Pro Plus and Office 365, you’ll need a plan to deal with the post-migration calls. Build your plan with contingencies, options and deep respect for the human factor, and you’ll greatly improve your chances of completing a successful migration.

Summarized from StateTech.com

Reducing Cyber Risk in Local Government with the Cloud

Don’t stress over modernization. Aging tools and unsound practices that make local governments more vulnerable to cyber events pose a greater challenge.

As local governments prepare for a post-COVID environment, they cannot ignore the cost, speed, and agility advantages of the cloud.

There is an innate resistance to relying on cloud technologies that host critical data off-site. Stakeholders must be persuaded and employees must learn new skills. But with cyber risks rising, government technology leaders need to think about moving some workloads to the cloud.

A CDG survey of technology leaders found that 61 percent of respondents faced increased cyber threats since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A scant three percent of respondents were “very confident” in their ability to respond to cybersecurity risks.

The respondents’ top three challenges were aging, vulnerable technologies; lack of proper employee training; and low budget prioritization of cybersecurity. Human error was the most common cyber risk, followed by social engineering events (which take advantage of people’s bad habits), and compromised accounts/credentials.

These data points highlight the pervasiveness of cyber threats and the difficulties mid-sized governments face in confronting them.

Strengthening security in local governments starts with keeping critical applications available in a cyber event or a public emergency (like a natural disaster).

Cloud services promise speed, flexibility, and economy when deployed strategically. During the pandemic, local governments started using streaming applications to enable work-from-home capability. These apps were written to provide the same security as a virtual private network (VPN) on any device without the hassles of implementing VPN.

This level of speed and flexibility requires local governments to shift their perspective away from controlling everything in their IT sphere. The pandemic made agencies cede some of their control to cloud providers and software as a service (SaaS) companies, giving governments the freedom to try new things quickly in an emergency.

Local governments also are using low or no-code applications, serverless infrastructures, and other automated solutions to reduce the potential for human error,

But automation doesn’t fix everything. Local governments need to teach people to adopt secure practices. Training people to watch out for phishing and other forms of cyber threats is a good start. Local governments also can create systems encouraging people to adopt safer practices, rewarding them for good behavior rather than punishing missteps. Agencies can also talk to their cloud provider about simple-to-implement security tools.

Ultimately, improving security in a time of limited budgets and increasing threats comes down to persuading government leaders to adopt new ways of thinking about people, processes, and technologies.

Summarized from govtech.com