Forecast for Digital Government: Partly Cloudy
The adoption of cloud computing has steadily become one of the most significant enablers of innovation in recent years. From providing mobile access to remotely synchronized folders, to delivering on-demand streams of new video releases, the cloud has transformed how consumers interact with their devices in countless ways (often quietly behind the scenes).
Further blurring the line between private and public sector innovation, government agencies are increasingly turning to the cloud for similar technical advantages that translate directly into business value for their enterprises as well.
In fact, IDC predicts that public IT cloud services will see gains at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 26.4 percent—five times that of the IT industry overall between 2012 and 2016. But despite promises of significant gains in agility, scalability, and reliability, most public sector executives commit to extensively crunching the numbers on ROI and addressing security concerns (at both agency and content levels) before taking the plunge into even the most popular cloud service models, including:
- Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), which serves as a virtual cloud-based data center and offers enterprises flexibility via expandable access to back office resources like servers, disk drives, and more.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS), a mid-layer cloud model which offers an IT environment where enterprises can virtually develop, host, and deploy custom applications throughout an organization. For example, CMS leverages hosted instances of Adobe LiveCycle to automate multiple business workflows for health reform implementation and health insurance exchanges (HIX).
- Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions, like Adobe CQ Cloud for Web Experience Management (WEM), provide users with subscription-based access to specific applications while relieving them of traditional software concerns like installation, upgrading, limited local access, and more.
At the 2012 Cloud Computing Association (CCA) conferences for Healthcare and Public Sector, I was invited to join an expert panel featuring Adrian Gardner (CIO, NASA Goddard Flight Center) and Larry Aultman (CIO, Florida Dept. of State) to explore some of the opportunities and challenges that enterprises must consider when evaluating cloud-based solutions.
For starters, executives may instinctively seek to compare the cost of traditional on-premises data center models with that of the cloud. But it may not be as simple as assumed since, unlike cloud models, traditional enterprise data centers incur costs related to capital expenses (like hardware) as well as operational expenses (like electricity and staff). Additionally, Moore’s Law accurately predicts continued improvements in CPU performance and drive storage capacity; thus implying a continual cost savings over time. And due to increasing competition among service providers, a reflection of that savings is becoming more common in IaaS cloud pricing structures. So after due diligence, many enterprises often conclude the overall benefits of the cloud are more appealing than ever.
In practical terms, cloud computing is not a pie-in-the-sky concept reserved exclusively for consumer applications. Instead, many public sector enterprises are realizing benefits of the cloud and its role in Digital Government, showing firsthand that having your head in the clouds is officially no longer a bad thing.