People have been talking for a while … the government needs to shift to the cloud. There has been discussion on how to minimize risk, handle security concerns, address budget issues, efficiently move into the cloud, and manage the associated applications.

With all of this information available and statistics that encourage making the move, it’s no longer just talk. We’re undoubtedly seeing numerous government agencies begin a complete cloud-based integration for their day-to-day processes. And you know what? They are finding that it’s not that difficult or costly to do so.

Citizens are ready and willing to be more engaged with their local, state, and national government. Government agencies must step up and offer the ability for citizens to engage in an easy and seamless way.

Here are a few ways governments can utilize cloud based technologies to encourage greater citizen engagement and citizen collaboration:

Ditch the old school conversation loop

National and local conversations are happening online, but many politicians haven’t caught up. Plenty of legislators still require citizens to leave a message with their staff, attend a public meeting, or send an email that will likely get lost in the email abyss. With all of the technology that is so easily available today, this is just as much a waste of time and resources for legislators as it is for concerned citizens that want to voice their opinions.

The city of Austin, Texas has figured it out. Speak Up, Austin! has more than 2,000 registered users participating in discussions, sharing policy ideas and commenting on key issues for the area. More than 50 ideas brainstormed by the public are now in action, and 23 have been fully implemented in the city.

With the Web at their fingertips, citizens expect 24/7/365 communication with their governments and representatives. If they have a question, or want to raise an issue, they expect to be able to do it easily from their home, office or mobile device. It not only gives the citizens what they want, but also makes it easier for governments to stay connected and have a better flow of communication with citizens.

Start open government at its core

The U.S. government released an open data policy in May 2013, stating that the new default for government information has to be open and machine readable. So, the new attributes for open data are for it to be public, accessible, reusable, complete, and timely.

Openness, therefore, has become the new mantra in government tech and transparency.

Creating this openness or transparency, however, can be difficult without the right tools and processes. When open government is applied haphazardly, it becomes more of an inconvenience than a resource. If that’s the case, people will continue to find ways to operate outside of the government and there goes any useful citizen collaboration or engagement. Therefore, it is important to find a platform to build trust with citizens by starting open government at its core: the legislative process and public meetings.

For those that have applied open government, the process is generally prioritized by these two things because they create the most opportunity for openness and participation at the root of democracy -- deliberation and policymaking for the public good.

Enable technology that will directly impact policy and decision-making

For this topic, let’s take Sandy as an example. Sandy is the only IT resource on her team in her city. Her days generally consist of software upgrades, managing staff email issues, responding to citizen requests on the website, and fixing network issues that arise.

Now let's say Sandy convinces her team to move to a cloud platform that offers monthly subscriptions. All of the sudden, all of the software upgrades, feature enhancements, security threats, and bug issues are taken care of by an outside vendor and Sandy has ample time to support the team and -- wait for it -- do the things she is truly passionate about that can benefit the entire city.

Cloud applications also allow agencies to store notes and agendas for community meetings (among other things), so they can be accessed from any device, anywhere, by anyone. This allows Sandy’s colleague, John, to travel all over the city and beyond with only a tablet or computer and still have all the information he needs at his fingertips. John can also easily collect and manage all the citizen input from various meetings, online forums and discussions, and surveys.

The result of open government in the cloud is a true and immediately noticeable change. Every government entity can have citizen engagement and collaboration with the right cloud platform and a new way of thinking.

Now is the time. Government must ditch old school communication methods, enable an open, transparent, and efficient government and show citizens they have officially joined the 21st century.

Tom Spengler, CEO of Granicus

Tom Spengler is the CEO and co-founder of Granicus, a cloud applications provider for government.