Texas and Alabama Join Microsoft Government Cloud

Cloud wins CJIS approval in Texas; Alabama implements hybrid cloud for HIX and Medicaid eligibility.

by / December 11, 2014

Texas and Alabama have announced they are moving various functions of their state IT operations to Azure Government, Microsoft’s government community cloud platform. 

Texas recently expanded its Criminal Justice Information Security (CJIS) Addendum to include Azure Government to ensure that law enforcement agencies, which require CJIS agreements, can participate in the move to the Microsoft Cloud for Government. 

“Certain workloads don’t need to be fully managed or hosted on-premises, and next-generation capabilities allow our customers to access compute on an as-needed basis to meet their specific requirements,” said Dale Richardson, director of Texas Data Center Services.

Meanwhile, Alabama is deploying a hybrid cloud initiative involving Azure Government to host and manage Alabama Medicaid’s entire Health Information Exchange and CARES system for multiprogram eligibility and enrollment. 

“We’re starting off by deploying software in health and human services, where the challenge is speed to market and trying to keep up,” said Brunson White, Alabama’s secretary of technology. “Alabama has about 4.8 million people, and over one million are on Medicaid. It’s a huge cost. We need the right infrastructure to focus on managing eligibility, enrollment and compliance. It's important that we are able to keep up and deliver excellent services, and equally important that we govern it correctly and make sure that we pay adequate attention to fraud and abuse.”

Moving to the cloud, said White, ensures “we can reduce the cost for the citizens who are paying into the system, and ensure that we’re meeting the health and management needs of those who are benefiting from the system.”

Both states announced their cloud initiatives at Microsoft's Government Cloud Summit in Washington, D.C, this week. At the event, the company announced an expanded suite of cloud offerings tailored specifically for government, including Azure Government and CRM. 

The firm says Microsoft Cloud for Government services meet or exceed public sector security, privacy and compliance standards and include safeguards such as administrative and physical security measures needed to gain Provisional Authority to Operate by the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) Joint Authorization Board. Integrated services such as compute resources, storage, data, networking and applications are hosted in Microsoft data centers located within the U.S. and managed by cleared U.S. personnel. 

Both Texas and Alabama say the fact that Microsoft’s cloud solution meets government data privacy requirements was a key factor in their decisions to go with Microsoft Azure.  

“The rubber meets the road here, in key areas such as compliance with IRS 1075,” said White. “Some agencies also have to deal with FedRAMP or HIPAA or myriad other financial regulations. A lot of the money we spend is federal money with strings tied to it, and we have to comply with all of the federal governments’ security parameters as well. Microsoft's Azure Government deals with all that for us.”

Alabama also established agreements with Microsoft specifically for Office 365 to consolidate all executive-level agencies onto one email service.  

“That sort of consolidation alone is proving to be efficient and cost effective,” said White. “Ten years ago, we were running a dozen different email services here. We’ve since moved it all to one system and to the cloud. I don’t have to worry about hardware and licensing or keeping everything up to date. With Office 365, I’m always compliant.”

White added that state government spends about two percent of their respective budgets on IT, which is among the lowest spending in any industry. 

“Government tends to run a lot of hardware to end of life, which is a bad strategy,” said White. “If we can operationalize everything we do and move away from that model, we can deliver excellence in IT across cycles. It also gives us a better time to deployment. It lets us offload a variety of support and compliance issues that we as an industry can’t prioritize because we don’t have the funds.”

Justine Brown Contributing Writer