The Year in Review: Cloud Computing Expands, CIOs on the Move

A look back at the people and events that shaped 2011.

by / December 1, 2011

Upheaval might best describe 2011. Globally the year will be remembered for the Arab Spring, the Japanese tsunami, the death of Osama bin Laden, the ongoing financial crisis, and, somewhere, the population tipping past the 7 billion mark. In the U.S., presidential politics got into full swing, Steve Jobs’ passing dealt a blow to the technology community, and Occupy Wall Street protests gained momentum in cities around the country.

   In public-sector IT, upheaval was the norm as 2011 saw a significant number of new CIOs, accelerated adoption of cloud computing, and the rise to prominence of the tablet … well, really just the iPad — though Amazon’s Kindle Fire might finally give Apple some real competition.

   In this issue, Government Technology’s traditional year in review, our editorial and design staff recap the year that was. On the following pages you’ll find assessments of the key issues CIOs and public-sector technology professionals faced; a timeline of events; and a few lists showcasing what readers of were most interested in.

    Whether 2011 will be remembered fondly is uncertain, but there is no doubt it was a memorable year. So we invite you to take a few moments and look back. And when you’re done, head to or and share your thoughts about the year.

IT Leaders Do the CIO Shuffle

Longevity isn’t a hallmark of the CIO profession, and it certainly isn’t for IT leaders who work in government. Oftentimes CIOs must spend political capital in order to push through technology projects and policy changes, and with IT departments expected to produce more results with fewer dollars, the job isn’t exactly low stress.

More so than other years, 2011 stood out as a period of dramatic change in the CIO ranks; they seemed to be playing a game of musical chairs. A few factors were at play.

One, an unprecedented number of states had new governors and, consequently, new leadership in state IT offices. So there was major turnover among state CIOs — more than two dozen new faces across the nation.

Two, some CIOs found greener pastures and new opportunities at other levels of government, perhaps signaling that IT executives with previous experience in the public sector have become more valued. For instance, former Illinois CIO Greg Wass decided to stay in Chicago and lead IT in Cook County; longtime South Dakota CIO Otto Doll moved to Minneapolis to lead the city’s IT efforts.

This career mobility wasn’t confined to the state level — former San Francisco CIO Chris Vein joined the Barack Obama administration as the U.S. deputy CTO for innovation. Vivek Kundra, the nation’s first federal CIO, left the post after two years to take a fellowship at Harvard University. Kundra’s successor was Steven VanRoekel, a former managing director of the FCC.

Montgomery County, Md., CIO Steve Emanuel was named CIO of New Jersey in November.

Some CIOs believe this cross-pollination of leadership in federal, state and local government will foster meaningful collaboration that wouldn’t happen otherwise. In 2011, the White House began an initiative to improve the flexibility of rules attached to federal funding of state-administered programs — Medicaid management is a big one — which CIOs are optimistic could result someday in shared computer systems. More states, cities and counties also appear to be working together — or at least engaging in discussions — to share data centers and applications like email. A few local governments are even sharing IT staff with one another.

Working together might be more necessary than ever, given that in 2011, CIOs said their scope of responsibilities widened. They’re working on health benefit exchanges, managing security of smart infrastructure and overseeing contracts for cloud computing products. These agenda items hardly existed three years ago.

With so much on the table at once, no wonder CIOs rarely stick around for long.

— Matt Williams, Associate Editor

Local Governments Seek Relief

Throughout 2011, local CIOs pled with technology vendors to lower their fees to align with municipal budget shortages. With local tax revenue depressed, likely for the long term, CIOs insist that vendors should accept lower profits from local governments as an unavoidable reality. Many of these CIOs are still waiting, however, for large vendors — particularly software providers — to agree and help determine a “new normal” that would satisfy both sides.

CIOs have asked companies to cut ongoing service and maintenance fees, but vendors insist that those fees fund the product upgrades and service quality on which customers rely. Cost-cutting pressure from government is especially frustrating for sales representatives who frequently say they have no control over the charges. Those fees are part of the company’s overall financial strategy, which concerns shareholders and other considerations larger than any single customer.

An alternative suggested by some CIOs is for multiple local governments to share applications, hardware and services regionally. The combined purchasing power, they predict, would result in lower fees and better efficiencies for all involved. It’s not a new idea, and it already can be found in spots around the country. Most governments, however, run their own IT, and vendors incentivize sales representatives around that preference. Given the difficulty of getting governments to share control of IT systems, vendors have been reluctant to create new sales models for such arrangements.  

In 2012, however, a new normal may finally materialize between local governments and vendors. Some analysts believe that dwindling federal stimulus money and continuing reductions in state funding will give local CIOs new motivation to share IT. If that leads to actual commitments to local government collaboration, it could trigger new vendor sales models for accommodating them.

Watch for vendors to use those changes as an occasion to push for revamped contract terms and conditions. Particularly troubling to companies are indemnity clauses that make them financially liable for problems beyond their control and for mistakes made by government customers. Also, expect deeper discussions between vendors and governments about the impact these contracts have on vendor adherence to federal rules, like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. Sales representatives say that better understanding of those restrictions would help CIOs see why companies often can’t change fee structures and sales models as quickly as governments would like.   — Andy Opsahl, Features Editor Community Broadband Loses Ground

The battle between community broadband supporters and big telecommunications providers in the United States intensified in 2011. A variety of measures were passed or made inroads in state legislatures to restrict the ability of municipalities to build and run their own high-speed networks.

Local governments and telecoms have fought over community broadband networks for years. Municipalities want the flexibility to build out high-speed broadband and deliver the service to citizens at a low cost, while the private sector has cried foul, alleging that tax breaks and other issues give local governments unfair advantages as a broadband provider.

— Andy Opsahl, Features Editor

Community Broadband Loses Ground

North Carolina was a prime battleground in the community broadband war over the last several years, with four different bills being presented — and failing — to restrict the creation of new networks. But in 2011, the Level Playing Field/Local Govt. Competition Act was passed and ultimately outlawed new municipal networks in the state.

Arkansas also enacted “barrier to entry” legislation, and similar measures were introduced in Wisconsin and South Carolina. The former was delayed into the future for a final resolution to the community broadband issue, while the latter did not pass.

There were moves, as well, to strengthen local authority over community broadband. Legislation was introduced in 2011 that would have made it easier to build, own and operate municipal broadband networks in Washington,Tennessee and New Hampshire. Those bills were defeated, however.

Christopher Mitchell, director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit economic and community development consulting group, said to the extent that there is momentum for new barriers, it stems from political posturing.

Mitchell contends big cable and telecom companies are using tea party groups as cover to push their monopoly position. “Groups like the misnamed ‘Americans for Prosperity’ get a ton of money from big businesses and show up to rally, suggesting that there is a grass-roots base supporting big cable and telco political positions,” he said.

Jim Baller, president of the Baller Herbst Law Group, a firm that specializes in communications, hesitated to speculate on where community broadband battles would loom in 2012. But he said a new wave of bills was possible.

“As far as 2012 is concerned, the opposition could mount anywhere,” Baller explained. “We saw that in 2005, following the enactment of Pennsylvania’s barrier to entry. We saw legislation proposed coast-to-coast, north-to-south and we have to be prepared for it to happen again.”

— Brian Heaton, Staff Writer

Cloud Computing Gets Real

Last year ended with a flurry of high-profile cloud computing announcements in the public sector. But 2011 was when the rubber really hit the road.

Minnesota, Wyoming and California signaled their intention to adopt cloud-based email and collaboration platforms in late 2010. So did cities like New York and Pittsburgh. This year, early adopters confronted the heavy lifting of establishing government cloud computing on an enterprise scale.

By this fall, a handful of states were moving thousands of users onto cloud-based services. Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead announced in June that 10,000 state workers were using Google Apps, becoming the first state to complete an enterprise rollout of the company’s cloud-based email and productivity suite. Meanwhile, Minnesota began moving agencies onto a hosted Microsoft communications and collaboration platform in October. And Florida expected to begin moving users to a hosted Microsoft platform before the end of 2011.

But the move to the cloud wasn’t always easy. As the year wound down, Los Angeles CTO Randi Levin found herself in the middle of a nasty dispute over the city’s ongoing shift to Google Apps. Los Angeles became the first government entity to adopt Google Apps enterprisewide in 2009, vowing to move 30,000 city employees into the cloud. But difficulties in moving police onto the cloud platform — due to security and privacy concerns — meant that nearly half the city workforce hadn’t transitioned to the new service by mid-2011. In a November letter to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a local consumer group asked the city to “disclose immediately the extent to which Google has failed to comply” with its contractual obligations, claiming the deal amounted to “broken promises and missed deadlines.”

Indeed, even as cloud computing made inroads into the public sector, many public safety officials continued to question the industry’s commitment to delivering cloud solutions that meet the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services requirements and other specialized rules. And an April outage of Amazon’s cloud storage platform — which hobbled a number of commercial websites — reminded everyone of the need for due diligence and backup planning as they move to hosted services.

Still, this was the year government took solid steps toward figuring out cloud-based email and collaboration on an enterprise scale. And everyone will benefit from the lessons learned through these pioneering deployments.

— Steve Towns, Editor

Tablet PCs Take Off

Will 2011 be remembered as the “Year of the Tablet?” If so, the designation is certainly justifiable. It was in early January at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that more than 80 new varieties of tablets were announced. The public’s desire for tablets was further stoked when Apple released the iPad 2 in March. The company sold 2.5 million of them by April. Indeed, 2011 saw an unprecedented level of interest in tablet computers, which culminated with the November launch of Amazon’s Kindle Fire, what many have deemed the iPad’s first true competitor.

But what is it about tablets — the iPad in particular ­­­— that drives people to sell their belongings so they can afford one on launch day? CES CEO Gary Shapiro thinks people are enamored of their potential. “The tablet has phenomenal applications, which will allow businesses to be creative and innovative about how they get their messages to their customers, and also for consumers to access more and more services.” Government, as a primary service provider, is poised to exploit those capabilities, he added. “There’s phenomenal growth opportunity to use technology to provide better service at a lower cost to citizens.”

The boom in tablets is likely part of the evolution of mobile computing. In September, an IDC analysis projected that by 2015, more people will access the Internet on mobile devices than on PCs. Most with even a passing familiarity with mobile computing are sensing a global shift away from stationary computer terminals to devices like tablets, which allow users to do what they want wherever and whenever they choose.

Tablets also began turning up in classrooms. As we reported in March, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is experimenting with using iPads for educational purposes and is winning praise from teachers and students. “The students are much more engaged and interested in the material and because of that, maybe I’m pushing them a bit more and asking more challenging questions,” said CPS teacher Kevin Cram.

But not everything came up roses in 2011 for tablet purveyors. BlackBerry’s much-anticipated PlayBook was a critical and retail disappointment. Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard spent months hyping its TouchPad tablet, launching the device in July, only to discontinue it seven weeks later.

But the future for tablets is bright, and the battle between Amazon’s Kindle Fire and next year’s iPad 3 is poised to be a top tech story of 2012.

— Chad Vander Veen, Associate Editor