If you watch any television at all, you’ve probably seen Microsoft’s cloud computing commercial featuring a couple at the airport waiting for their flight. The airline announces a lengthy flight delay, but that’s OK. “To the cloud!” the man says, as he pulls up stored episodes of favorite TV shows on a laptop, and the couple happily kills time until their plane arrives.

The fact that the commercial doesn’t provide much explanation of what it means by “cloud” offers evidence of how pervasive the term has become.

It’s hard to think of a technology that’s received more hype over the past few years than cloud computing. Vendors have tripped over one another in a rush to unveil new offerings and reposition existing services as cloud-based solutions. CIOs and other public officials have made high-profile announcements of large-scale cloud deployments.

But for enterprise users like government agencies, moving to the cloud is more complicated than simply flipping a switch. That’s not to say the approach won’t deliver benefits — it’s most certainly a direction the industry is moving in — just that getting there isn’t painless. Like any other large-scale deployment, moving hundreds or thousands of users to cloud-based applications demands careful attention to change management, IT governance and other bread-and-butter project management issues.

For a taste of what’s involved, check out our story from Contributing Writer Merrill Douglas. She talked to several state and local CIOs who are deploying cloud services and provides a reality check on what to expect.

Also in this issue, Contributing Writer David Raths takes an in-depth look at an area where a growing number of CIOs hope cloud services can lend a hand: Medicaid. At least 10 states are currently grappling with the need to replace their Medicaid Management Information Systems (MMIS), the massive and costly computer systems that handle Medicaid claims processing and reporting. The price tag for replacingthese systems using conventional methods runs somewhere north of $100 million, which is driving some CIOs to look for hosted or shared MMIS solutions.

One of those individuals is Ivan Handler, who recently left his position as CIO of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services to become CTO of the Governor’s Office of Health Information Technology. Handler says he’s pushing traditional MMIS vendors to think outside the box. He’ll be giving a talk on “MMIS and the cloud” at an upcoming Medicaid conference.

So although going “to the cloud” may not be as easy as it looks on TV, it’s a journey more government applications are likely to make as the concept matures.

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  |  Editor

Steve Towns is editor of Government Technology, and executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology,Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market.