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How a Busy Florida Building Department Embraced the Cloud

As more state and local agencies turn to cloud computing for security, efficiency and flexibility, Polk County, Fla., offers a quick lesson about why that choice can be vital. In short, it’s about speed and transparency.

To hear Benjamin Dunn tell it, moving to the cloud is like moving straight into the future.

Dunn is director of the Polk County Building Division in Florida. His experience so far with moving much of the department’s processes to the cloud — work that is among the main connection points between officials and the public — illustrates why agencies are becoming increasingly bullish on the technology.

That attitude, in turn, is helping to drive trends in the supply of government technology.

Dunn told Government Technology that the department handles more than 34,000 permits a year. About 75 percent of them are handled digitally, up from less than 10 percent before the county turned to cloud services from Accela.

That translates into some serious efficiency gains in such a fast growing area as Polk County.

While some people — mostly those who are older — still prefer paper-based processes, the county, via its cloud-based platform, can schedule and offer cancellation of inspections via text, and digitally inform developers and others about inspection progress and tracking, among other tasks, Dunn said.

Florida stands as a hot spot of sorts for Accela and its cloud technology geared toward local governments. The privately held gov tech vendor tells Government Technology via a spokesperson that five Florida cities and counties — Polk County, Tampa, Weston, Charlotte County and Hillsborough County — have migrated to the cloud with Accela.

Florida represents one of the fastest growing states for the company’s cloud technology, with 1.24 percent growth in the past year and 19 percent since 2010, Accela said. Overall, the gov tech supplier has moved more than 33 public agencies to the cloud since 2021, with 16 more governments ready to make the move.

In fact, last year’s 2022 CompTIA Public Technology Institute (PTI) State of City and County IT National Survey found that 36 percent of local IT leaders moved infrastructure to a public cloud over the past year, while 44 percent moved to a private cloud. An additional 32 percent said doing so is an ongoing priority.

Moving to the cloud can provide benefits including the use of unified platforms for digital government services, more cybersecurity protections, more automation and even less need for labor — a meaningful reward for public agencies struggling to attract new talent.

Cloud-based processes can also save significant time. Take the use of custom fields in permitting systems as an example, said Carmen Nieves, Polk County’s permit services and technology supervisor.

The cloud platform now used by the Building Division takes five seconds to save custom fields, down from between 30 seconds to more than a minute, she told Government Technology.

“We continue to enhance every day and find new and better ways of doing things,” she said.
Thad Rueter writes about the business of government technology. He covered local and state governments for newspapers in the Chicago area and Florida, as well as e-commerce, digital payments and related topics for various publications. He lives in Wisconsin.