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California Lt. Governor Wants Cloud and Open Data Policies

Gavin Newsom thinks California should be in the cloud and further embracing a culture of transparency.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – If Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has his way, California will be operating under a “cloud first” technology procurement policy in the near future.

Newsom called on California agencies to embrace an immediate move to the cloud and be a leader in open data and transparency, during his keynote address at the #Innovate conference on Monday, Dec. 2. The lieutenant governor has directed his staff to draft two separate executive orders to assist the California Technology Agency and the office of Gov. Jerry Brown should both offices want to move forward with the proposals.

Although Newsom didn't say he'd sign the orders, it is within his authority do so when Brown is out of the state. He said executive orders are meant to spur the state into action, and added that California has dragged its feet regarding the cloud, lagging behind Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New York and a number of other states in that area.

“We're not seeing the kind of change to make things move,” Newsom said in an interview with Government Technology. “I don't say it as a threat, I mean the fact is there are simple things that don't need to be legislated that can be done at the executive level.”

California has made some strides in moving to the cloud. As a part of the California Technology Agency, Data Center Services (DCS) – formerly known as the California Office of Technology Services – has been working on its own private cloud service called CalCloud. DCS released an invitation for bid on June 27 for a vendor to provide cloud infrastructure and management for the state, which would be overseen by DCS. The service is expected to launch in early 2014.

Newsom, however, isn't convinced that the state is making enough progress and has doubts whether the agency will be successful. He stressed the need for more progressive technology leadership in the state. He told Government Technology that the internal system being used to develop CalCloud was “set up to fail” and “classic big government.”

The lieutenant governor also noted that various state technology projects have failed, been canceled or not met expectations, including the state controller's payroll system and the benefits system of the Employment Development Department.

“I've never failed to be mesmerized by our inability to do things right when it comes to IT,” Newsom said.

In regard to open data, Newsom said what little progress California has made toward transparency has been slowed or stopped under the specter of budget cuts. He stressed that open data doesn't take money, it takes a commitment and leadership. During his tenure as mayor of San Francisco, DataSF – San Francisco's open data analytics portal – was launched with no funding behind it.

Over the past year, Newsom's office and the California State Lands Commission have been working together to prove that point on the state level. The commission contracted with cloud-based to publish budget information on the agency's website, transitioned to a cloud-based email archiving solution, migrated file servers to the California Natural Resources Datacenter virtual environment and is in the midst of transitioning lease databases to a solution that will soon allow citizen access to lease information.

Carlos Ramos
, director of the California Department of Technology and state CIO, was also on hand at #Innovate. He agreed with Newsom that government needs to change its business model. He said California has embraced crowdsourcing technology and open data – albeit in a limited format -- noting that the state received national awards for the California Geoportal. The portal gives users an easy way to research and use GIS datasets of the state.

Ramos had this to say, via email, in reaction to Newsom's remarks at the event: "The Lieutenant Governor laid out some observations which challenge everyone in the public sector to rethink the way we serve constituents," adding that "21st-century consumers leverage technology in all aspects of their daily lives. And they bring those 21st-century expectations to their interactions with government."

Pointing to the state's progress to date on mobility and open data, Ramos also cited the CalCloud project as evidence of California's growing presence in the cloud. But concerns including data security and infrastructure reliability remain barriers to overcome before the state can "plunge full tilt into the public cloud."

"We need to figure out new models for everything from contracting, procurement, accountability, transparency, licensing and funding," Ramos said. "One thing is certain however, California is well on its way to a 21st-century government."

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.