Mid-Size Jurisdictions Accelerate Cloud Adoption

Lessons from the COVID-19 response push cities and counties toward a multicloud future.

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Compared to the nation’s largest metro areas, mid-size cities and counties have been slower to adopt cloud. That’s changing now.

For a number of reasons, many of these communities have stood on the sidelines. Some were waiting to see how well cloud solutions worked for larger jurisdictions. Some lacked resources to undertake cloud migration. Some simply thought they didn’t have enough servers and other onsite IT equipment to justify the move.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exploded that kind of thinking,” says Phil Bertolini, co-executive director of the Center for Digital Government.

Starting last March, governments of all sizes needed to support legions of newly remote employees and begin offering virtual versions of government services that traditionally are delivered face to face. For IT teams, this brought the additional challenge of managing onsite data center equipment remotely.

“With all this happening, cloud starts to make more sense,” Bertolini says. “Cities and counties that haven’t started with cloud no longer have the luxury of waiting. And jurisdictions that already have started will go faster.”

The Center for Digital Government recently analyzed data from the 2020 Digital Cities and Counties Surveys to assess cloud adoption in mid-size jurisdictions. The data points toward increasing deployment of cloud solutions in these communities throughout 2021.

Mid-size counties ranked cloud computing as a top-10 technology priority over the next 12 to 18 months. Cloud fell just out of the top 10 for cities, which may indicate that cities responding to the survey already have a significant number of cloud solutions in place. But there are plenty of other indicators that cloud use among mid-size jurisdictions will expand. For example, cities and counties both ranked budget and cost control as their number-two priority — trailing only cybersecurity — and many will investigate how cloud can reduce upfront capital expenses for urgently needed IT modernization.

In addition, disaster recovery — which increasingly involves cloud-based software and data storage — was ranked fourth by cities and counties. Disaster recovery is getting more attention from these jurisdictions as an antidote for ransomware attacks, which often target government agencies. Enhanced disaster recovery in the cloud can give mid-size cities and counties the ability to recover their data and systems faster after an attack and avoid paying a ransom to cyber crooks.

Many also are adopting cloud to support a permanent shift toward remote work. The survey response from one top-finishing city shows how these jurisdictions are looking at cloud to improve mobile access to data and resources.

“Our workforce has the need to be more mobile than in years past. Our legacy applications may provide mobility but are limited in their functionality or devices that can be used,” wrote the city. “As we upgrade our applications, we are looking to a SaaS model first … to address the mobility needs. Our existing systems are not as adaptable as newer systems and do not provide the API interfaces or the integration opportunities that modern systems provide.”

Planning for Multicloud

Growing cloud interest also is reflected in enterprise IT plans for 2021. For both cities and counties, the data shows strong movement toward hybrid and multicloud computing environments.

Among city respondents, 48 percent intend to launch or expand efforts to consolidate existing data centers. In addition, 56 percent of cities say they’ll adopt or expand hybrid cloud management solutions, and 43 percent say they’ll implement or improve standard processes for migrating to the cloud.

The trends are similar for counties, with about a quarter of respondents anticipating new efforts to consolidate existing data centers and about half of respondents planning to expand their use of hybrid cloud management tools and standard cloud migration processes.

“What these jurisdictions are saying is hybrid and multicloud will be the norm,” Bertolini says. “When you think about cloud migration, you may have some data you’ll put in the commercial cloud and maybe other classified data you’ll move to a government cloud. That’s why migration strategy is so important — it can get very expensive if you move your data once and then have to move it again because of security compliance issues.”

The survey submission from one top finisher in the 2020 Digital Counties Survey explains why jurisdictions are moving toward a multicloud approach:

“The use of a multiplicity of cloud offerings as a preferred option (unless proven otherwise) will enable the county to rapidly evolve to more modern, continuously updated, secure systems that are supported by mission-critical vendor partners, allowing IT staff to focus on business process evaluation and reengineering and applying appropriate solutions and innovation.”

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Top Cloud Targets

Our analysis of the Digital Cities and Counties Survey data also shows which systems mid-size jurisdictions are most interested in moving to the cloud. ERP and GIS are top targets for both cities and counties.

Bertolini says these systems often represent the biggest computing load for local government data centers and the heaviest management and maintenance burden for IT staff. They make a natural target for migration as local governments look to offload equipment expenses and redeploy staff resources.

“These are big systems that require big computing power, and they often require elasticity to handle spikes in workloads,” says Bertolini. “The best way to get big computing power and elasticity is to be in the cloud.”

Other cloud migration targets for mid-size cities and counties include application development and testing, as well as systems supporting law enforcement and health and human services.

Overall, mid-size jurisdictions see a big opportunity to put many of their systems and applications in the cloud. Almost 35 percent of city respondents say more than half of their systems ultimately can live in the cloud. Another 21 percent believe somewhere between 40 and 50 percent of their systems can be cloud-based.

County respondents were even more optimistic, with slightly more than 40 percent saying more than half of their systems can migrate to the cloud. Another 26 percent put the number between 40 and 50 percent.

But there’s still a significant difference between those projections and the current reality. Most city and county respondents have 20 percent or less of their systems in the cloud today, according to the data. Bertolini expects that gap to close quickly over the next several years.

“The mindset has shifted and cloud adoption is going to accelerate. You can see it in the numbers,” Bertolini says. “Jurisdictions already knew that a good chunk of their systems could go in the cloud. But now they know they need to get there faster.”

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This article was prepared by the Government Technology Content Studio, which is editorially independent of both the sponsor and the Government Technology editorial staff, who were not involved in producing the story.