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2020 Vision on the Cloud: Tech Rises to the Occasion

The changes wrought by the pandemic have underscored the need for creative, flexible leaders who expect the same from their technology. So perhaps it isn’t surprising that as-a-service technologies have met this moment.

It seems like a lifetime ago, fall 2019, when we decided to devote the September 2020 issue of this magazine to an examination of cloud technologies and their adoption in state and local government. We’re fortunate in so many ways to work in print journalism, a realization we on the GT editorial staff strive never to take for granted. But one of the greatest challenges of working ahead is projecting into the future, trying to predict what issues might be salient for readers in the coming months and years.  

Every aspect of modern life has been upended by the global pandemic and few could have predicted the scale of the changes it has wrought. Interestingly, though, those changes have underscored the need for creative, flexible leaders who expect the same from their technology.

Anecdotally, the tech teams that pivoted most quickly to new service delivery models had some tools in place that they could build upon when the pandemic hit. As-a-service technologies played a significant role in that, especially as security concerns that dogged cloud solutions in early years have abated. Evidence of the cloud’s prominence abounds in our news coverage of government response efforts over the past few months.  

Many, if not most, states used cloud technologies to increase the capacity of their unemployment systems to handle massive surges in applications created by pandemic-related job loss. Rhode Island, for example, duplicated its unemployment system in the cloud, enabling new claims to then feed into its legacy mainframe system during off hours. A new cloud-based call center, a tool used by many states, also helped officials better track call volume. “This new generation of cloud-based computing is really, really suited to the kind of work we do,” said Scott Jensen, director of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training, in April.

The Maryland IT Department teamed with the Department of Commerce to meet another COVID-19-related need: distributing CARES Act grant money to struggling small businesses. The project built on a years-long effort for a robust online OneStop portal, hosted in the cloud. Built with capacity to expand and adapt to future needs, the state and its partners made quick work of adding the new functionality. Read more about their journey here

Survey data backs up the fact that the adaptability inherent in many cloud solutions has made them essential during the pandemic. Further, it demonstrates that COVID-19 response efforts are changing minds about the cloud, inside and outside the CIO’s office. A broad-based survey from The Harris Poll in May revealed that nearly two-thirds of companies are now more likely to pursue cloud solutions because of the pandemic.  

But the urgency is more proof of a trajectory that was already in motion. The Center for Digital Government, owned by GovTech’s parent company e.Republic, has been gathering data on cloud acceptance in cities, counties and states for a number of years. Some of this information is visualized in our cover story, 2020 Puts Cloud Computing in Government to the Test. The numbers demonstrate a growing confidence in, and commitment to, cloud technologies as an important component of overall IT infrastructure strategy.

But the cloud, now well past its initial hype cycle, is not the solution to every need. Tech leaders who voiced aggressive “cloud first” strategies early on, following a declaration to that effect from the federal government under then-CIO Vivek Kundra in 2010, have come around to more nuanced approaches. But even the shift in terminology to terms like “cloud right” and “cloud smart,” as outlined by Arkansas CTO Yessica Jones and California CIO Amy Tong, respectively, suggest the future is bright for cloud technologies in government.

Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.