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Cloud Powers Oklahoma’s COVID Response

State uses flexible and scalable solutions to track symptoms and serve citizens in need.

Young black woman on her smartphone.
Oklahoma state government is using cloud technologies to help limit the spread of COVID-19 and cope with massive economic disruption the virus is leaving in its wake.

The state’s Department of Health recently launched a mobile app that lets medical staff engage remotely with at-risk citizens who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. The app, created by Google and MTX Group, enables the state to quickly contact citizens who report COVID symptoms and direct them to testing sites.

In addition, the state worked with Google to expand capacity of its unemployment insurance call centers. New online application processes and AI-powered virtual agents are helping the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission cope with unprecedented demand for unemployment claims and expedite benefits disbursements to qualified applicants who have lost jobs during the pandemic.

“Here’s an agency that’s designed to handle 1,500 to 2,000 claims per week that’s now getting up to 60,000 claims per week,” said Oklahoma Secretary of Digital Transformation David Ostrowe, during a May 12 webcast exploring how cloud technologies are supporting coronavirus response efforts. “We’ve been able to stand up new capabilities fast. We have already processed about $650 million in claims.”

Modernizing Rapidly and Cost Effectively

Ostrowe, a private sector business executive who was drafted into public service by Gov. Kevin Stitt, has led efforts to modernize Oklahoma state government services since 2019. Urgent needs triggered by COVID-19 kicked that work into high gear.

“The fundamental lesson we learned from the pandemic is we were grossly unprepared for the level of this crisis,” Ostrowe said.

He says cloud technologies have transformed how the state expands digital capacity and rolls out new services. For instance, Oklahoma’s symptom tracking app was launched in 48 hours.

“Everything in my world normally takes two years and costs $10 million,” Ostrowe said. “We stood this thing up in a few days, which was unbelievable. It also came in at cost -- and the cost was reasonable.”

Embracing Agile Digital Services

Public sector technology experts at Google say the pandemic is driving significant changes in how states and localities across the nation think about digital systems and services, including elevating the value and importance of IT modernization among executive leadership.

“We’re seeing increased participation from policymakers in technology decisions, and we’re seeing more political leaders engage in these discussions,” said Leah Popoff, who leads state and Local government affairs and policy for Google Cloud. “We think this is a great opportunity to converge conversations between state IT leaders and policymakers.”

During the May 12 webcast, Popoff and Christopher Haas, a Google Cloud strategic business executive, pointed to several ways cloud technologies are supporting state and local government COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.

Agencies are using cloud-based data dashboards to provide real-time analytics and data visualizations to track and control the spread of the virus, for example. These tools also are becoming more important for guiding policy around the economic recovery.

“Governments will need to integrate their data into a centralized platform so it can be transformed, combined and analyzed to aid in COVID response efforts,” said Haas. “Then you can use those insights to create a comprehensive view of how citizens are engaging with benefit programs and make informed decisions around relaxing or enforcing social distancing policies.”

In addition, digitization and smart automation are keys to coping with growing demand for social services programs. Technologies such as automated document processing help agencies process, store and access mountains of paper documents submitted by citizens who are applying for benefits, while cloud-based chatbots and virtual agents increase capacity of agency contact centers and eligibility systems.

Cloud is enabling state and local agencies to add these new capabilities with unprecedented speed.

“Pressure to act has made long procurement times infeasible,” Popoff said. “We’re seeing many states act quickly with modular solutions to handle the massive demand and changing requirements for unemployment systems, and they have immediately improved the citizen experience. This will hopefully set these agencies up for future modernization.”

A Stronger Future Ready Approach

Armed with an emergency declaration from the governor, Ostrowe bypassed some traditional government procurement hurdles in Oklahoma to address the pandemic and its economic fallout. He used that opportunity to implement innovative cloud-based solutions that could quickly provide help to citizens in need.

“Government shut down the economy – whether we should have or shouldn’t have, we did -- and now it’s our job to get it restarted,” Ostrow said. “Part of that is getting funds to people who are suffering.”

In addition, cloud technologies put in place today will become the foundation for improving resiliency of Oklahoma state government IT systems and delivering higher levels of service.

“I can tell you,” Ostrowe said, “we’re going to come out of this experience far stronger.”

You can learn more about establishing a Future Ready approach for your agency’s new normal at