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Lessons from the Pandemic: Using the Cloud to Improve Services and Strengthen Government Resilience

Jeff Brown, a strategic business executive for Google Cloud’s Public Sector team, talks about how cloud-based solutions help agencies navigate disruption and prepare for the future.

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Jeff Brown, a strategic business executive for Google Cloud’s public sector team, shares how cloud technologies can help governments improve agility and digital service delivery as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic and prepares for what’s next.

State and local governments made massive changes in how they work and deliver services over the past year. How have strategic priorities evolved because of these experiences?

In the beginning, the main priority for the public sector was ‘How do I get my job done today?’ People were bringing PCs home from the office. For those first three or four months, the strategy was just ‘How do I equip these state, city, county and federal employees to do their day job?’ Period.

The second phase was ‘How do I help actual constituents; how do I serve the people we’re trying to take care of?’ As state and local governments went through the entire year, they realized they had to adapt — adapt to remote work, adapt to the cloud. They had to deliver services because they had to get stuff done.

Now, people are looking at how and when they’re going to be vaccinated. All of this is just a continuation of how agencies serve people and give them the information they need to understand this pandemic.

The cloud played such a huge role in helping agencies respond quickly to these needs. Have you seen perspectives around cloud and emerging technologies change as a result?

I think people saw the ability of cloud to solve massive problems like the surge in unemployment insurance claims, where you had a huge amount of constituent inquiries and it was impossible for humans to answer all those questions.

Solutions such as Google Cloud Contact Center AI with Dialogflow, which provides the ability to have conversations with intelligent agents, can really help. You can’t hire enough people to answer hundreds of thousands of phone calls. You can’t hire enough developers to answer questions on websites. It’s just simply impossible. So, you really need to rely on machine learning to aggregate the data and address common issues, which are 90-plus percent of questions that people are asking. That’s where technology can really help people and where the cloud can really help public sector organizations.

Consumers are already using collaborative technologies in their everyday lives, so how can agencies leverage these same technologies to deliver better service?

If you look at government websites or services, many times they are containerizing users. They force clients to navigate a portal or a service to get what they need. So how do you bridge that?

As a member of the community, if I am using a certain type of operating system on my phone, a certain type of mapping solution, or chat or videoconferencing tool, a public entity can tie those together to make it easier for me. I can do a virtual visitation to ask for unemployment help. I can do a virtual visitation with somebody who’s incarcerated. I can do a virtual visitation with a healthcare provider to ask questions.

How can state and local governments repurpose some of the technology investments they’re making today to become more resilient and be better prepared for the next crisis?

The uniqueness of cloud is that it enables you to rapidly launch new services using a subscription model. For example, you can launch new services to support unemployment insurance because there’s been a massive rise in claims. But six months later, if unemployment levels quickly drop, you can use the same spend, the same subscription and the same technology to spin up a whole new use case.

What are some lessons state and local governments have learned over the past year that will serve them well into the future?

Number one is security. We need to make it as easy as possible to protect the information governments are using to serve their constituents. Think about the fraud that’s happening today, whether it’s with the COVID response or with unemployment claims and stimulus checks. In the public sector, we have to figure out how to protect these resources.

Cloud-based solutions and providers have artificial intelligence and machine learning services that can help address this issue. Fraud is happening on a scale that humans can’t respond to by themselves. The cloud can provide intelligence and automation to help public sector entities strengthen security and protect data.