Public sector CIOs and their IT teams scrambled to make telework effective and secure in light of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Although the transition to working remotely was abrupt, agencies’ ability to successfully fulfill their missions often hinged on their cloud platform and services. The National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) lists cloud services as #3 on its list of CIO Top 10 Priorities for 2021.
Now, as the pandemic subsides, it’s an ideal time for government agencies to evaluate their technological challenges and address computing needs. Cloud-based services offer four distinct benefits to address the needs of public sector organizations.
Managing cost is a constant obligation for government CIOs. Given the economic uncertainty ahead, agencies are likely to face diminishing budgets and have to do more with less. The Wall Street Journal reported that states could see a $434 billion shortfall, per Moody’s Analytics. On top of that, states will continue to be beset with new mandates, sometimes funded and often unfunded. Regardless, they still must execute the planned strategy along with the mandates.
While investing in cloud infrastructure and services is a substantial undertaking, the returns are attractive. Cloud reduces the costs of licensing, hardware, labor, and maintenance and raises productivity. In addition, software, compliance, and specialized skills are all provided by the vendor.
The public sector’s focus on cybersecurity has continued to increase since the onset of the pandemic. The sudden transition to remote work dramatically expanded the attack surface and created new vulnerabilities, as the home office became yet another target for hackers. Per Comparitech, U.S. government organizations experienced 79 separate ransomware attacks in 2020, “potentially impacting 71 million people and costing an estimated $18.88 billion in downtime and recovery costs.”
Despite important improvements in the public sector, security remains an ever-present priority for several reasons: the ongoing prevalence of remote workers as potentially vulnerable targets, the dearth of cybersecurity skills in the face of enormous demand, and the increased prevalence of IoT devices as a result of 5G. Yet, according to NASCIO, nearly half of all US states do not have a dedicated cybersecurity budget line item; most state cybersecurity budgets are between 0-3% of their overall IT budget, compared with an average of more than 10% in the private sector.
Fortunately, cloud offers extensive security advantages, including integrating security and compliance, reducing the total attack surface that the organization’s security experts need to protect, and leveraging enormous storage and processing power to identify security threats.
Finding highly skilled tech workers is an ongoing challenge for government agencies. Many organizations are shorthanded and overload their employees, leading to burnout and attrition. Furthermore, research has shown that top workers will leave if the digital workplace experience is suboptimal.
For the government to effectively serve the taxpayers who support it, employees need to be supported, and increasingly that means digital workers. Before the pandemic, less than 10% of staff worked remotely. After its onset, more than half of workers, on average, were remote in most states, while a handful of other states saw almost all of their workers remote and thus had constrained access to normal support.
A report from the Louisiana legislative auditor’s officer identified its 4 main difficulties to be:
Cloud services provide the opportunity to support all employees, both in the office and remote, in a productive and secure way, ultimately increasing employee productivity and retention.
Citizen expectations for the digital experience are constantly rising. Delivering a great user experience is no longer a “nice to have,” it’s a requirement. With little exaggeration, it can be said that citizens now expect to interact with government agencies with the same ease and confidence that they interact with Netflix. Not surprisingly, they are frequently disappointed because cost pressures and skill shortages constrain governments from investing in improvements. But make no mistake, those who can deliver a better citizen experience will have a demonstrable competitive advantage when it comes to recruiting employees and businesses.
A shift to the cloud allows agencies to focus their attention on citizens better, relieving frustration and increasing satisfaction through cost-effective and secure solutions.
As we continue to evolve from the effects of 2020 and settle into the new normal in 2021, government organizations must redirect their attention to new and effective ways of fulfilling their missions. The use of cloud services will continue to grow beyond the pandemic and can help public sector agencies achieve their goals.
This article first appeared in Toolbox.