May 09, 2012, 9:20 PM — When the second-in-command of one of the most technologically advanced states in the country slams public-sector computing -- publicly -- it's a resounding wake-up call.
"Don't underestimate how far local, state and federal government is behind [in computing]," said California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom at a tech conference in Silicon Valley earlier this year. "We have to wake up to the new reality."
The new reality Newsom was referring to is cloud computing -- a versatile way for government agencies of all sizes to solve a variety of technological issues relating to cost, human resources and the ability to respond quickly to constituents' needs. Many government agencies are doing just that -- albeit in limited areas, such as email and data center consolidation.
But overall, progress is slow: Federal agencies are struggling to comply with the U.S. government's "cloud first" mandate, and state and local government entities, which tend to be less well funded, are even further behind.
As noted by CIOs and technology vendors at the TechAmerica conference on public-sector computing in February, the cloud allows government agencies to decrease their costs and deploy systems more quickly -- all good news. And as in the private sector, cloud computing can enable public entities to devote fewer resources to day-to-day tasks like maintenance, so they can focus on more important things, like improving services and increasing innovation.
But there's also bad news -- and some ugly realities -- when it comes to cloud computing in the public sector. Current and former public-sector CIOs say it can be difficult to drag government agencies forward. It remains to be seen whether government CIOs will be able to convince politicians and bureaucrats that cloud computing is the antidote for the financial and technological doldrums they're experiencing.
The state of the state (and the county, and the city...)
A March 2012 survey conducted by Government Executive magazine, co-sponsored by Cisco Systems, found that government entities significantly lag behind the private sector when it comes to cloud deployments.