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Cloud Computing is the Future for Michigan Municipal League and Michigan Communities
By Anthony Minghine & Bill Luse
You might be surprised to learn that local governments in Michigan are embracing cutting-edge technology that will transform operations and save money in the long term. It’s called cloud computing, and it’s widely established in corporate America. The Michigan Municipal League is partnering with IBM to develop a next generation information technology platform to better connect our local governments and encourage information sharing. The result will be a more collaborative, efficient, and transparent government that spends less on the systems vital to providing services. We’re bringing this advanced technology to our state because Michigan can no longer tackle 21st century challenges with outdated tools and techniques.
Cloud computing takes intergovernmental cooperation into the digital age—platforms are remote data centers that can store, integrate, and analyze vast amounts of information. In a cloud environment, computer software and hardware are combined and centrally managed, creating a single system that is accessible on demand through secure Web programs. You may not realize it, but if you store your photos and videos online you are already using cloud computing.
Cloud computing is a smart long-term investment. Darrell West, a technology policy expert from the Brookings Institution estimates that government agencies that have transitioned to cloud computing have saved between 25-50 percent on their IT operations. At a time when government budgets are extremely tight and every dollar counts, these savings really add up.
A recent survey by the nonprofit Public Technology Institute found that 45 percent of local governments are already using some form of cloud computing, and an additional 19 percent plan to adopt some form of the technology within the next year. It’s time we catch up.
The partnership between IBM and the League will allow League members to take advantage of IBM’s experience in managing the complex, sensitive information of some of the world’s largest businesses and governments. The partnership will also enable IBM experts to collaborate with municipal workers who understand the unique challenges of local government, and customize IT services accordingly. And it will improve the way local governments in Michigan—whether on a city-to-city level or a city-to-state level—work together to meet the needs of our constituents.
The cloud environment will make it easier to replace obsolete systems and integrate existing software—helping local government IT systems embrace the digital era. Most departments in Michigan can barely afford the costs of keeping their existing IT systems running, let alone adopt new technologies. The new IBM platform will enable local agencies to subscribe to essential applications as à la carte services, rather than paying out-of-pocket for costly hardware, software, and IT support. For example, savings could be found in the property tax process, which spans multiple departments, including building, assessment, tax, and finance. Each department typically maintains its own applications, and information sharing is frequently manual. With the IBM platform, information will flow between the applications, and much of the manual work will be eliminated.
The cloud will support the infrastructure, manage operations, and automatically handle upgrades—all at an affordable cost. More importantly it will make resources available to small and medium–sized governments that may previously have been out of reach.
This new technology will also increase the ability of local governments to input and evaluate data. This means that municipalities will be able to achieve fast, accurate, and actionable insights about trends that are developing in our communities. For example, the platform can benefit other municipal functions such as public safety by integrating police, fire, and court applications to provide faster and more accurate access to appropriate information. Linking with clerk and assessor applications will give emergency responders pertinent details about home schematics, registered weapons, and pets.
It’s no secret that our member cities and villages are struggling to do more with less revenue and fewer employees. Even during this time of unprecedented challenges, we continue to focus on the future. We’re working together to find new and smarter ways to make the essential investments that improve the quality of our service to the community today and tomorrow. Cloud computing promises to deliver smarter government at a lower cost, and we can’t afford to wait.
Anthony Minghine is the associate executive director and chief operating officer for the League. Bill Luse is IBM’s senior state executive for Michigan.