It seems everywhere we turn there is another article espousing the value of cloud technology. Many federal, state and local agencies are publicly taking a "cloud first" strategy to new technology procurement, migrating their internal IT systems to cloud providers and creating public-private partnerships around new cloud-based applications. As technology advances and government budgets tighten, the market can expect to see more of these types of partnerships.
While partnerships between private companies and the public sector are not new, there is a new opportunity especially ripe for cloud providers that are willing to invest the dollars to work with public organizations and foster innovation. As with most vertical markets, however, partnering with government agencies requires providers to take a collaborative approach to truly understand the unique conditions and needs of these customers. Here are five tips, based on what we have learned from working with the public sector, for cloud providers looking to crack the government cloud computing market:
1. Focus on centralized services
Many traditionally local services are moving toward more centralized offerings. The cloud enables an economy of scale for applications that normally have to be deployed and maintained locally. New technology has enabled consolidation and sharing of hosted infrastructure, driving both technical and business process changes throughout the industry. Cloud providers need to understand the holistic effects of this migration to a more centralized approach in each of the procurement, support and provisioning processes for services such as these.
2. Do your homework
Engage your prospective government cloud computing customers and existing clients collaboratively. For the most part, there is no competition between government agencies; they are just trying to provide the best services they can with a limited budget. They are very willing to explain processes and technical issues they would like to improve. Before approaching public safety agencies with your service, make sure it gets fully vetted by the relevant industry associations. Understanding the role of industry organizations and standards bodies is critical.
You cannot rush the development of a concept, and you must understand an agency's specific infrastructure environment and needs. Cloud providers cannot present their services and simply hope an agency will figure out how to incorporate it into its existing IT environment. Given that cloud technology adoption is still in its infancy -- especially in critical government infrastructures -- success depends on investing considerable time in industry groups and standards bodies, as well as addressing issues around security, scalability and so forth.
3. Learn the procurement process
Working with government agencies often means working with organizations that have tight budgets, stretched resources and onerous procurement processes. While this is not unique to selling cloud technology, the fact that cloud services break the traditional model of annual licensing and maintenance fees can cause complications for many providers. Moreover, many agencies' procurement processes are not yet aligned with service-based technology contracts. The key is to be flexible and work with public agencies to create a model that integrates with their existing frameworks as easily as possible rather than trying to get them to change.
4. Prepare for compliance issues
Understand the legal constraints under which public agencies work. Certain issues, such as compliance with privacy and accessibility regulations, are non-negotiable. Additionally, the need to comply with those regulations often dictates standard operating procedures. In developing your government cloud computing service for the public sector, watch out for any traps in any regulatory processes.
5. Know the client
Government agencies focus on the most pressing challenges; there aren't teams of people looking to make a name for themselves by implementing change for change's sake. They are most often trying to address a simple problem, such as a public safety agency just wanting to be able to communicate more efficiently with the population they are charged with protecting. However, agencies still take a very long-term view of projects and are often risk adverse. Be patient and invest the time upfront with agencies to ensure they understand and are comfortable with your cloud-based services.
About the author:
Todd Piett is the chief product officer of Rave Mobile Safety, which provides cloud-based software for campus safety and public safety organizations. Todd is also a board member of the NG9-1-1 Institute and participates in various National Emergency Number Association working groups related to NG9-1-1. In addition, he is a member of the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials-International's emerging technology committee. Todd holds numerous safety-related patents, and he is a certified Emergency Number Professional, a graduate of Harvard Business School and a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot.