The Future of Government Work Lives in the Cloud
August 23, 2022

Dustin Milberg

Key decision-makers across all industries now face the reality that work will never again occur in a wholly traditional office. More than 50% of Americans work remotely, and analysts predict that number will steadily increase as more workers adopt hybrid or fully remote work patterns in the post-pandemic world. This brave new reality presents a challenge for technology leaders, especially those in the public sector: How do government agencies remedy the need for efficient, multi-cloud communications with existing on-prem solutions? And how do they do so without neglecting cybersecurity, which remains a priority for organizations handling confidential data?

The answer is simple: They don't. Physical data centers are no longer effective or secure enough for government work. When implemented successfully, cloud-based offerings result in far greater operational efficiency, improved scalability, and boosted cybersecurity capabilities, not to mention demonstrable ROI.

Yet many government agencies are slow to adopt cloud-based solutions for fear of compliance fallout, predicated on the traditional view that on-prem solutions are inherently safer. However, this is simply a belief unsubstantiated with facts, and it now hampers the possibilities of modern government communications and data processing. Technology leaders in the public sector looking to maintain compliance and bolster operational efficiency should consider a carefully coordinated journey to the cloud via managed cloud services (MCS) offerings. These tools rapidly integrate on-prem data with cloud tech and provide superior cyber protection, particularly when combined with software as a service (SaaS) tools.

On-Prem Data Centers Leave the Public Sector Vulnerable

Due to its overwhelmingly sensitive nature, government data is a lucrative target for hackers. U.S. government agencies lost more than $52.88 million to ransomware attacks between 2018 and 2020 alone, according to Comparitech, and as generalized ransomware attacks increase, the uptick in government attacks is likely to follow.

As government cybersecurity becomes more complex and ransomware agents evolve, continued reliance on physical data centers is not only outdated — it is potentially dangerous. Proper data protection requires a trained security operations center (SOC) to block malicious actors through fortified firewalls, access control and encryption systems. Well-protected data centers also require round-the-clock surveillance and maintenance should an error occur. And if an outside agent does access on-prem data, downtimes can take upwards of months, resulting in millions in losses. Top tech companies may employ enough staff to oversee tight on-site security, but with increased public sector talent shortages, government agencies no longer have the extra resources to devote to on-prem solutions.

By employing a third-party MCS vendor, government technology leaders shift maintenance and installation responsibilities from their internal team to subject matter experts with reputations on the line. Furthermore, the right third-party solution will offer holistic consultation for cloud integration, taking any guesswork out of the data transition and protecting against cyberattacks in the process. Cloud-enabled technologies like AI and automation may also be a boon for warding off cyber threats, many of which also take advantage of the cloud's heightened capabilities.

Physical Data Centers Are Not Scalable or Sustainable

Over the past two years, rapid fluctuations in hybrid work expectations have demonstrated that agility is crucial to success. Work from home mandates and pandemic protocols have impacted consumer and constituent expectations, resulting in a greater demand for online services and public-facing contact centers. This development poses a challenge for on-prem data centers, as physically stored data is often limited to its geographical area of origin. As a result, those employees or constituents needing care from afar will likely experience lags or service interruptions. Cloud infrastructure, on the other hand, provides a diverse array of entry points, improving system performance and speed during often critical situations.

Similarly, cloud solutions provide greater flexibility in pricing. The installation of on-prem solutions requires several upfront capital expenditures and recurring servicing fees to remain even slightly competitive. By comparison, data stored in the cloud adapts to an agency's specific needs and is more cost-effective. Should an agency need to process a record amount of data, cloud servers can expand to accommodate that surplus; and if those needs slowly decrease with time, MCS providers can adjust the plan as needed, leading to more value generation.

Cloud Computing Enhances IT Service Management (ITSM) Solutions

After transferring from on-prem databases to cloud infrastructure, government technology teams can focus on remediation instead of threat identification. Meanwhile, MCS and SaaS providers handle the daily tasks that previously bogged down internal processes. This leaves time for teams to focus on improving IT service management (ITSM) processes which impact all employees and constituents. For starters, government agencies can use cloud infrastructure to update communications protocols so that off-site constituents and employees receive the same (or better) level of service as on-site team members.

Cloud infrastructure also protects against the possibility of system downtime by locating data centers in other availability zones or regions. Should one location fail, another kicks in, allowing vital government systems like emergency call centers to operate 24/7. By leveraging vendor native or serverless data technologies, agencies are afforded additional protection while also further reducing the risk of irreversible data loss by ensuring that natural disasters and database failures act as isolated events. As an added bonus, these cloud native and serverless solutions are significantly less expensive.

In 2018, roughly 78.9% of government IT spending was reserved for the maintenance of legacy data systems. As on-prem solutions age and demand a larger balance sheet, technology leaders must ignore the sunk costs of a physical data center and instead consider the benefits of a modernized, cloud-based infrastructure. Research firms have invested billions into cloud-based computing in recent years, and significant progress has been made in cybersecurity advancements. Until government leaders and top technology professionals accept the new normal and embrace the agility provided by cloud infrastructure, the public sector will likely continue to face increased cyber threats, cost overruns, performance challenges, and operational difficulties.

Dustin Milberg is Field CTO Cloud Services at InterVision
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