Accela and Microsoft define key benefits of SaaS and how it can revitalize and safeguard citizen services
Technology should solve government problems, not create them.
That was the overarching message of Accela’s Chief Product Officer Troy Coggiola and Microsoft’s Executive Director for State and Local Government Solutions Kim Nelson as they spoke about the potential to cut costs, improve cybersecurity and attract talent through Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) solutions.
The two spoke at Accela’s June 13 webinar, Why SaaS has Become the Standard for Government Agencies, that spotlighted some of the underlying forces driving the public sector to the cloud and how cities and local agencies can use SaaS solutions to rethink IT management and enable modern, high performance applications for residents.
“Our [government customers] repeatedly reiterate their goal to serve their citizens and improve their communities, helping their communities thrive,” Coggiola said. “The one thing that they do not typically talk about is the desire to manage a server farm, or data center, or do upgrades, or develop security practices, or all the other bits and pieces that come along with keeping software up and running in a local environment.”
With the rise of SaaS, Nelson and Coggiola underscored the power of SaaS solutions to clarify decision making with data analytics, lower maintenance costs, ease demands for IT support, and increase access to new digital tools. They said these opportunities allowed cities and local agencies to save resources, while leveraging the private sector’s massive investments in research and development.
Pointing to Microsoft’s own investments, Nelson said that Microsoft spends roughly a billion dollars each year on cybersecurity research and development alone. Microsoft sees the R&D as beneficial to its core products but also to the many governments and businesses that depend on such security. Nelson said SaaS and cloud applications are especially beneficial for cities on tighter budgets.
“The smaller the government, the smaller the agency, the better the investment is in really going SaaS.” Nelson said. “We’re spending money on this in ways that you as a government, large or small, could never begin to spend and we’re spending it because the cybersecurity threat is hitting us so fast.”
The two noted that private sector cybersecurity also meets some of the highest industry and federal standards. Some of the security standards that Accela and Microsoft comply with include the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA), the American Institute of Certified Public Accountant’s System and Organization Controls 2 (SOC 2) standard, and the Payment Card Industry (PCI) security standard.
SaaS also improves cybersecurity by reducing an agency’s IT infrastructure risk. When governments use SaaS applications they have less applications to protect inside their own IT infrastructure. Coggiola said this makes agencies less vulnerable to email phishing and other damaging cyber attacks.
“We’ve seen time and time again email phishing scams worm their way around state and local government systems, that’s something we help our customers avoid,” Coggiola said. “For Accela, it’s about taking our Accela software and reducing the burden, the need for you to manage that on your own servers and in your own data center.”
Nelson added that with its operations in Europe, Microsoft also adheres to the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR, the newest and highest standard for citizen privacy. Though based in Europe, Microsoft is applying the privacy measures to all its to services and products, both in the U.S. and across the globe.
“At Microsoft we believe privacy is a fundamental human right, and it is embedded in everything we do including how we provide our cloud platform for those who use it,” Nelson said. “Privacy is also the foundation for trust, so if we are going to able to be your trusted partner, a trusted partner for Accela, and a trusted partner for all our government customers, privacy has to be at the heart of that.”
A study conducted by Bain Research shows that roughly 78 percent of government agencies have either adopted or are preparing to adopt SaaS solutions. Based on this research and customer feedback, Coggiola said that beyond cost savings the move to the cloud is also propelled, in part, by a changing workforce. Many seasoned IT staff are retiring and agencies are hard pressed to find fresh talent with the skills, and the interest, to support on-premise, legacy systems. The result is a push to migrate data and services into modern cloud environments.
“What our customers have noticed is about 40 to 50 percent of their staff are at, or above, retirement age, and while they’re still hanging in there, there is a risk of folks departing the job market and a need to then backfill,” Coggiola said.
SaaS also reduces a dependency on hard to find, and potentially costly talent. Coggiola noted that when less IT positions must be directed at support and maintenance by using SaaS, agencies are empowered to invest in new roles that spur modernization and oversee a wider range of services.
“If you can direct your hiring and you’re recruiting toward more innovation focused roles, it will get you the talent a little bit more easily, as compared to bringing in a number of data center operations managers,” Coggiola said.