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Ted is staring out the window of City Hall, thinking, “This is a huge commitment, it feels like it’s forever. Can I really trust this person with everything that matters the most to me? What could go wrong? How can I keep from getting hurt? There is so much at stake!”

Ted is not deciding whether he’s going to propose to his girlfriend. Ted is trying to decide if he’s going to transition his agency workflows to the cloud. The idea feels like an enormous, scary undertaking. He’s seen headlines of data breaches from private companies — almost every day there seems to be another cyberattack exposing sensitive data and compromising huge numbers of people’s privacy.

Every government organization knows that digital transformation is inevitable. As a government CIO, Ted knows governments are increasingly moving to the cloud as new technologies rapidly break onto the scene and citizen expectations continue to rise. By 2022, 78% of government entities will be predominantly buying SaaS to stay ahead, according to a recent survey conducted by Bain Research.

But what does it really take to succeed in this process? The truth is, digital transformation goes far beyond simply purchasing a new “plug and play” system or technology. For governments, it requires entirely new ways of thinking, managing and verifying services and a deeper look at how teams do their jobs — not to mention a huge leap of faith that needs to be taken on new technology that transcends borders.

In this sense, moving to the cloud isn’t a transaction. It’s a true relationship between agencies and their technology partners. Like any relationship, it requires trust, empathy, and communication. Envisioning the movement towards cloud technology as a relationship between agency and vendor instead of a transaction vastly enhances the likelihood of success for digital transformation. These qualities open up new possibilities through shared data and open APIs to radically improve government services, increase citizen participation, and create more transparent and accountable government. With the help and guidance of their technology partners, agencies will find that they can also make more informed decisions, more effectively leverage existing resources, and reduce costs.

Let’s look at the primary ways technologists can support governments in their journey towards the cloud.

A New Model of Trust

Trust is the glue that holds relationships together. Moving to the cloud requires embracing an entirely new model of trust, built on open APIs and shared data. And, like a relationship, once trust between government and technology vendor is established, the results can be incredible.
Today, the pressure on government CTOs and CIOs is enormous. They face mounting expectations to re-architect entire systems quickly, cost-effectively, and without breaking anything, making the journey towards digital transformation a scary thought. Changing systems can be costly at first, and many organizations experience growing pains before it gets better. Public scrutiny is more intense now than ever with new technologies like social media, which give citizens the ability to voice criticisms and demands instantly and loudly. In an era of data breaches and security violations, many government agencies are understandably risk-averse and wary of new technologies.

To help guide the way, technologists can share their knowledge, years of expertise, and best practices from other organizations who are farther along in their transformation journeys to foster a committed relationship grounded in trust. With this new model, a data breach is a phone call away from resolution. Agencies don’t have to worry about software uptime or patches, because they trust their technology partner to manage them. Instead, they are free to focus on their core function — cultivating thriving communities.

Empathy for Progress and Fears Along the Cloud Journey

To maintain a successful relationship, we as technologists must constantly work to thoughtfully understand where agencies are along their journey to the cloud and work to meet them there. Having partnered with organizations of all sizes across the country, questions like, “Is my data safe in the cloud??” or “Where exactly is my data?” are clear indicators that a government has not yet embraced the new model of trust. While it may sound simple, developing empathy for where an agency is in its process is critical to helping its leaders feel supported through their cloud journey.

Technology partners also need to be receptive to potential fears that government CTOs and CIOs experience while leading their organizations’ technology transformations. Some feel hopeless as they struggle to navigate the sinking feeling of resolving a plethora of day-to-day obstacles, and some may not even be aware of what they should or shouldn’t know. Developing true partnership requires technologists understand and recognize the responsibility local leaders have as the last mile to keeping citizens safe and thriving.

Open Communication to Build a Connected Government

Good communication is a hallmark of any great relationship. Agencies and their cloud vendors need open lines of communication to develop a deep partnership, mutual understanding, and the ability to overcome barriers, together. Open communication in this way leads to more connected government — governments and technologists can work together to safely and appropriately leverage shared data to tackle today’s biggest challenges, embrace digital transformation, and ultimately benefit citizens with better services.

Communication that supports cross-functional collaboration across agencies is equally as important. Different departments within an organization have various levels of sophistication, priorities, concerns, and regulations when it comes to digital transformation. Effective communication requires framing the benefits of cloud adoption within the context of that particular department to align all necessary stakeholders and build a robust support system within an organization.

Now, what happened to Ted? Well, after taking the leap of trust to build a great relationship with his cloud vendor, Ted’s experience has vastly improved. And as such, his relationship with his citizens has improved as well. He’s been able to focus on the things that matter most to him, including finding ways to better serve his community… and now has plenty of time to look for diamonds this weekend for his girlfriend.

Accela is a proud sponsor of Code for America’s Summit 2020, March 11-13, in Washington D.C. Attendees are invited to join Renato Mascardo, CTO at Accela, and Lou Moore, CTO of Code for America, at the session, “Connected Government: Challenges and Successes for the Next Frontier of Digitization” on March 12th from 2:30-3:30 p.m. EST and participate in a discussion on what connected government means in 2020 and beyond, including how governments and technologists work together to leverage open data to tackle some of today’s biggest challenges and enhance the modern relationship between citizen and government.

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