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Microsoft and Accela Spotlight Benefits Found in the Next Generation of Software-as-a-Service

As government technology leaders aim to modernize their operations, they’re looking for tools that will pare down capital refresh cycles and sunset old legacy systems. Additionally, they often seek to better respond with agility to evolving citizen expectations, protect privacy, and even help attract new talent. While there’s no silver bullet, many government entities are moving toward Software as a Service (SaaS) to deliver the solutions to these challenges.

Over 41 percent of government IT leaders say they are making headway in migrating to the cloud, Deloitte reports, and SaaS plays an integral role in this evolution. Private equity firm Frontier Capital, for instance, calls out SaaS as an enabler of both internal processes and external government workflows. “As software budgets increase (six percent projected growth in 2018), money will continue to pour into government-focused SaaS solutions,” they predict.

Accela’s Chief Product Officer Troy Coggiola and Microsoft’s Executive Director for State and Local Government Solutions Kim Nelson explored that theme at Accela’s webinar, Why SaaS has Become the Standard for Government Agencies. The webinar evaluated how SaaS answers the multifaceted demands of IT modernization and enabling technology leaders to attract talent, protect privacy and respond with agility to evolving citizen expectations.

“Our government customers repeatedly reiterate their goal to serve their citizens and improve their communities, which in turn will help 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.”

Nelson described a service-oriented approach to software as the logical remedy to an overly burdensome IT infrastructure. In a world in which “everything is becoming connected,” she said, SaaS can be the key to organizational transformation and solving long-standing service issues. Nelson and Coggiola looked at the main challenges facing government technology leaders, and then took a deeper dive into how SaaS addresses these concerns.

Challenges to Government IT

Coggiola laid out three key areas of concern:

1. Workforce — OPM data shows there are four times as many government IT specialists aged 60 and over as compared to those under 30. As seasoned IT staff retire, their deep understanding of legacy systems goes with them. Agencies are simultaneously under pressure to backfill with workers skilled on the latest tools and applications.

2. Legacy systems – Federal agencies spend about 70 percent of their IT budgets supporting legacy systems; state and local government bears a similar burden. As a result, Coggiola said, agencies “never have enough resources” to get everything done, as they devote needed time and talent to supporting outdated implementations.

3. Need for speed – Government faces an increasing need for speed. As consumer expectations around technology rise, agencies need to respond and pivot ever more rapidly both to citizens’ needs and to regulatory changes.

Solution: The Power of SaaS                               

More than just a software delivery mechanism, SaaS is an engine of change, an IT methodology that can drive organizational transformation. In that light, it’s worth taking a look at how SaaS can address the significant challenges described above.

  • Hiring and retention – The centralization and hassle-free management inherent in SaaS can liberate skilled IT workers from a daily grind of mundane and repetitive tasks, freeing them to pursue higher-value projects of greater professional interest. This has implications for recruiting and retention. “If you can direct your hiring and your 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.
  • Capital expense and refresh cycles – A shift off legacy architecture and onto a SaaS model reduces the server-support workload, shrinks capex and minimizes refresh cycles, Coggiola said. The federal government endorses this idea, with the U.S. CIO noting in a recent report: “Transitioning to a consumption-based service…will enable the Government to stop building systems that are expensive to maintain and modernize.”

How exactly does this work? Among other things, SaaS enables state and local government to leverage common resources across multiple agencies and end users. The State of Michigan for instance uses SaaS to distribute common applications among the Bureau of Construction codes, power services, professional licensing and even medical-marijuana regulation. California is likewise moving toward this “super agency” model, with multiple entities across government leveraging SaaS to meet shared needs.

  • Speed, security, service – Government needs to innovate in real time, to roll out applications in response to citizen demand and make adjustments on the fly as the regulatory environment changes. As a cloud-based offering, SaaS enables this rapid provisioning, making new services available across multiple user groups in a single iteration.

In this same vein, SaaS enables data-driven analytics to ensure government IT delivers not just faster but better results. A survey by Business Application Research Center found that fewer than half of IT leaders leverage data in their decision making. SaaS can change that. “One of those primary areas that we’re looking at is around data and analytics,” Coggiola said. “If there’s a regulation in place, and you expect people to apply for permits or licenses, how do you know that they’re doing it? We feel that by coupling data that we have on behalf of our customer, along with third party data, we can provide insights that will help facilitate that.”

Of course, all this must unfold in a rigorous security environment. Nelson noted that Microsoft spends about a billion dollars a year in security R&D, more than any government entity could invest on its own.

At the same time, SaaS may help government IT leaders to address challenges they didn’t even know they faced. Take for instance the General Data Protection Regulation, GDPR: It’s a European privacy standard, but it has big implications for U.S. government entities.

“We live in a global world today, and…this is a very strong standard for privacy and data protection,” Nelson said. Yet a recent survey of IT leaders found fewer than half had a plan in place for compliance. To ensure smooth integration, Microsoft is applying the privacy measures to all its products.

The Road Ahead

Given all the inherent advantages of SaaS, it is not surprising to see that cloud adoption is on the rise. Gartner predicts the global SaaS market will grow from $73.6 billion this year to $117.1 billion by 2021.

A recently-announced alliance between Accela and Microsoft can help to make SaaS more readily available to government users. Accela’s government customers leverage Accela’s industry-first solutions with Microsoft Azure’s state-of-the-art cloud platform. SaaS customers are hosted on the Microsoft cloud for a range of Accela Civic Solutions that include Planning, Building, Business Licensing, Service Request Management, Occupational Licensing, Environmental Health, and more.

To learn more about the benefits of SaaS, watch the full webinar here.


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