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8/2/2010
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Federal CIO Details Cloud Computing Gains

Social Security, Labor Relations among federal authorities using the cloud to improve efficiency and customer service, reported Vivek Kundra.

E-mail and knowledge-management are just a couple of ways federal agencies are using cloud computing to create more efficiency in their IT environments.

Current and planned cloud deployments among agencies vary from a new online database from the Social Security Administration to answer U.S. citizens' frequently asked questions, to the migration of more than 15,000 e-mail boxes to the cloud at the General Services Administration (GSA).

White House CIO Vivek Kundra detailed case studies of how agencies are using cloud computing -- one of several priorities for the Obama administration to help modernize federal IT deployments -- in several recent blog posts. The deployments show agencies trying to streamline operations and better engage with citizens by moving in-house software and services to the cloud.

To solve the problem of fielding millions of inquires from citizens every year, the SSA is using a cloud-based solution from RightNow Technologies to offer an online knowledge database with answers to more than 1,000 frequently asked questions.

People can search for answers to questions -- such as how to get a Social Security number, file for benefits, or locate a field office -- by category, keyword, or phrase. In 2009, the SSA provided 34 million answers via the database, something it could never have done via traditional staff responses, according to Kundra.

The Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA) also is using the cloud for better management -- in this instance, case management. The agency replaced an outdated and expensive internal system with a shared electronic case-management tracking system that lets citizens file cases and obtain documents electronically. They also can check the status of their cases via the system.

The use of the cloud allowed the FLRA to improve its use of IT infrastructure and was able to get more out of existing systems to respond to business needs, according to Kundra.

The new case-management system -- which uses Intuit's Quickbase -- took less than 10 months to implement and will reduce total cost of ownership nearly $600,000 over five years, he said.

The GSA also aims to use the cloud to replace out-dated technology -- in this case, an e-mail system that lacks the integrated features such as instant messaging and collaboration that have become standard features.

The agency also wants a better e-mail archiving system to meet e-discovery requirements, and in-house storage is costly to manage and maintain, according to Kundra.

The GSA is merely gathering information about how to implement the system that will migrate 15,000 mailboxes to the cloud and eliminate infrastructure currently located in 17 different places around the world, he said. However, once implemented, the agency expects the new system to save the agency 30% in costs over the first two years.

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