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IBM Jumps Into Government Cloud Computing

Big Blue is launching infrastructure-as-a-service targeted at federal agencies and piloting a community cloud effort for local governments.

Best Government Websites
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Best Government Websites

IBM's Municipal Shared Services, on the other hand, isn't today a commercial offering, but rather a pilot project led by IBM Research that aims to use the cloud to tackle common municipal IT problems such as poorly integrated applications, limited data analysis, and minimal online services delivered to local residents.

Municipal Shared Services will allow vendors whose software meets certain pre-defined standards to run in a cloud environment, and municipalities will migrate from their on-premises systems to the cloud. In some cases, due to the fact that lots of municipal software is obsolete or provided by small vendors with few resources to upgrade, this might mean that municipalities will need to switch to entirely new platforms for the apps, which might be for tax assessment, accounting, or other municipal needs.

In the case of many on-premises municipal apps today, they often don't allow for the sharing of information with other systems, and may therefore require arduous data entry to update information that is already housed elsewhere on some other system. However, the data in those systems share a common underpinning, in that it's all municipal data. Whether it deals with taxes, trash pick-up, or properties, the concepts are similar across the systems and even across municipalities, and IBM is leveraging these commonalities to integrate data from disparate systems and municipalities.

By integrating the data, not only will IBM be able to provide a more holistic view of individual municipalities and the ability for, say, a tax assessor to see what building permits had been issued recently, but it may also allow the municipalities to leverage advanced data analytics capabilities. For example, IBM could evaluate the efficiency of a city's property assessments as compared to other municipalities, or use broader patterns in tax systems to uncover tax fraud.

IBM plans to later on provide local governments a dashboard for local government to help city officials better understand how their municipality is operating, and a citizen portal to help citizens understand how the town views the individual citizen.

Among the pilot's customers is the New York Conference of Mayors, an organization that provides training, legislative advocacy, and legal and technical assistance to its 590 dues-paying member municipalities. "We see the benefits of getting rid of maintenance and infrastructure costs, and what really got us excited was that this will enable departments that don't communicate today to seamlessly share information," Peter Baynes, NYCOM's executive director, said in an interview.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Municipal Shared Services is the business model. Many municipalities are struggling to make ends meet, and may not have the budgets to meet the probable transition costs required to move to new applications.

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