The cloud in government? It might be the best way to make document management software happen

I really enjoyed Jacqui Conn’s thoughts on software as a service (SaaS) and IT security. It brought me back nearly a decade to a time when, as an IT director, I stood in the way of just such a proposal for government software…as a service.

My state had selected a vendor. Their task: produce a portal website and provide far away servers – servers I did not control – to store documents and data about the people we served. Security was never discussed. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to blindly trust that they would manage it “correctly.”

Even scarier, their pricing was by the document. Not a bad strategy when you’re trying to start a business with government as your target market! But needless to say, I did not sign up my agency.

Times sure have changed. Clouds have moved in over Washington, and not just because of midterm elections. President Obama has begun an IT initiative to move the use of SaaS into the federal government realm. But that’s federal. Should state and local government consider SaaS?

Yes! (If you need more information on the security part of the decision, Jacqui’s article is a great reference).

So how can government’s unique mission be served by a SaaS model?

Let’s use the example of enterprise content management as SaaS. If I can 1) offer improved public access to documents and services through a website, plus 2) cut the costs of storing and retrieving documents that my staff uses every day, I have just pushed my agency ahead technologically – without bearing the costs of staffing the deployment or purchasing the capital equipment to power it. And all of this is accomplished just by sharing server and staff costs with other customers through SaaS. This is budget brilliance because you are getting more for less!

Think you might want to have the technology in-house someday? At least one ECM vendor has even worked out the ability to assist its customers to move their solution in-house. This way, the solution you start as SaaS can be brought into your agency or department, if, of course, that makes sense for your staff and technology initiatives (or your improved budget).

But how does it match up with the mission of government?

Last time, I wrote about the need to put our increasingly smaller government workforce where it counts the most…and that is not moving paper files around. What if the SaaS model allowed you to do just that?  The cost structure it provides allows you to move forward with – you guessed it – those IT investments that get rid of the paper and manual processes. Mission accomplished.

Sometimes you live long enough to change your mind. And I have, especially in this time of difficult budgets. Because if the price is appropriate, if the security is there, if the functionality matches the need and there are vendors with proven ability to deliver these solutions, why wouldn’t I consider it?

Government is never asked to do less, they are asked to do more with less. A SaaS option could meet this challenge.  And, to take it a step further, the SaaS model coupled with the cost-saving effect of enterprise content management may just be the right combination to position your agency for maximum staff efficiency and citizen service.

Terri Jones

Terri Jones

Wondering what goes into a document management or ECM software deployment in government? Terri Jones, Hyland's government marketing portfolio manager, has your answer. In her 10 plus years in both state and local government, she's managed IT departments, implemented ECM strategies and written legislation and program policies. If that isn't enough to prove her IT expertise in government, she has also designed and implemented data systems and websites to manage compliance and funding in excess of $90 million annually. Have a question for her? Contact her at

1 Response

  1. Ken Usman-Smith says:

    Very true and relevant as we fight to survive massive cuts today. Some of you may work for government employers that have realised that its expensive and adds a growing carbon cost to the organisation to manage all those servers on the top floor where the IT support team sit.

    Some of you may have started moving your terabytes of data from your offices to a remote data centre. Some may have used a commercial organisation. And you may be happy with the one off hosting cost that’s creating real value for money. Or you may be coping with a loss of capacity to drive strategic ICT development in the business you are in.

    But have you noticed that whilst you have seen this as cutting edge, technology has done it again, the goal posts are moving. Software as a service and open source are creeping up behind you.

    You look at all of your expensive licensed programmes and the new build updates and patches from probably 100’s of legacy systems. And you accept that you need them to deliver an efficient service. You may want to move to ‘Why buy the cow when all you need is the milk’?

    Do you realise that all that software can sit anywhere, be maintained by anyone with skill and can be accessed securely as you use it on line? The use of open source is growing, but the internets always on and fast enough, so a dumb terminal and software that is SaaS is a radical even cheaper route to go down. And carbon costs will sit outside your business.

    Do you need to have a cow sitting in every office? Its costly to feed, it gets in the way of your business and at the press of a button the milk can be there, 24/7?

    There is only one valid definition of business purpose – namely to create a customer. And the Public Sector we are here to serve the customer, everything else may just be an overhead.

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