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How Cloud Technologies Are Revolutionizing Our Business Environment

Aaron Barak, Chief Technology Officer, King County, Wash
Aaron Barak, Chief Technology Officer, King County, Wash

Aaron Barak, Chief Technology Officer, King County, Wash

It does not feel like it was very long ago I felt the constant pinch of hardware costs whenever my organization needed to increase IT capacity or aging equipment needed refreshing. One-time capital costs were always followed by extensive and pervasive support and maintenance costs.

That was simply life for everyone pre-1999. When you needed additional capacity, the only practical choice you had was to rack and stack new equipment, and pay the annual maintenance and support costs. The time and planning it took to get ahead of capacity needs were significant.

Then came the cloud.

Starting with trailblazers like SalesForce.com, we very quickly had incredibly fluid and flexible services with great economy of scale. We only had to pay for server and infrastructure capacity when we needed it. With cloud infrastructure, someone else was doing the work for us, giving us more computer resources without having to provision it ourselves. In other words, it was all the firepower we needed when we needed it, with significantly less of the traditional brick-and-mortar IT responsibilities or headaches.

Within short order, our employees had access to the applications they needed from whatever device they chose, be a laptop, smartphone or tablet, as long as they could access the internet. They could meet virtually when appropriate, rather than wasting work hours traveling from different sites to a central meeting location. They could easily collaborate and share workflows and files, updating in real time. And they could telecommute as appropriate, depending on their department’s policies.

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  We will see less demand for traditional IT roles in operations and development as the cloud becomes more and more central to IT strategy  

One of the most significant benefits of our modern cloud providers centers on business continuity. AWS, Google, Microsoft, and other platform providers include very robust geo-diversified technology solutions that give you a resilient platform. That lets you build highly available systems that can weather major disruptions and catastrophes, something that was not easily achievable via corporate data centers.

But in my view, the real shift of cloud computing for local government IT departments is being able to redeploy our workforce from operations and maintenance tasks to more forward-looking engineering and delivery activities, delivering increasing value to our lines of business at an accelerated velocity. This has been a game changer for King County, the ability to redeploy staff and dollars to enable the business roadmaps at a much faster pace. Staff, previously anchored to legacy bespoke, on-premise solutions, can now, thanks to the ease and efficiency of cloud computing, spend their time developing emerging skill sets and innovative projects that benefit local government and residents.

While it is all nearly positive, I would caution that in areas of security and privacy, the cloud does not alleviate your responsibility for securing the data and applications residing there. Your security office must assess regulatory and compliance concerns, just as they did before.  

Finally, here, like everywhere else, AI and machine learning are at an early stage. Expect rapid advances that will be exponentially more impactful in the way we run IT. We will see less demand for traditional IT roles in operations and development as the cloud becomes more and more central to IT strategy, and the use of platforms reduces the need to develop customized solutions. And that will free capacity to redirect our workforce to truly revolutionary and forward-leaning work that benefits our constituents.

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