Head in the Cloud

On The Job                            

Head in the Cloud

Cloud computing for law enforcement is not the future…it is the now. We must get rid of the fog in the cloud, the mystique of cloud computing and see it for exactly what it is. It is an outsourced service. Cloud computing is simply off-site computing managed by a third party with our oversight. 

The old “business model” for government information technology was we bought the asset, we bought the tech support, and we assumed the risk for security. The new business model is we outsource the IT, retain oversight, and use generic but standardized, “off-the-shelf” programs. Cloud computing is a commodity. Your department doesn’t make your own electricity and you are not your own cell service provider. You buy it all. Same with cloud computing.

It is time to debunk the cloud. It is an on-demand service, meaning you only pay for what you use. You don’t have to buy enough assets for the peak demand. You already know the city / county IT personnel are a challenge to work with, and your own IT section is under staffed. There is a monthly fee with no upfront costs for hardware, software or techies.

The cloud gives you the flexible capability to rapidly expand the computing services you need. It is a measured service, meaning you know exactly what you bought, and you have the ability to accurately budget future costs. Expect a 10 percent savings for the outsourced functions, while 30 percent savings are possible and realistic.

The typical resistance to cloud computing is two-fold: the requirement to standardize, and the question of security. As for standardization, you have already made the step away from demanding a digital version of your paper forms for mobile computing. You are using more computer-compatible versions and formats of the forms. Cloud computing is simply the next step away from department-unique formats, and for exactly the same reason. And it allows a true mobile workforce.

As for the content security in the cloud, the third-party service provider actually has better security than virtually all police departments. The third-party business meeting FedRAMP cloud computing standards is more secure and less of a target than your department. As for security, digital photo protocols have already been established. Virtually all banking and financial transactions use the cloud. Ultimately, security is related to in-house access and there are far fewer people with access at a cloud computing business than at your department.

Listen to the advice from the experiences of departments already in the cloud. According to the San Jose Police don’t go it alone; don’t reinvent the wheel; don’t customize your forms; use off-the-shelf software; don’t rely on a tech-savvy staffer who may retire, transfer or get promoted, instead use a real expert; avoid the not-invented-here ownership syndrome where things are slow to change; instead, demand flexibility and expect change that requires upgrades.

Both the Mesa, Ariz. Police and the Fort Worth, Texas Police indicate the huge amount of storage required by body worn cameras may be the best reason to investigate the cloud. The Cincinnati, Ohio Police warn against expensive, long-term IT infrastructure projects that consume senior management effort, are never done on time or on budget, and are obsolete the day the decade-old project is complete. The University of Central Florida Police advise that having cloud computing companies compete for your business is a much situation to be in than getting held hostage by a software company.

Final piece of advice from departments in the cloud: Develop an officer personal device access policy for the cloud including the use of any personally owned device for official police use. And, insist officers use the department-managed cloud rather than officer-developed apps for data sharing. 

The third-party, off-site computer services that we call cloud computing are more accessible, more secure and less expensive than in-house systems. Bottom line? We are the police. We are not a software-hardware provider. Get your head in the cloud.

Published in Law and Order, Feb 2013

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