By Max Neiman and Jeremy M. Goldberg
California’s Department of Technology and IBM are launching CalCloud, a new public-private partnership model for fostering cutting edge technology and efficiency in government.
The CalCloud computing platform aims to speed access to information, enable more publically accessible and consumable data, and spur civic innovation across state and local governments on a subscription basis.
In a recent study we surveyed city administrators, managers and financial officers in 245 California cities (“Managing Budgets During Fiscal Stress”), representing 67 percent of California’s city population. Our research included case studies of the state’s major cities Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Riverside, Pasadena and Los Angeles. Our findings and recommendations considered how to manage structural deficits, examples of civic innovations and public-private partnerships to foster citizen engagement, and reducing conflict between the state and local government.
Our results indicated that 55 percent of city officials reported that aging infrastructure is a significant factor in producing and undermining the management of fiscal stress. Deferred maintenance affects not only the appearance of a city or the presence of potholes. Many localities, for one or another reasons, have also simply not upgraded management and policy delivery practices and delayed technology improvements.
The result is older, ultimately more expensive, less efficient management systems; cities fail to embrace more efficient ways of billing, permit processing, managing human resources, purchasing, or even missing opportunities in partnering with other jurisdictions and the private sector.
Very important, in our view, is that CalCloud fosters incentives for on-going policy innovation in municipalities, as well as the diffusion of best practices. In the traditional, silo-ridden government system, agencies and units of government purchased their own systems, from equipment to software. Older systems persisted until they creaked or collapsed or threatened public embarrassment.
With CalCloud, competition for government’s business at all levels will be ubiquitous and because there will now be an incentive to enroll more subscribers and to maintain the quality and cutting-edge features of the system, there will be less tendency for best practices, best systems, best programs gradually to degrade among the state’s thousands of units of government and agencies.
As our study of cities confirmed, data transparency, innovation, and legitimacy are important contributors to managing fiscal stress. Complementary efforts that are taking place statewide are the California Open Data Roadshow that was recently launched by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development in partnership with civic innovators and civic startups in Riverside and the Inland Empire, San Francisco and most recently in San Jose. Developments such as these touch-upon how CalCloud will encourage greater citizen access to a variety of government data that matters not only to policy wonks, journalists, but interested citizens too. It is also possible, as illustrated through the work of groups like Code for America engineers and developers are able to access available data via APIs that can lead to public-private partnerships that enhance city service efficiencies.
It is fascinating to see the birth and unfolding of CalCloud. One of the more intriguing opportunities will be the chance to observe the factors that facilitate increasing subscriptions to CalCloud and for what purposes and applications local governments and state agencies choose as they reach for the CalCloud. Data of this sort might also provide the information needed to help maximize CalCloud’s value.
Dr. Max Neiman and Jeremy M. Goldberg are coauthors of the report “Managing Budgets During Fiscal Stress.” Neiman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Governmental Studies of the University of California, Berkeley, and Goldberg is a graduate of University of San Francisco, MoPA ’12.