By Jane Snowdon
One of the greatest, if not the greatest innovator of the 20th Century, Albert Einstein, once said, “You can’t solve a problem on the same level that it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level.” And today that next level, especially for the federal government, is cloud.
“It’s all about cloud.” We hear in meetings, presentations, email pitches, articles, etc. Aside from the trend, cloud in the federal government is fueled by three essential truths:
- * Agencies are seeking a Cloud First approach in their new technology investments;
* They need to do more with existing or fewer resources, and;
* Government leaders have a desire to fulfill citizens’ needs that demand more social and mobile channels to engage.
Currently, much of the dialogue seems focused on the infrastructure – data center consolidation and decisions about what to move to the cloud. Those are important issues and require the attention of CIOs and the IT community. But as the federal government shifts to the cloud, we must not lose sight of how this new infrastructure can be a tool for innovation.
So far, exactly how the cloud can spur innovation seems to be missing from the narrative.
A hidden gem in cloud computing is the ability to provide developers, tech entrepreneurs and avid technologists with easy access to resources that would normally require huge investments in software and servers.
Using a pay-as-you-go model, developers can now access a broad portfolio of middleware and services, and build sophisticated apps that can transform industries and, in the case of the public sector, transform citizen engagement.
Relying on a DevOps model, cloud environments can be provisioned in a matter of seconds. Developers can begin either hosting applications or developing, deploying, and scaling new innovative applications and services in hours rather than months.
We’ve seen the power of this approach with Bluemix, IBM’s Platform as a Service (PaaS) that runs on our SoftLayer cloud infrastructure. It allows for the speedy and agile development of new born-on-the-cloud applications for an increasingly mobile, socially connected and data intensive world. It is proving to be a valuable tool for the public sector.
For example, Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) worked with IBM Business Partner Synchrony Systems to build and pilot a mobile app to track real-time train data via mobile updates. What typically would have taken six months, Synchrony was able to go from concept to building an application to deploying a running system in 15 days using Bluemix, a 90 percent improvement, according to Synchrony CEO Slavik Zorin.
This past August during the U.S. – Africa Leadership Summit, an Africa Open Data Jam was held with Open Data leaders from across the U.S. government, several African nations and the private sector. IBM demonstrated a prototype app built using Bluemix that makes use of messaging data from farmers in Africa to help better understand crop conditions on that continent.
This is a start but more should be done to spur this type of innovation in the federal government.
I believe that the IT community has a role to play in encouraging developers who support federal agencies to innovate. And that’s why IBM is launching the Bluemix Federal Challenge. We’re providing developers with a no-cost trial access to our Bluemix platform, combined with resources from data.gov, to encourage the rapid development of mobile and web apps that can be built and delivered on the cloud, and the application of open data and innovation to solve real-world problems and enhance forms of citizen engagement.
Submissions must focus on one of three categories:
Connected Park Explorers: Keep hikers, cyclists, and others who visit U.S. National Parks informed, safe and aware of any major disasters.
Rural access to knowledge: Improve the lives of rural residents, by using a variety of data sets from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Interior, to deliver information and services to Americans who live outside of major cities.
Safer Society: Combine weather, hazards, traffic safety, consumer product data or public safety datasets to help the public find critical information that keeps people safer and makes them more resilient in the event of disasters.
Currently, the federal government has nearly 250 mobile applications available that offer the public access to free information. However, federal agencies need to move away from simply creating an application that provides a database of information. Instead, agencies need to leverage agile cloud platforms to create cutting-edge mobile applications that will keep people aware, informed and safe in a timely manner. The IT community has a role to play – and our challenge is just the start.
To participate in IBM’s Federal Bluemix Challenge, developers can send an email to email@example.com to receive further instructions. Participants must also use data.gov to access the government’s open data sets.