Running government from the cloud: Tips for implementation teams

By:  Alicia Antonetti -Tricker


Many government agencies are facing the need to replace aging, disparate software solutions that support critical business processes and functions. Often, these aging solutions are siloed and are on internal networks that are not easily accessible outside of the government office complex, which affects employee mobility, data sharing, and access to real-time information. As a result, many state and local government organizations are looking to enterprise-wide, cloud-based platform solutions to support business processes, increase data sharing, and support mobility.

Enterprise-wide cloud applications offer the opportunity to deploy systems that government agencies can use across multiple departments and business functions. Microsoft offers this type of solution with Dynamics 365 Government, a specialized cloud-based deployment of its Customer Engagement solution that was originally branded as Microsoft CRM Online Government.

To successfully implement Dynamics 365 Government – or any technology solution in the public sector – implementers should use a holistic approach that embraces:

  • Awareness of perceived barriers
  • Mindfulness of the decision-making process
  • An understanding of election cycles, legislative requirements, and budget considerations
  • An emphasis on process improvement opportunities
  • A focus on change management

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Awareness of perceived barriers to implementation

Some public-sector organizations remain hesitant to migrate to the cloud. They see data in a cloud environment as less secure. Having data stored in local servers brings a sense of safety, visibility, and immediate and protected access for some government entities.

Some government leaders, including their influential stakeholders, fear that relying on cloud-based storage and moving data outside of agency control means risking data security. Despite the flexibility, agility, and cost-savings inherent in cloud-based solutions, fears that the cloud can make data vulnerable have been a barrier to adoption, historically.

Those implementing the new technology can work with government organizations to break down these perceived barriers with cloud technology by demonstrating that they understand that data security is a top concern for government officials.

In the case of Dynamics 365 Government, Microsoft has designed an environment that meets both international- and industry-specific compliance standards, and that its products are built with security in mind. The government application is hosted in its own environment, separate from what is available to commercial clients. While the software essentially is the same, government data is stored in dedicated, US-based data centers with increased security measures to keep data safe. Dynamics 365 Government features that rely on additional Microsoft services, such as Azure, are carefully vetted through a lengthy certification process before they can be used in the Dynamics 365 Government environment.

Dynamics 365 for Government Customer Engagement was designed to meet the highest standards for security, privacy, compliance, and transparency. The Microsoft Dynamics Trust Center details Microsoft’s data integrity and infrastructure security initiatives. Sharing this information with public sector officials upfront will break down the perceived barrier throughout the implementation process.

A mindful decision-making process

Government institutions differ from the typical private-sector company because in government agencies, there often is no single, “buck stops here” technology decision maker. Rarely is there a hierarchy that empowers one person to make all technology decisions, such as a chief information officer (CIO) or chief technology officer (CTO). The CIO or CTO role typically is a sponsor, but often must gain consensus across the government enterprise or organization. As a result, this “decision-by-committee” approach might be iterative and complicated to navigate.

In addition, external stakeholders might also play a role. In some cases, a government organization collaborates with other entities, necessitating integration of the technology platform across multiple departments, which adds complexity. Moreover, depending on the nature of the business function supported by the technology implementation, public perceptions might need to be considered.

Understanding that the decision-making process is unique in government will help implementers more easily navigate the complexity.

Understanding election cycles, legislative requirements, and budget considerations

The more deliberate pace of implementation for government clients can be exacerbated by the fact that officials in the upper echelon of many agencies are elected into office. Leadership and key project sponsors, influencers, and supporters can change abruptly, leading to a shift in priorities, agendas, and budgets. Decisions previously considered final can come back up on the table to be rehashed after an election cycle.

Similarly, shifting legislative realities complicate the implementation of a solution, including Dynamics 365 Government. For example, a new bill could pass that changes requirements significantly, including fields, function, configuration, and business logic. And when a legislative change occurs, there is no debating or prioritizing; the requirement is mandatory and, oftentimes, sudden. Organizations implementing Dynamics 365 Government should be aware of this possibility and pre-empt surprises by being familiar with the legislative cycle and any potential changes on the horizon and, ideally, by building a flexible platform that can tolerate change and that minimizes over-customization. Configuration is a key component to mitigate legislative changes.

In addition to being aware of the possibility that legislative shifts move the ground beneath them, organizations also should be tuned in to existing legislative requirements relating to data integrity and clearance to access the data, as these can affect the choices that are made as part of the technology upgrade.

Emphasis on process improvement opportunities

Simply investing in a new technology platform and hosting it in the cloud will not fix all challenges. Often, cumbersome, outdated processes must be addressed in parallel with a new technology implementation. Government organizations typically support this notion, but might not know where to start.

As with any technology upgrade, the implementation of Dynamics 365 Government will be most successful if it is viewed as just one piece of an overall re-engineering and business process improvement initiative. Technology should be used as a complement to the larger exercise, with the focus on improving efficiencies throughout the organization. The technology should support the business, rather than the business having to reinvent itself to support new unfamiliar technology.

To be successful, technology implementation teams must understand the overall goals and mission of the agency. They should become experts in business processes across departments and among all levels of staff, and be able to evaluate where job functions or procedures overlap, duplicate, and interact as well as where handoffs occur from one person or department to another.

An implementation team must work to understand why processes exist as they do, what triggers or requirements might exist, and how the new technology can support the client (or not). The team also must evaluate the current state of business processes as well as the desired future state, focusing on where gaps can be closed, redundancies eliminated, paper reduced, and decision-making enhanced. Likely, some areas already run efficiently and will require no significant change.

With public-sector clients, capturing the value and benefits of a new technology investment is different than for clients in other industries. The implementation will be more successful when stakeholders recognize and document the benefits, whether quantitative or qualitative. Those implementing the technology should help clients make this case for their constituents, which might mean helping the client identify a “return on investment” of sorts: perhaps increased efficiency, decreased processing time, or even eliminating paper. Rather than a profit focus, measures can be made in cost savings and the ability to maximize a budget.

Focus on change management

Change is hard. With any technology implementation, it is important for implementers to understand and focus on change management principles through the delivery of the engagement.

New technology will create fear for some staff members, as some might be concerned that they no longer will know how to perform their job function or might no longer be needed in the organization. Government agencies often are staffed with many legacy employees who are used to long-established procedures that often involve the use of outmoded technology. The technical skills among staff will vary widely, as will resistance to change. Those implementing the technology should take the ways in which staff might feel threatened seriously and address these fears with transparent training in new processes and by considering ways to drive value by realigning staff in different parts of the organization. Skill-building and cross-training should be done in conjunction with implementing the technology.

Moreover, agency leadership should communicate the goals of the technology clearly, early, and often, and should demonstrate the value of the technology by translating the benefits to specific departments and individuals as realistic examples. The lack of a single leader setting the direction of the agency can necessitate a higher level of consensus building and training as compared with what is needed for a client in the private sector. For this reason, an implementation team must be sure that the client executive steering committee or other project sponsors are communicating consistent and strong messaging in support of the project. The implementation team could even craft messaging for the sponsors to disseminate.

Formal change management activities should be included alongside the more technical components of the implementation, the goals of which likely will include:

  • Clearly communicating key objectives and return on investment
  • Conducting stakeholder analysis to determine interests of different staff members
  • Tailoring communications and training to different staff profiles as much as possible

Another key component of the change management process is to have high-level internal champions for the implementation. The person or people filling this champion role should be tasked with organizing people and resources, dispelling rumors, leading communications, resolving differences, identifying challenges early, and communicating and working through solutions with the rest of the organization. An outside vendor will have a much more difficult time playing this role without inside support.

Drive success through thoughtful implementation

Government agencies can benefit substantially from shifting to the cloud-hosted Dynamics 365 Government. By taking a holistic approach, the implementation team will be well positioned to achieve success for their public-sector organization.


About Alicia L. Antonetti-Tricker

Alicia L. Antonetti-Tricker, PMP, is a principal at Crowe Horwath LLP, one of the largest public accounting, consulting and technology firms in the US. She provides management and information technology consulting services to state, local and quasi-government organizations and leads multi-million-dollar, multi-stakeholder and multi-year engagement teams.