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Q&A: Arizona CTO Jason Simpson Is on the Front Line of Statewide Cloud Migration

After adopting a cloud-first initiative, the technology chief discusses the benefits and challenges of making the move.

Despite the state’s sunny skies, Arizona is setting out to be a trailblazer in cloud adoption.

Last May, Arizona launched a cloud-first initiative that requires state agencies to shift their IT resources and operations to the cloud and just recently the state tapped IBM Cloud to manage its daily mainframe operations. Now, the state is beginning to put those cloud-first principles into practice, discussing at its last public meeting the need to migrate its current mainframe for the Department of Administration to the cloud. The change will provide "enhanced capabilities, enhanced uptime during system maintenance, and a robust Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity capability," according to the meeting's agenda.

On the front line of cloud migration is Arizona’s Chief Technology Officer Jason Simpson, who recently spoke with StateTech about the benefits of cloud computing, how the state is making the move and what it takes to make a statewide move to the cloud a priority.

STATETECH: Can you begin by outlining what a cloud-first strategy means for the state? Why have you implemented one?

SIMPSON: The state implemented a cloud-first strategy for three specific reasons: better resiliency, larger cost savings and increased security. We are challenging agencies to look for cloud solutions before they look for on-premises solutions.

Historically, agencies have purchased solutions that are on-premises without having the capacity to maintain them at the required levels. These solutions, such as our state data center, quickly become outdated and very expensive to maintain. The top cloud providers can offer cost-effective solutions with more security, which remains a top priority for the state.  

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STATETECH: Can you specifically speak to the state's decision to migrate the current mainframe for the Department of Administration to the cloud?

SIMPSON: Maintaining a mainframe can be extremely difficult for many reasons.

First and foremost, the resources needed to maintain the mainframe are becoming harder and harder to find. It’s an outdated technology so people who know it become difficult to find. This is particularly important for Arizona because each agency has to pay for their portion of the mainframe in order to maintain it. Many of those agencies are actively implementing projects that will get them off the mainframe and as they leave, the other agencies are left to cover the total cost of the mainframe.

With a cloud-based solution, as agencies divest from the mainframe, those costs will go down and the remaining agencies will maintain a level cost.

Lastly, and most importantly, our state mainframe did not have effective redundancy or built-in disaster recovery, so we had to find a better solution.  

STATETECH: What benefits can you expect to see from migrating to the cloud?

SIMPSON: Cloud solutions provide more value to the citizens because they allow us to do more and better work for citizens instead of spending time and resources doing non-value-added IT work. We’ve already talked about better security and more resiliency, but there’s also increased redundancy combined with scalability.

Furthermore, if we adopt a Software as a Service model we no longer have to worry about upgrades because they happen on a regular basis with cloud-based solutions. All of these things add up to the most important benefit, which is cost savings.  

STATETECH: What challenges arise in attempting a cloud migration?

SIMPSON: Whenever you upgrade or migrate a system, there are bound to be challenges. The advantages here are that these challenges will be handled by the vendor, which allows our people to remain focused on their jobs and delivering the highest quality service.  

STATETECH: Are there other areas of the state's IT that you are looking to migrate to the cloud in the near future?

SIMPSON: Several of our agencies are already migrating to the cloud in order to update their systems, and there will be more in the future. As more systems age and come up for renewal, we will work with agencies to look for potential cloud solutions.  

STATETECH: How are you hoping that implementing more cloud computing and storage will change government and services for your citizens?

SIMPSON: We’re focusing on improving services for citizens instead of worrying about maintaining infrastructure, and cloud solutions enable our agencies to provide better services overall. We’re adopting modern technology so that agencies can provide a better user experience, such as mobile solutions and online capabilities, which is what the citizens expect.

Photo courtesy of the Arizona Department of Administration
Jul 31 2017

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