Communication service providers like AT&T and Verizon are heavily investing in cloud technologies. They’re delivering digital disruption to government agencies with next-generation networks to help address agencies' ongoing battle against aging equipment.

Across the board, government is investing in cloud: Federal cloud spending alone will reach $6.7 billion in 2020, according to International Data Corp. (IDC). From infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), to platform-as-a-service (PaaS) or video-as-a-service (VaaS), the available options are expanding as federal, state and local agencies seek flexibility, agility and capital expenditure cuts.

Yet many agencies still face the daunting task of modernizing aging, sometimes proprietary systems. Over the next three years, pundits expect $1 billion in federal technology will fall to end-of-life status, according to Tony Scott, Federal chief information officer, at the Brocade Federal Forum in Washington, D.C. About 28 out of 750 federal systems are at least 25 years old and approximately 50 systems spend their entire funding allocation on operations and maintenance, reported GovExec.

To allay the situation, the White House asked Congress for support establishing a $3.1 billion revolving fund that helps agencies adopt newer technologies instead of legacy IT systems with documented cyber security issues; it easily can be moved to the cloud, or simply cost a lot to maintain. Agencies that receive funds must repay the line of credit over several years, NextGov wrote.

Adopting cloud liberates agencies from buying expensive hardware, some of which is used only at peak periods such as elections or tax time. Because they're partnering with providers to access servers and other capabilities on-demand, government departments use opex – or operational expenditures – not capex (i.e. capital expenditures), to finance their infrastructure. Partners also provide the most current operating systems, security and other capabilities, all reasons why selecting the most appropriate service provider is critical to success.

Opportunities for Telecom Providers at the Federal Level

With the focus now on strategic funding, federal agencies are well-poised to craft short- and long-term visions for cloud-based technologies as the foundation of customer-serving initiatives. Whether they're serving internal customers like employees or external clients like constituents, most users want mobile, flexible solutions. Additionally, agencies are beginning to leverage cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) applications to save money, improve and expand services, and enhance safety.

With their expertise in designing, delivering and supporting reliable, scalable telecom networks for enterprises, communication service providers (CSPs) are well versed on delivering next-generation networks that can empower agency CIOs and their public service colleagues to create digital disruption within government. After all, government agencies have long relied on CSPs for vital emergency services such as 911 and operators bring the same high level of reliability to their cloud and network offerings.

In late 2015, for example, the General Services Administration's Office of Fleet Management inked a five-year blanket agreement with AT&T, leveraging the operator's network, knowledge of IoT and mobile to help it manage leases of more than 204,000 vehicles at 75 government agencies. The solution incorporates GPS tracking, diagnostics to improve operating costs and meet emission targets, and vehicle monitoring for enhanced productivity and cost savings, RCR Wireless wrote.

Likewise, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is expected to unveil rules next year for e-logging devices that mandate trucking companies and fleet operators track and report drivers' hours and driving behavior, according to Verizon's State of the Market: Internet of Things 2016 report. Verizon, which has a division dedicated to telematics – or the convergence of telecommunications and computing – is working with a growing number of private and public logistics and transportation groups on these solutions, the company said.

State and Local Opportunities for CSPs

In Charlotte, North Carolina, a public-private partnership known as Envision Charlotte measures and continually displays energy used by uptown buildings, a move the city says has helped to reduce the city’s energy use by 16% and keeps 220,999 metric tons of greenhouse gases from being emitted. Spinoff group Envision America is expanding to several other cities and public utilities, such as water and waste.

Cities such as San Diego, Calif., and Jacksonville, Fla., are piloting cloud-based IoT programs that use LED streetlights to gather real-time data to manage lighting as well as parking, potholes and street repairs, according to Verizon. Combined with predictive and prescriptive analytics platforms that reside on the cities’ cloud-based networks, local agencies are able to further reduce costs, improve existing services and generate new, creative offerings that meet their constituents’ needs.

On a state level, the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is using cloud, IoT, analytics, mobile and other technologies to improve sustainability and feed the world's growing population. Sensor-based sprinklers, for example, cut water waste and enhance crop yields by responding in real-time to soil conditions, while mobile apps empower consumers to share photos of potentially dangerous bugs and beetles they find so state officials can eliminate them before they damage valuable crops.

The Convergence Factor

These cloud-based solutions typically combine multiple areas of expertise and involve several groups within an agency. For example, the CDFA solution involved agriculture experts, the IT team, data professionals and environmental authorities, amongst others. Thus, finding one service provider to deliver or oversee the platform can be challenging. Yet managing and integrating multiple providers on one project often leads to finger-pointing when errors arise, integration issues and communication hurdles.

The expertise CSPs bring in delivering reliable, scalable networks and mobile makes them an obvious choice to deliver next-generation cloud-based solutions to local, state and federal agencies. Many are investing in powerful new network technologies that give agencies more cost-effective control via web-based consoles. These new virtualization solutions also let agencies implement more secure networks as a service, receiving better safeguards without having to hire costly, hard-to-find security specialists who must constantly train to stay ahead of hackers' capabilities.

These CSPs work with organizations such as the New IP Agency to overcome myriad standards within virtualization and cloud that otherwise slow the implementation process. NIA, an international non-profit whose members include leading service providers and virtualization vendors, partners with independent testing firm EANTC to ensure vendors' products are interoperable, preventing government agencies and enterprises from getting locked in to any one vendor's platform – a de facto proprietary system, albeit one based on open source.

From local firms to their national counterparts, CSPs are investing in next-generation cloud and network technologies to deliver improved and new services to their customers. With their ability to integrate legacy systems and open the door to mobile, IoT and other in-demand offerings, communication service providers are well equipped to answer government agencies' call for reliable, scalable change.