Posted by Brad Smith 
Senior Vice President and General Counsel

Over the past few months, starting with my January speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., I’ve talked a lot about the great potential for cloud computing to increase the efficiency and productivity of governments, businesses and individual consumers. To realize those benefits, we need to establish regulatory and industry protections that give computer users confidence in the privacy and security of cloud data.

Today, I returned to Washington to continue the discussion as one of the plenary speakers at the Gov 2.0 Expo 2010.

As I shared during my presentation, we are constantly seeing powerful new evidence of the value of cloud computing.

Today, for example, we announced that the University of Arizona chose Microsoft’s cloud platform to facilitate communications and collaboration among the school’s 18,000 faculty and staff.   After initially looking at various supposedly “free” online services, the institution selected Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite to update its aging e-mail system and to provide new calendaring and collaboration tools.  U. of A. officials concluded that, as a research university that conducts $530 million in research annually, it needed the enterprise-level security and privacy protections that BPOS could provide, but which the alternative services could not match.

I also talked about how cloud computing offers governments new opportunities to provide more value from publicly available data. The city of Miami, for instance, is using Microsoft’s Windows Azure cloud platform for Miami311, an online service that allows citizens to map some 4,500 non-emergency issues in progress.  This capability has enabled the city to transform what had essentially been a difficult-to-use list of outstanding service requests into a visual map that shows citizens each and every “ticket” in progress in their own neighborhood and in other parts of the city.

 

Stories like these are increasingly common.  Across the United States, at the state and local level, Microsoft is provisioning 1.4 million seats of hosted services, giving customers the option of cloud services. 

At Microsoft, we see how open government relies heavily on transparency, particularly around the sharing of information. This means not only making data sets available to citizens, but making the information useful.  If we want to engage citizens, then the cloud can play a role in bringing government information to life in ways that citizens can use in their daily activities.

But with new opportunities come new challenges.  The world needs a safe and open cloud with protection from thieves and hackers that will deliver on the promise of open government.  According to a recent survey conducted by Microsoft, more than 90 percent of Americans already are using some form of cloud computing. But the same survey found that more than 75 percent of senior business leaders believe that safety, security and privacy are top potential risks of cloud computing, and more than 90 percent of the general populations are concerned about the security and privacy of personal data.

Given the enormous potential benefits, cloud computing is clearly the next frontier for our industry.  But it will not arrive automatically.   Unlocking the potential of the cloud will require better infrastructure to increase access.  We will need to adapt long-standing relationships between customers and online companies around how information will be used and protected.  And we will need to address new security threats and questions about data sovereignty.

The more open government we all seek depends, in part, on a new conversation within the technology industry, working in partnership with governments around the world.  Modernizing security and privacy laws is critical, and broad agreement is needed on security and privacy tools that will help protect citizens.  We need greater collaboration among governments to foster consistency and predictability.  Microsoft welcomes governments and citizens alike to participate in shaping a responsible approach to the cloud.