by Stuart McKee on March 04, 2010 07:45am

It's no understatement to say that governments today are stressed to deliver more with much less. One difference with the private sector is the government's ‘inverse' relationship to the economy - the ‘worse' it gets, the more demand for services rises ... tax revenues go down, while demand on the system goes up. 

State and local governments are really feeling the impact of the recession and are losing valuable resources. Many of the "easy" cuts have already been made, and tough decisions like layoffs, delayed projects, and reduced services are being implemented across the country. Yet even in this somewhat grim picture, there are people finding ways to improve government, providing services 24 hour a day, more efficiently and with greater impact.

As Microsoft's National Technology Officer for U.S. State and Local government's, I get the unique opportunity to work with a broad array of our customers, and see some of the creative approaches they are taking to solving very hard problems.  So when I see someone doing it well, it really sticks with me

Last week, Microsoft hosted our annual Public Sector CIO Summit. More than 300 CIO's from across the US federal, state, local, and education leaders spent two days learning and listening to one other and discussing how Microsoft's technology strategy and roadmap helps them solve hard problems.  There were several great stories, but there is one in particular I want to call out.

Like a number of cities, the City of Miami had implemented a 311 system. It started out as a phone based system allowing Miami's residents to report non-emergency issues around the City. Citizens could dial 311 to report issues such as potholes, street light outages, or missed trash pickup.

Of course those same citizens wanted to know that progress was being made, and started calling the call center to inquire about their issues. Since this can decrease efficiency, the city took a big step and decided to put it all online. Now, people can view the status of the request and monitor the progress of the request resolution. In addition, citizens have full visibility into the progress of other issues being resolved around the city. 

Here's the really stunning part. The City of Miami, two people actually, was able to build a new system in less than eight days over the holidays, with no up-front costs - from inception to running. By deploying it in the cloud, they not only sped up development, but eliminated the need for costly infrastructure.

The solution takes advantage of virtually unlimited storage and processing power, provides the ability to quickly address service requests and implement updates even during peak times such as hurricane season. If things change, the City can bring the solution on site or move to a physical facility, all based on  need and cost-effectiveness.

As a result, residents logging on to Miami 311 can see on average 4,500 issues in progress - not represented as a ‘list', but located on a map in relation to other projects in their neighborhood .  A simple click on the map allows them to easily drill down to more and more specific details if they want.

In short, they have turned what used to be represented by a meaningless list of data into useful information, and created  actionable and consumable knowledge that is relevant to the citizens of Miami. For Miami, their ‘service call to the city' becomes an interactive process they can follow - and the City has a new tool to manage and deliver outcomes.

Anyone who has ever built a public facing, enterprise-level application, knows how spectacular that is. Everyone who wonders how their government is doing can appreciate the value.

When the city made the move to the web, they chose tools they knew and software they trust. The Microsoft Windows Azure cloud platform made it easy to do, and they used both Bing mapping and Silverlight to build a user friendly front end.

They took advantage of the technology roadmap we have built, which lets them decide what belongs in the cloud and what belongs on premise - in effect, they put our annual $9-billion R&D investment to work for citizens of Miami, right now. 

No delay. Lower costs. Great use of existing talent. Better citizen services. Fantastic.

Our customers have made decisions about how their enterprise technology infrastructure needs to meet their business requirements. We've built the platform that helps them deliver on those choices across a broad set of technologies, and not just those that have our name on it.

In fact, our customers get to choose which data center their data lives in; the technology they want to write applications to access that data; and the developer tools they use to write the code. The Microsoft cloud today supports open source technologies such as Eclipse, PHP, Ruby, Python and PERL running on the Microsoft Windows Azure platform in our data centers.

In doing so, our customers have choice and avoid the problem of creating a new silo of complexity. Instead, they are able to extend their on-premises environment to fit their goals in ways they are comfortable with. Turns out, it is OK to use a broad range of technologies, including Open Source software, with Microsoft solutions.

Now, something that is really cool: Miami is making their solution available to other jurisdictions (no surprise, most cities deal with similar challenges). I can't wait to see what the next iteration of contributions will be, as more thought leaders across the country engage.

Miami really is taking a lead, in very hard circumstances, and we're proud that our technology is part of that solution. But, as I said, it's about people solving problems.