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Can Salesforce Government Cloud really make the government run more efficiently?
That's the question the cloud-based CRM provider wants to answer with its Government Cloud Lightning platform. The recent addition to the Salesforce cloud Lightning infrastructure lets government agencies more easily build applications to better connect with other agencies, employees and citizens, while also sharing best practices and apps on the Salesforce app exchange, reducing redundancy and adhering to higher security standards.
"Salesforce is helping the government get organized and take advantage of cloud technology," said Rusty Pickens, senior adviser for digital platforms at the U.S. Department of State. "The security infrastructure is on par with what agencies are held to if they were within federal walls."
Salesforce Government Cloud is compliant with FedRAMP, the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, a governmentwide program that provides a standardized security approach for cloud services.
Pickens said, typically, the federal government is late to the party when it comes to upgrading its technological software, and this lack of updated platforms is costly. According to the Government Accountability Office, in 2015, agencies spent roughly $58 billion of the $79 billion IT budget to maintain legacy technology systems.
Using Salesforce Government Cloud Lightning, federal agencies can connect with contractors, employees or citizens in more convenient ways, according to Vivek Kundra, executive vice president for Salesforce.
"It's one platform for seamless navigation for government institutions," Kundra said. "It's been built for the government using the same core technology available in the enterprise space, but it also addresses unique security and regulatory requirements."
Kundra described scenarios where the Food and Drug Administration can work with companies it regulates to create processes to bring new discoveries and products to market quicker than the paper-based model.
Kundra also noted that the U.S. Department of Agriculture uses Salesforce Government Cloud to work with area farmers to provide funding more efficiently.
"Historically, dealing with government, you would stand in a long line or be on hold on the phone," Kundra said, adding that the disconnect led to citizens often navigating a "bureaucratic maze" to locate the information they were looking for.
It wasn't that long ago the majority of government communication was still desk-tied and all mobile communication was via BlackBerrys, according to Pickens, who worked in the White House under President Barack Obama and implemented Salesforce as a more efficient way for the president to respond to email messages from citizens.
"Generally, the federal space is moving to embrace a more mobile culture," Pickens said. "When we joined the White House [in 2009], there weren't even any laptops -- it was that bad."
Lightning mobilizes Government Cloud
In April 2016, the company launched Salesforce Government Cloud Lightning, enabling federal agencies to get the benefits of the Lightning framework, including Lightning Experience, which enhances the user interface, and Lightning Components, which enables agencies to build mobile and desktop apps. Government Cloud launched in 2012.
For government officials in agencies such as the U.S. Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration and the State Department, being able to move information and communication to mobile devices made it easier and more efficient to look for relevant information, or communicate to a colleague or citizen.
"All of a sudden, just the concept of contact management on the fly, it's changing the way they work," Pickens said. "Having all that data on their phone, rather than having to come back to the office, it sounds old school, but it has really changed the way the government works."
With Salesforce Government Cloud Lightning, the user interface was overhauled to work collaboratively on desktop and mobile.
"The Lightning aspect is the powerful part," Pickens aid. "It works the same way on your desktop as it does on your mobile device."
That compatibility allows Pickens, who is implementing Salesforce Government Cloud at the State Department, to create only one set of training material, rather than desktop- and mobile-specific training.
The compatibility between desktop and mobile for Salesforce Government Cloud Lightning extends to application building, which Pickens said is one significant way government agencies could save time and money, while improving productivity through app sharing.
"We're trying to actively promote reusing code and using an open source approach across the government for application building," Pickens said. "In an ideal world, every agency can build and publish an app to the exchange and share it for free. Other agencies can customize it and make it agency-specific. That's good government."
Pickens said project- or invoice-tracking applications are needed in most federal agencies, and having open-sourced templates can save agencies time and money if they don't have to build them themselves.
One agency, the General Services Administration, has a $503 million blanket purchasing agreement with Salesforce to implement and integrate Government Cloud Lightning, and the GSA is also taking the initiative on building and sharing apps for the government app exchange, calling it GSA Labs.
Rusty Pickenssenior adviser for digital platforms at the U.S. Department of State
"In the past, with government IT projects, it could take years to go from an idea to an app," Kundra said. "Now, they can create game-changing technology and share it with state, local and federal government. That's an amazing use of taxpayer dollars."
Two other agencies have been awarded blanket purchasing agreements, including $100 million from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department and $100 million from the USDA to implement Salesforce Government Cloud.
Pickens said it will take time and a change in perception to implement Salesforce Government Cloud Lightning throughout the federal government. But based on the progress made since 2009 and the security concerns the platform addresses, governmental operations should continue on the path toward efficiency.
"Their first anxiety and apprehension is around security, and that problem has been solved," Pickens said. "This is safe for the government to use."
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