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The Cloud and Its Implications for HHS Agencies

From Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS), which are all prevalent in private sector, these are now available to the public sector.

In the past decade, health and human services (HHS) agencies have invested heavily in modernizing the technology to power their business operations and services.  However, there is still much work to do. Aging legacy systems, administrative burden, and lack of actionable insights are the top three challenges that continue to impact an agency’s ability to transform its service delivery to improve program outcomes.

There is no shortage of technology solutions available to help agencies tackle their challenges. From Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS), which are all prevalent in private sector, these are now available to the public sector. Here's a preview of those offerings, often mentioned as cloud services, and how they can support HHS agencies.

What is “The Cloud” ?

In an increasingly connected age, “the cloud” refers to any approach using the internet to deliver software solution. PaaS enables a commercial construct under which agencies do not need to purchase, manage, or maintain any hardware or on-premise software. Nor are they required to provide the labor and real estate or incur any of the associated costs to operate the underlying software. The costs associated with are much more flexible than traditional methods. HHS agencies only need to commission – and only pay for – server and infrastructure capacity as and when it is needed.

Those solutions can range from renting out data centers (what is known as Infrastructure as a Service or IaaS) to renting out completely purpose-built software solutions (what is known as Software as a Service or SaaS). Sitting between those two options is the concept of the Platform as a Service (also known as PaaS), which combines the flexibility of Infrastructure as a Service with a set of “out of the box” core capabilities enabling “no code” or “low code” configuration and rapid development of HSS solutions. These core capabilities can be adapted to meet the functionality necessary for HHS service delivery: forms development, automated workflows, integration with external systems and data, robust dashboards, and advanced analytics.

By investing in a Multi-Tenant PaaS offering, an HHS agency can be “future ready” while allowing its workforce to take advantage of technological innovation. A PaaS vendor's full-time job is to carefully monitor security, which can be significantly more efficient than a conventional in-house system, where an organization must divide its efforts between a myriad of IT concerns, with security being only one of them. The PaaS approach is inherently more scalable, secure and reliable than an on-premise solution because the system is designed to support millions of users, and Multi-Tenant platform providers are continuously upgrading, improving, and expanding it so that an HHS agency is always on the latest release promoting greater sustainability of the solution over time.

SaaS can be combined with a PaaS approach or independently. A SaaS approach delivers domain expertise in combination with the flexibility offered by a PaaS approach. A SaaS offering brings expertise in specific domains (for example Child Welfare or Homeless) and provides pre-configured acceleration components that can jump start system design to meet the complex needs of an agency. These components can evolve with Federal and State HHS changes as well as specific policy and process updates at the local level. SaaS can be delivered either as stand-alone software or as an accelerator component that sits on top of a PaaS solution.

Many HHS agencies are starting to leverage the power of the cloud to transform their business, streamline operations, and modernize systems. The rapid path to implementation is attractive to agencies who want to get tools into the hands of their stakeholders quickly and efficiently.  The flexibility of a platform enables agencies to make system changes when policies and processes change.  Platforms offer configurations to workflow that removes some of the redundant and manual tasks, freeing up caseworkers to spend more time with people and have a greater impact on the families served.

This piece was written in conjunction with Christi Oakley, Industry GTM Director, Salesforce; Ruthie Seale, HHS Specialist, Microsoft; and Gaurav Garg, Architect, Microsoft.

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