The coronavirus pandemic has hit the United States hard and fast. This summer, it continues its lethal spread across the country, confounding government agencies at every level, and wreaking havoc with colleges and universities attempting to resume classes this fall.
When the first wave swept the country, public sector organizations sprung into action to secure essential public services, data, and systems to maintain operational continuity and ensure preparedness. Powerful cloud-based technologies formed the basis of this response and ensured that essential services could still be accessed by citizens. With the pandemic showing no signs of abating and the country settling into its new normal where remote mission delivery and engagement are now standard operating procedures, agencies must continue to drive agility.
As the pandemic set in, Gartner released advice for the response urging CIOs to prepare IT systems to support remote work. This preparation was greatly needed, explained William Sanders, an Oracle public sector leader, and former Kansas Dept. of Labor CIO. “With a rapid scaling up of a remote workforce, public sector organizations looked to secure funds and applications that would support both scalability and remote work,” he said. “The importance of scalability is unparalleled as is the need for a robust and secure cloud that facilitates this and supports agile development, creation, and procurement.”
The State of Oklahoma and city of Los Angeles have demonstrated just how important the cloud is in delivering agility, scalability, and reliability during the pandemic in order to support their constituents. “Public sector organizations that have a cloud infrastructure are set with the tools to add any resources needed for pandemic response,” Sanders said.
Let’s take a look at what these tools are, how the cloud supported a quick roll-out and how, in turn, it supported services that were vital to the communities that the State of Oklahoma and City of Los Angeles serve.
Like every state, Oklahoma had to rapidly move office-based employees to remote work – a change that had the potential to impact productivity and present numerous technical and security issues. Before COVID-19, the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise IT desk received more than 500 support calls a month. According to Jerry Moore, Oklahoma’s CIO, that number jumped to 1,500 calls per day.
“The state contacted Oracle and within eight days had a solution,” Sanders noted. “The team built a chatbot that will help remote workers with any technical questions and alleviate the burden on the IT team.”
Users can ask the chatbot questions, reset a password, and learn how to set up a VPN. With the help of the chatbot (also known as a “digital assistant”), 30,000 state employees are successfully prepared to work from home.
During that same period, Oracle also built a mobile app for the state’s Department of Human Services that tracks time and purchases related to COVID-19 work.
By mid-April, only 45 percent of Los Angeles residents had jobs. The situation was dire – and government officials knew they needed to provide residents with money quickly. Using the existing Mayor’s Fund, government officials solicited donations from the public and could then provide assistance to low-income citizens on prepaid debit cards.
“Through the Mayor’s Fund, they put out a call for folks to give us money, and we needed to be able to give that money out quickly,” said Mary Hodge, Chief of Operations, City of Los Angeles, in a recent podcast. “We didn’t want it to be something that was going to take forever, and we wanted folks to be able to see the funds right away. We had a couple of phases. The first phase, just because we wanted to get the money out right away, involved the nonprofits, which are through our family source centers. We put out an application, and we had about 400,000 people apply in the span of three days.”
This program was made possible by Oracle, MasterCard, and the nonprofit Accelerator for America. In just weeks, Los Angeles created a database for distributing these funds, eliminating the use of spreadsheets to track recipients. The database offered one other big benefit- the city could prevent fraudulent distributions because the database provided a single system of record.
With its success, cities around the county are replicating the database to provide essential services to citizens.
“With Oracle, we were able to build a system that we could email people right away. They could schedule themselves and then they could come into the same family source centers and get the cards,” said Hodge. “And that’s where we are today. We went from giving out a couple million at the beginning to now we’ve given out $26 million. And we’re hopefully on pace by the end of June to get to close to the $30 million mark.”
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