If you have a smartphone, you likely use apps to accomplish everyday tasks, from paying your cable bill to ordering takeout to hailing a taxi. That means you also use the cloud.
These apps are made possible by internet-based cloud computing. By using information technology services securely delivered over the internet from the data centers of leading tech companies, such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon, cloud computing lets developers build great apps that make life easier for millions of New Yorkers.
I have wondered, then, why city services cannot be so simple and efficient. Why can’t we summon one as easily as ordering lunch or paying a bill? And what can the City Council do to make city agencies work better with new technologies? Or just make more city services accessible via an app?
The cloud has helped improve the safety of New Yorkers by enhancing the transportation infrastructure. The Department of Transportation built Vision Zero View and iRide NYC applications on the cloud, using crowdsourcing to collect safety data that can be used to redesign streets and traffic patterns with the goal of reducing traffic fatalities to zero.
The council’s Committee on Contracts, which I chair, has been looking for ways our government can work more efficiently to give constituents timely services and assurances their tax dollars are well spent. Part of the search is looking at how we are using our technology services this year.
In a city the size of New York, these aren’t easy tasks. But thanks to the explosive growth and the advancement of new technologies for the storage, security and use of information in the cloud, we have an opportunity to make huge strides in how the city provides constituent services.
If we encourage cloud adoption by more agencies to increase efficiency and build better apps, we could provide new and better services for New Yorkers. With cloud computing, we could provide those services in a more resilient, secure and agile way than through traditional information technology. With fewer long-term contracts and reduced up-front costs, we can avoid many of the risks—and scandalous failures—that have come with large, complicated IT projects.
Additionally we can open up new ways for citizens to engage with the city, creating new opportunities for all. For example, with a more connected, app- and technology-driven city, we can get quicker responses to inquiries and richer data on what is working and what isn’t, and move faster to address problems when they arise.
New York City is moving toward more cloud use and apps for services, but it’s not moving fast enough. We are the greatest city in the world, and no one should be eating our lunch. New York should be the undisputed global leader in modernized services, but we’ve got some catching up to do.
From coast to coast, virtually every other major city and state is adopting cloud-first policies and priorities. We in the City Council must work with the de Blasio administration to take our rightful place at the head of the innovation pack.
In so doing, we might just help turn the Big Apple into the Big App.
City Councilman Justin Brannan is chairman of the council’s Committee on Contracts and a Lindsay Fellow at the City University of New York.