Cover Story

RightNow Takes U.S. Government to the Cloud

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor  |  June 01, 2010

The Obama Administration has made it clear that it wants to “do more with less” i.e. maintaining and developing federal programs, such its economic stimulus package and health reform at lower total costs. Cloud computing is one such solution to government needs. This method greatly reduces capital and IT expenses over premise-based solutions while offering superior flexibility and scalability. That includes the ability to support teleworkers, which is also a White House priority and to enable business continuity during natural, and man-made-disasters; the recent attempted Times Square bombing is a stark reminder how real the threat of terrorism still is: nearly nine years after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Many – but not all – Federal government agencies have been getting the message about the cloud and are reaping the results. A recent Brookings Governance study, “Saving Money Through Cloud Computing,” found that “agencies generally saw between 25 and 50 percent savings in moving to the cloud. For the federal government as a whole, this translates into billions in cost savings.”

Among these solutions federal agencies have been adopting is RightNow Technologies’ (News - Alert) ( Secure Government Cloud. Launched in April 2009, it runs the RightNow CX customer experience suite, which helps agencies optimize constituent interactions via the web, contact centers and social networks. Over 170 government agencies worldwide, including the Department of Homeland Security Customs and Border Protection and USDA Farm Service Agency, already use RightNow’s Secure Government Cloud solutions.

The Secure Government Cloud is also being tapped by 31 state agencies and offices. They have been taking the brunt of the economic downturn with dramatically reduced sales taxes and other income sources, forcing them to make cuts in services, like transit, even as federal stimulus dollars flow into building new and extending existing bus and rail transit networks.

Yet RightNow says even more billions of dollars can be squeezed out of budgets if other government agencies signed up for the Secure Government Cloud. And to encourage more federal (and state agencies) to take flight, the firm introduced in April 2010, Safe Switch, a new program that assists them with flying up to the cloud.

RightNow points to MeriTalk’s 2009 study “DIY Federal IT Bailout: Finding Funds,” which points out that the federal government could save an estimated $6.6 billion with cloud computing. And adds Brookings: “With the number of federal data centers having skyrocketed from 493 to 1,200 over the past decade (Federal Communications Commission, 2010), it is time to more seriously consider whether money can be saved through greater reliance on cloud computing.”

Kevin Paschuck, RightNow vice president of public sector, estimates that 80 percent of federal government information, such as its websites and data such as the number of non-U.S. citizens entering the country, can be hosted in the Secure Government Cloud as they meet the government’s low and medium security classifications. High security material, such as classified documents and military command and control instructions, he says, should never go into the cloud.

The departmental cost benefits of flying to the cloud are significant. While RightNow could not provide at press time any examples showing hard money savings for federal agencies, it pointed to the experience of the Colorado Department of Revenue (CDOR). From February and mid-March of every year, CDOR may have to field 90 percent of its annual workload from its more than 2.1 million individual income tax filers. It saved approximately $700,000 over an 18-month period with the RightNow CX self-service and knowledgebase capabilities, which are hosted in the Secure Government Cloud.

The Secure Government Cloud also provides agencies with unprecedented deployment and operational flexibility. It is multi-tenant and multi-version, unlike, RightNow says, the offerings from other cloud vendors. This enables compliance with government upgrade requirements for agencies to upgrade on their own schedule, not on the vendors’.

Yet federal agencies have been reluctant to embrace cloud computing, says RightNow, because of strict security and compliance standards that are required to not house sensitive information on premise. Some agencies also want to physically see the data centers for a sense of control and view it as an additional means of risk management.

“RightNow is assisting agencies currently running on-premise, stove-piped legacy applications to seamlessly transition into a modern C&A-compliant cloud environment.”
–Greg Gianforte (News - Alert), founder and CEO of RightNow

“RightNow utilizes best in class technology and processes to ensure our customers have confidence in our mission critical cloud computing environment,” said Laef Olson, chief information officer at RightNow. “We take our obligation to provide a comprehensive risk management service very seriously.”

RightNow CX has been written to meet stringent federally-required certification and accreditation (C&A) standards. These include compliance with FISMA, HIPAA, NIST 800-53 FIPS 199, PCI (News - Alert) and SAS70 Type II with complete NIST C&A documentation including Infrastructure SSP, Applications SSP, SAR, Risk Assessment Report and POA&M. The Secure Government Cloud is DIACAP-certified for organizations that must run on the NIPRNET. RightNow follows the same NIST and DIACAP security standards and frameworks that an agency would use to secure their systems: at no extra charge.

RightNow has partnered with the Defense Information Systems Agency for a Secure Government Cloud offering that has been customized for the Department of Defense (DoD). Agencies such as the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force can now operate RightNowCX on the DoD’s DIACAP network to help with case management and HR services. The hosted servers are located at DoD locations for additional security.

More DoD agencies have are moving to the highly-secure cloud. Among them: the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC). RightNow CX helps the healthcare education campus train and support medics enlisted in the Air Force, Army and Navy.

“The RightNow Government Cloud is highly secure and DoD compliant,” says Major Manny Dominguez, Ph.D., USAF, chief information officer, METC. “METC is paving the way for other DoD organizations to use cutting-edge technology without investing significant budget and IT resources.”

To add steel to the security RightNow’s servers are staffed 7/24/365 by DoD-cleared personnel for security, operations, and customer care. The firm has well-hardened locations with multiple security and data and power backup layers.

RightNow rolled out the Secure Government Cloud after certifying the application to government-mandated standards. Paschuck said that his firm already had 70 percent of federal agencies as clients but they were using CX at a low level, which comprises only 10 percent of the information; mid-level contains the remaining 70 percent that is cloud-feasible.

“Our federal agency clients said ‘we see the benefits of going to the cloud; if you can get us there and overcome the security obstacles, we’ll move,” says Paschuck. “In order to do that we needed to meet the federal government security requirements: their primary objection for not going to the cloud.”

RightNow’s new Safe Switch program greatly lessens the risk of falling off the cloud with features including:

  • Rapid deployment at a fixed price. This migrates existing on-premise applications to the RightNow Secure Government Cloud with an average “go live” of less than 90 days. RightNow will agree to fixed-price milestone based contracts and with no payment required until each milestone is met to the agencies’ satisfaction
  • Price matching. RightNow will match an agency’s existing on-premise solution maintenance fees for the first year so agencies can switch to the cloud within their current budgets and realize IT infrastructure cost savings in year one. RightNow also provides guaranteed pricing for the five years following

Safe Switch frees agencies from the constraints of typical software agreements with annual usage alignments, up or down. It also puts an end to “shelfware” i.e. purchased but little used (and money wasted) software, allowing agencies to rebalance usage up or down annually to meet their needs. The RightNow program also provides agencies with an annual pool of usage over a 12-month period, which accommodates seasonality and fluctuations in their operations without paying extra for spikes. And if RightNow falls short of the service levels guaranteed in a client’s customer care package, it will refund a percentage of the client’s subscription fees.

RightNow has extensive cloud implementation experience both for its customers and internally. It began offering cloud-based deployments alongside its premise-based products in 2003 then became cloud-only in 2007.

“RightNow Safe Switch provides agencies with a way to seamlessly transition into a secure government cloud that meets stringent security requirements, provides high levels of application control, eliminates shelfware, and guarantees fast deployments and price matching,” says Paschuck. “The program helps agencies take the risk out of quickly moving to the cloud, which is what they have been looking for.”

“RightNow is assisting agencies currently running on-premise, stove-piped legacy applications to seamlessly transition into a modern C&A compliant cloud environment,” says Greg Gianforte, founder and CEO of RightNow. “RightNow with the Safe Switch program is the only vendor that can help agencies leverage secure solutions to improve constituents’ Web, contact center, and social experiences in a government cloud today.” CIS