Although they may not know they are using the cloud, Dubuque, Iowa’s residents are using it to make more informed decisions about how they use water and track the associated costs.

The city of 58,253 created a private-cloud-based water portal named DBQ IQ  which is available to city residents and many small businesses.

It provides a customer-specific, integrated view of water usage with data displayed in gallons, cost or by carbon footprint. The information also includes leak detection and notification, historical usage data and comparative data.

With this information, Dubuque Water Department customers can identify waste and perform corrective measures that can translate into smarter water use and increased energy savings. More efficient water use will also reduce the city’s energy and chemicals costs of treating and delivering water.

“Each day we upload hourly readings for 22,000 water meters to the cloud. Those hourly readings are produced every day, 365/24/7. That’s an enormous amount of data that we are moving off to the cloud,” says Chris Kohlmann, Dubuque’s Information Services Manager.

Kohlmann says that the cloud application helps speed up notifications about leaks, reducing the former 90- to 120-day notification period down to 2 or 3 days. Customers get word about consumption anomalies either via text message or e-mail.

Moving other services

Dubuque is moving other functions to the cloud, including archiving city e-mail and managing mobile devices “Where it is applicable, we are slowly moving applications off city servers and into the cloud,” Kohlmann says. She says that reduced storage needs and fewer servers are potential benefits to the city.

“E-mail archival is huge, since we are looking for e-mail retention cycles that are 5 to 10 years, depending on the app.”

The cloud setup for Dubuque’s IT department frees up some resources, Kohlmann says, but city officials still do a lot of monitoring. “You don’t totally give up management of the application, once it moves to the cloud. You may give up the management of the hardware side of it, but you still have a responsibility to maintain that application and make sure that everything’s working correctly, and that all of the required tasks are still being performed.”

Kohlmann says cities may be able to achieve savings on hardware, since the cloud setup entails using a scalable, shared resource. “I think that’s one of the great advantages of the cloud, but I think we still have that responsibility to care and feed the application, and make sure that your cloud provider is doing the same things that the IT department would, in terms of security, backups, redundancy and availability.”

Kohlmann is exploring future cloud apps for Dubuque’s IT functions. “We are looking closely at moving some of our billing and utility activities out to the cloud, possibly. We are also looking at some data center applications that might have some hosted management offerings that are in the cloud. I think it’s one of those alternatives that we are evaluating each time that we look at replacing hardware or expanding or updating our storage capacity.”

Others headed to cloud

Administrators in other cities are eager to learn about the role of the cloud in city service delivery, based on results of a recent cloud trends reader survey from American City & County. About 36 percent of reader-respondents indicated that they want to understand how the cloud can improve delivery of citizen services.

A recent ICMA electronic government survey also shows that almost a quarter (23 percent) of local government respondents are using cloud computing for e-mail functions. Almost two-thirds of state CIOs said they planned to migrate e-mail and collaboration services to the cloud in 2014, according to the “2014 CIO Survey” from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). 

Michael Keating (Michael.keating@Penton.com ) is senior editor of Government Product News.

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