Town Halls and Other Online Services

Cloud Computing
Town Halls and Other Online Constituent Services

By Barbara DePompa

Microsoft Details Government Cloud Services

With the onset of the upcoming election season fast approaching, Microsoft officials are optimistic current and future prospective politicians will want to leverage cloud computing via the company’s CampaignReady to set up and run their campaigns.

According to Javier Vasquez, Director of Collaboration & Cloud at Microsoft Federal, CampaignReady social media was used by candidates during the recent Massachusetts political campaigns. Cloud computing services “are a perfect fit for politicians during election season,” he explained. “This is a quick and easy way for politicians to setup and run their campaigns, and even take down operations, based on election results.”

One of the initial applications inside CampaignReady is Microsoft TownHall, an online tool that organizes, moderates and houses online conversations, driving discussions on crucial issues and concerns. Politicians can use TownHall to engage voters online, scale communications, aggregate feedback and gain voter insight. The most popular or relevant questions rise to the surface, so participants can readily see timely topics at any moment.   Because it’s hosted on Windows Azure, TownHall is ideal for politicians who don’t want to manage bulky technical infrastructure. Because CampaignReady is a service available using a pay-only-for-usage model, customers won’t be required to purchase hardware and bandwidth that might sit idle. Nor do they worry about handling a crush of traffic around a spike in activity. A typical campaign can connect with more than 100,000 constituents, 24 hours a day using this online, always-available vehicle.

The CampaignReady service and TownHall are not just for political candidates.  NASA also is using TownHall for its Be a Martian Web site, which enables the public to participate as citizen scientists to improve Martian maps, take part in research tasks and assist Mars science teams studying data about the Red Planet. In less than six months, Be a Martian participants have earned more than 2.2 million points.

Beyond political campaigns, TownHall can also be used to engage:

* Customers of a brand
* Attendees at an event
* Customers seeking support
* Fans of a sports team, TV show, film or other topic
* Disaster victims seeking to connect with resources
* Virtual teams that include internal and external resources.
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Meanwhile, the City of Miami wanted to improve applications that use mapping technology and required a cost-effective, scalable solution to fit its shrinking IT budget.  Mapping applications are typically processing-power intensive, and the IT department was unsure it had the compute power to handle new mapping applications.

After evaluating several cloud offerings, the city chose Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform, along with Bing maps, to deliver a 311 application, which takes advantage of sophisticated mapping technology. The City of Miami teamed with Microsoft Gold Certified Partner ISC, a provider of interactive mapping software for geospatial visualization and analysis, to develop the 311 application hosted on the Internet. Windows Azure provided developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manage Web applications on the Internet through Microsoft data centers.

Now, with near limitless storage and processing power, the city expects the new system will eliminate much of its need to procure, host and manage physical servers – representing a 75 percent savings in the first year. It also does not need to redirect valuable developer resources or hire additional staff to deploy and manage a server infrastructure. One additional bonus - by relying on hosting at Microsoft data centers, the hurricane-prone city improved its disaster-recovery strategy.

Developers plan to add more functionality, including the ability for users to submit service requests with photos, global positioning system location, and a description directly from their Windows phone or Apple iPhone. In addition, the city could send status updates and notifications to users by e-mail message or short message service (SMS).