October 1, 2020
New York State was the epicenter in the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak. In March 2020, the state was facing surging levels of infections and unprecedented levels of unemployment claims as businesses shut down. This presented a tremendous strain on state technology and staff resources. Government services were inundated with massive volumes of requests for information and assistance. State employees were doing all that they could, but demand exceeded their capacity.
In order to address these issues, the state set up a SWAT Team initiative with a first-in-the-nation partnership between the state and technology companies. They asked companies to help by quickly building and deploying solutions that would support New York State's COVID-19 response efforts.
The state received offers to help from 3,500 organizations and 7,300 volunteers. The SWAT Team initiative resulted in 40 projects which saved New York taxpayers about $14 million—based on 25,000 hours of volunteer work from private sector organizations. Their efforts have allowed 49+ million interactions between the state government and citizens—and 342 million page views from 60 million users.
Acquia has worked with New York State for several years to support their overall web presence and digital initiatives, and the Acquia team immediately volunteered to help out. Because the work was completed pro bono, little negotiation over the contract was necessary. The state was able to cut through the red tape, and a statement of work was quickly drawn up.
New York has used Acquia’s Site Factory multi-site platform for a number of years, and approximately 150 of the state’s websites are set up on Acquia’s platform. Leveraging this platform, the team was able to stand up a New York state informational site for coronavirus, coronavirus.health.ny.gov, in only three days—so citizens could get the information they needed. The flexibility of Acquia’s platform allows content publishers to rapidly update and communicate critical information to the public.
During this same time, the NY Department of Labor site was handling more than a 200% increase in traffic due to demand for information about unemployment insurance benefits. Leveraging that same Acquia platform, the team helped re-architect some of those sections in place to achieve faster page loads, quicker content updates, and accommodate that significant increase in traffic. The scalability, stability, and ruggedness of the Acquia platform has allowed the state to manage the increases in site traffic and meet their mission while remaining secure and compliant.
Joshua Smith, an account manager for public sector at Acquia, told GovTech that one of the things the state did right was minimize bureaucratic red tape for making tweaks and improvements where necessary. “New York also benefited from having already invested in (an) enterprise-scale, yet adaptable platform for consolidated management of its website properties,” he said. “Setting the solid foundation in advance helped New York be ready to respond in its moment of urgency.”
The State of New York benefitted from Acquia’s philosophy of velocity and agility, which allows customers to set up a site or an application in days versus months. The state had a very accelerated timeline, but the platform was designed to handle that—particularly since New York already had the site’s core template and structure in place. The ability to spin up websites quickly is one of the platform’s principle value adds. Any organization could follow suit if they had the resources and desire to execute a project quickly.
Challenges surrounding COVID have demonstrated how critical moving to the cloud has become for state organizations—particularly since many agencies are experiencing a sharp increase in remote workers. The cloud provides greater scalability and stability as site traffic increases, so government agencies can focus on increasing digital government services and making them more robust. If citizens cannot go into a DMV or other physical locations, at least they will be able to execute their business online.
States are also focusing on citizen outreach and communications. At this time, it's critical that citizens get the information they need from the city, county, or state. Government agencies are looking to better identify ways to communicate with their citizens, providing the right message at the right time on the right device. States are also making better use of data to offer more relevant and timely messaging and offer citizens an increasingly personalized experience.
But none of this is possible if government doesn’t have the right technology in place. Agencies need technologies that are cost effective, flexible, and forward looking. Acquia’s open source model future-proofs organizations, allowing them to continuously innovate and evolve their technology. Additionally, agencies can adopt and seamlessly integrate best-of-breed products regardless of vendor. This openness lets you make future changes without being tied into a proprietary roadmap or vendor lock in.