Explore how by moving its mission‐critical IT infrastructure to the Microsoft Azure cloud, the city of Corona, California has improved outcomes by accelerating innovation, increasing insight and simplifying collaboration through digital transformation. Learn how the City benefits from better continuity, faster deployment and stronger security on an integrated platform that includes Microsoft Azure Government, Office 365 and Power BI.
Embracing the cloud in sunny California: a city’s story of digital transformation
Located approximately 46 miles southeast of Los Angeles, Corona, California, describes itself as being “at the crossroads of evolution and transformation.” With a goal to attract and retain the businesses needed for a thriving community, the City of Corona’s economic development team works continuously to improve services and liaise between the city government and the business community. To create a strong foundation for the future, the team realized that it needed a more dynamic digital platform that could be supported with minimal IT staff. The IT team decided to transform the city’s digital environment by moving mission-critical IT infrastructure to the cloud, a transition that helps the City realign its business processes, enable rapid innovation, and improve insight and collaboration. By taking advantage of the Microsoft FastTrack success service, Corona has accelerated its adoption of an integrated platform that includes Microsoft Azure Government, Office 365, and Power BI. The digital transformation has changed the way the entire City consumes technology, enabling continuity, faster deployment, and increased security—all of which contribute to better outcomes.
Established in 1886 during California’s citrus boom, Corona was an agricultural center for nearly a century. It is now home to an estimated 159,132 people, and its economy and demographics have changed significantly in the last few decades. Today, Corona’s businesses include aeronautics and automotive manufacturers, food processors, and pharmaceutical companies. With a diverse set of industries, high median income, and strong education system, Corona has much to offer. Nonetheless, to retain its workforce, the city must compete with the attractions of larger neighbors like Los Angeles and Orange County.
To grow its tax base and provide more local job opportunities, the city strives to create a business-friendly environment. Determined to make starting or moving a business to Corona as seamless as possible, the City of Corona Economic Development Division provides multiple services and avenues of support for licensing, permits, site selection, and more. When necessary, the organization also works with outside agencies including state and regional economic development teams, human resources groups, and utilities.
The city wanted to provide services more efficiently, but increasing its labor pool wasn’t an option. “In a scenario familiar to a lot of cities, state redevelopment funds dried up,” says Chris McMasters, Chief Information Officer for City of Corona. “As a result, the economic development department was left with a short staff and a lot of work.”
The economic development team relied heavily on IT for data and reports, and there wasn’t an easy, secure way to share information with vendors or outside agencies. Instead, the team collaborated externally by making multiple onsite visits and using paper-based processes. To add an extra layer of complication, employees had to sign in to an array of business systems used by local, county, and federal governments. “They literally had to maintain a list of user names and passwords just to do daily work, and it was really burdensome,” says McMasters. “It’s also hard to maintain security best practices in that type of situation.”
Siloed applications impeded insight as well as workflow. “Each agency operates with independent business processes, whether it’s the police department, the fire department, utilities, or economic development,” says McMasters. “So, if you’re the city manager, it’s hard to access and integrate information across organizations. When I started working here, I was asked to break down all the silos as quickly as possible so that the city could tap that data.”
As the head of Corona’s IT team, McMasters wanted to create “a single pane of glass, and a single point of truth, for the city. We also needed to provide mobile access to data, so that end users could make decisions faster.”
Finally, Corona wanted to ensure that its technology platform was as resilient as possible. “We’re located next to the San Andreas Fault,” notes McMasters. “If something happens to our IT infrastructure, we won’t be able to serve our populace.”
Choosing the right cloud for city government
Before working for the City of Corona, McMasters had spent his career in the private sector. He noticed that while governments and businesses alike are concerned with controlling costs and boosting efficiency, government leaders are more concerned with risk mitigation than ROI. McMasters wanted to transition the city to a cloud platform, but he knew the change had to occur strategically and incrementally.
To meet his goals, McMasters needed a highly secure platform that would support a phased, hybrid-cloud deployment. The path led to Microsoft Azure Government, a cloud environment designed for United States government organizations. Azure Government meets the applicable regulatory controls of the Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, enabling criminal justice organizations to use cloud-based solutions and stay in compliance with CJIS Security Policy 5.5. “We did look at different platforms, including Azure, Google, Amazon, and VMware,” says McMasters. “What started to narrow down the decisions was CJIS compliance, because we’re a full-service city with police and fire departments. If we wanted to put the whole city in the cloud, we needed Azure.”
As part of its strategic move to the cloud, Corona wanted to retain control of the project while learning about new technologies. To help with implementation, Microsoft suggested using its FastTrack customer success service. Designed to help Microsoft customers get more value from cloud services, FastTrack provides tools and guidance for a successful rollout. “As we started to map out our objectives and to analyze cost-benefit, Microsoft gave us the option of using the FastTrack customer success service,” says McMasters. “I’m glad we had that opportunity, because at the time, our IT staff was unfamiliar with the cloud.”
Corona also worked with Microsoft partner Catapult Systems, which helped with both deployment and training. “There was a lot of iteration where we would put something up, then tear it down and do it again and again until we got it right,” says McMasters. “It was a learning curve, but Microsoft gave us the resources to do it.”
The approach gave Corona’s IT team the expertise and confidence needed to take on a major technology overhaul. “The FastTrack team provided us with a sounding board for our ideas and gave us an understanding of the theories behind why we do certain things,” says McMasters. “I think that’s a great benefit, because it’s teaching the ‘why’ versus just telling you how to do it.”
As a first step, the IT team implemented Active Directory Federation Services in Azure. The solution provides the single sign-on capability the city needed to streamline access to multiple applications. Al Farland, Telecommunications Manager at City of Corona, says, “We implemented Active Directory Federation Services at the first stage of the project. With guidance from the FastTrack team and Catapult Systems, we brought it up in less than three weeks.”
After its first successful project, the IT team accelerated quickly. With guidance from FastTrack, Corona has started to implement an array of new services and products, including Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Power BI, and Azure Active Directory. Enabling mobile access to applications and information, the integrated platform eliminates the silos that had hindered insight and collaboration. In addition, Corona is moving its web servers to the cloud and has adopted Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager to simplify administration. “We’re deploying all of these things, so it’s a little bit of chaos but we have a lot of support as well,” says McMasters. “It’s really been a full-service push by FastTrack to help us get through it.”
Keeping mission critical systems online
Other projects underway include using Azure Backup and Azure Site Recovery to protect mission critical applications and data. “With Azure, if there’s a disaster, we can still get to that data,” says McMasters. “We’ll be able to maintain a lot of functions that currently only exist on-premises. It’ll really change our delivery model.”
The mission-critical systems include a records management system used by fire and police departments and emergency operations centers (EOC). “The purpose of an EOC is to enhance communications and organization while maximizing the utilization of personnel and resources during a major incident. Corona’s EOC is operated under the Standardized Emergency Management System and National Incident Management System,” says McMasters. “And every time we discuss the operation of the EOC for a local emergency, I always wonder how we’re going to run it if there’s a disaster and the building isn’t here. Cloud is the way to keep it operational.”
Utilities systems can also run on Azure, and so can applications that support the city’s administrative process. These include enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and communications solutions that Corona relies on for public interaction in emergencies.
Providing citywide insight
Easier access to applications and data on an agile platform has also led to better insight. “Analytics is where I see things really changing for the city,” says McMasters. “Because we’re on Azure, we can spin up a database and connect with Power BI very quickly, and I don’t have to buy a $10,000 per license piece of software to provide the city with business intelligence. It’s easy, and really cost-effective.”
Now, the city manager has the cross-agency visibility he wanted, and he’s enthusiastically pushing new capabilities out to administrators. Soon, every top-level manager in Corona will have a Power BI dashboard with analytics relevant to their role and department. And they’ll be able to use mobile devices to access information from anywhere. “Microsoft cloud services, including Power BI, have helped us break down a lot of walls,” says McMasters. “That’s an obvious benefit I’m seeing with this platform. It’s driving business intelligence. It’s enabling better collaboration. It’s available whenever and wherever people need it. It’s changing how we do business.”
Moving to the cloud has also liberated Corona’s IT team to create new solutions that enhance services. “The value of IT doesn’t lie in racking servers,” says McMasters. “The value of IT lies in using solutions like Microsoft Azure to create efficiency and continuity. As a result, my staff can focus on end users and align technology with their needs to produce better outcomes.”
Better services lead to more satisfied citizens, including business owners who increase the tax base and keep the economy growing. “The biggest lever we have to compete as a city is technology,” says McMasters. “We’re trying to do more with less all the time, and we have to do more than just keep the lights on. By innovating on Microsoft cloud services, we can be more efficient, provide better resources both internally and externally, and make decisions better, faster, and more accurately.”