Cloud computing and highly secure data DO mix

Every client (especially every government client) who says I’ll never use cloud services with highly secure data needs to hear this story. In no more sensitive a place than law enforcement is just such a value proposition playing out.

Police departments in 18 states in the US, and soon Canada, are dramatically increasing the efficiency of commercial use of highways through a disruptive SaaS solution that costs a fraction of the incumbent service and mixes well with their permitting and inspection databases.

If you drive toll roads or bridges you know the value of Drivewyze. In rush hour, you can wait 10-25 minutes to pay your toll with cash or you can sign up for an electronic toll system that lets you breeze past. Drivewyze does the same for commercial trucks and fleets but not at toll booths but weigh stations, that take much longer to get through. And in the trucking business every minute lost at a weigh station can cost thousands of dollars in lost delivery time.  For law enforcement the value is even higher as any time lost inspecting a safe truck is time not spent stopping an unsafe one.

The system works by helping known-good drivers and trucks register with the weigh station wirelessly as they approach it on the highway, get an all-clear, then drive right by. Trucks send their credentials to the weigh stations using any mobile device they happen to have – iPhone, Android, Blackberry. Anything with a cellular connection will do the trick. At the weigh station, they receive the information about the driver over whatever equipment they have – aging PCs and laptops are most common. The system checks each driver and truck against long-standing databases of safety records, expired licenses, past weigh station checks and other information that would indicate an unsafe driving circumstance.

How are these highly sensitive, confidential databases connected to a SaaS solution from a small startup company? By going old school. Like you would expect, US state law enforcement agencies weren’t about to hand this type of data over to a new company. To meet government security requirements, Drivewyze doesn’t take possession of any of this data, they simply read from it and transfer less sensitive status information, such as “clear to pass.” Read-only is an Adaptive Intelligence best practice lesson all enterprises should follow. But even this read-only access was scrutinized. To even connect its systems, Drivewyze needed to show that the operational procedures in its data center would pass government scrutiny.

“At the time we built the solution, it would have cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars and lots of time and effort to meet these strict standards had we built out the solution ourselves or gone with one of the public clouds,” said Brian Mofford, VP of Technology at Drivewyze. So the SaaS startup chose to leverage a vendor who could offer a solution the government would accept. It’s choice: IBM SmartCloud Enterprise+. This managed services offering met the government’s strict standards for physical and infrastructure operations security while giving Drivewyze a flexible virtual infrastructure that would scale with the needs of its application. SmartCloud  was also offered in the geographic locations the company needed at first launch and to grow. It would need a Canada data center within six months to meet that government’s privacy requirements.

Drivewyze, of course, encrypts the connections between its service and law enforcement databases and encrypts all resultant data it moves through the SaaS solution. And since it supports any cellular device a driver might have, it has to constantly update its client software to stay in step with mobile OS and UI changes. For agility here, the company iterates its software using Amazon Web Services and SmartCloud, IBM’s public IaaS solution. SmartCloud, handles pre-production tasks as its architecture is closer to the resultant production environment in IBM SmartCloud Enterprise+.

Is this just another tale about what startups can do that you cannot? Not even close. While Drivewyze may be a startup, it’s a spin out from Intelligent Imaging Systems Inc., a ten-year-old traditional systems and solutions company. Drivewyze shares many back-office services with IIS including HR, finance and IT. So why not use IIS’ data center? Drivewyze needed speed, ability, flexibility and self-service for its developers who were building the solution on a tiny budget and couldn’t justify the capital costs its IT department needed to justify the effort. Like many business units, Drivewyze’s needs were out of line with how traditional IT worked. 

But doesn’t this approach breed resentment? “At first, sure it did,” said Mofford, “but now they understand why we did what we did and are even starting to learn from us to improve how they do things.”

If you don’t see IIS and Drivewyze in yourself, perhaps you instead see Xerox Commercial Vehicle Operations instead. It’s the long-standing incumbent in the weigh station pre-clearance market. It has dominant market share with law enforcement across North America built around proprietary systems and equipment that costs law enforcement agencies around $150,000 per station and truckers about $500 per cab. It’s being rapidly disrupted by this upstart SaaS solution that costs law enforcement a fraction of the PrePass solution, with no equipment requirements and works with any truck and truck driver for less than a tank of gas per month.

What it means?

What should you take away from this story?

1.     You don’t have to be cloud-based to deliver cloud value.  If your security or compliance requirements can’t be met via the cloud today, you don’t have to be based on a cloud service to deliver a multitenant cloud service yourself. There’s still value in managed services, traditional static hosting offerings and legacy systems of record like the law enforcement databases. Take a hybrid approach to your cloud service and you might just find there’s far more cloud value you can deliver than you might think.

2.     And you don’t have to be a disruptor. You can always be the disrupted. Your choice.