August 30, 2010 – For a while, few thought securities companies would embrace cloud computing. But things change.

In the last month or two, we’ve seen stories about clouds being used as a way to consolidate audit trails; to more efficiently store and access market data; and as a way to power trading algorithms, execute automated strategies and store the results.

Even the Securities and Exchange Commission is embracing the cloud.

A post last week on the Federal Cloud Blog pointed out that the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy (OIEA) is using the cloud to manage complaints from people concerned about investment fraud and other securities improprieties.

Those complaints, about 90,000 annually, come in over the phone, via Web forms and through e-mail and snail mail. The SEC had been using a 10-year-old system to track each case. But, of course, there were drawback, according to the federal government’s chief information office Vivek Kundra.

“Like many older systems, there were several limitations including the inability [to] attach documents, handle paper files, and provide accurate reports,” the CIO wrote in a report  on the government’s use of cloud computing that was published by the CIO Council, an organization of federal information technology chiefs. “The older system was also intermittent in regards to up-time and system speed.”

So the SEC turned to Salesforce, a leading provider of customer-relationship management software to businesses. Salesforce.com software, as most know, is housed on the vendors own computers and customers access the system and their data through a web browser in what’s known as a software-as-a-service model, one of the most popular forms of cloud computing.

The results were impressive. As Kundra noted: “The implementation of Software as a Service (SaaS) solution that took less than 14 months from inception to deployment. Since the implementation of OIEA, the SEC has realized improvements in system reliability, efficiency and accuracy. Paper files are scanned into the system and worked electronically. All investor contact channels (email, web-form, US mail, fax, and phone) are brought into a single queue to be assigned and worked electronically. All documentation can now be attached to case files, which allows staff member to build complete chronology of events.”

Kundra claims the new system reduces the time needed to complete files – in many cases by up to 75 percent. Lifecycle tracking is also improved, according to Kundra, as the cloud-based system gives SEC management the ability to quickly see the status of cases at anytime.

“Having this new solution better equips SEC in assisting investors efficiently and accurately, which is even more important as we are still dealing with the financial crisis,” Kundra said.

The SEC has been criticized much during the crisis. And the federal government has, at best, a mixed track record of successfully adopting new technology. But here, in this one instance, the government seems to have taken a positive step.

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