Why Governments Buy Microsoft Online Services

Reflecting on Memorial Day, when Americans remember how military veterans safeguarded fellow citizens through their service, today I’m also recalling how Microsoft’s services contribute in the public sector. We have developed and now manage a suite of online services to assist government organizations in many ways.What factors were important to governments which selected these services, and why did they buy Microsoft services, in particular? 

Learning about many government agencies which chose Microsoft online services, I found common criteria and themes. Most chose the services, in part, to save money. Many evaluators considered the need to optimize use of resources. Many discussed how compatibility with existing applications and how user acceptance created momentum to select new services from Microsoft. Finally, several government customers cited the importance of data security and archival in their decision-making.

Saving Money while Delivering Valued Services

Many governments are withstanding increased economic pressures from lower tax revenues in difficult economic times. While individual administrations have specific needs in serving employees and citizens effectively with IT, Gopal Khanna, Chief Information Officer for The State of Minnesota, captures today’s mantra, do more with less.

“As states battle growing deficits, they are continually being asked to do more with less. Rethinking the way we manage our digital infrastructure centrally, to save locally across all units of government, is a crucial part of the solution. The private sector has utilized technological advancements like cloud computing to realize operational efficiencies for some time now. Government must follow suit."

The value of the online services to government operations come into play. Randy Paul, Klamath County, Oregon’s Director of Information Technology made the case for the Business Productivity Online Suite hosted solution on two fronts: costs would be reduced significantly and performance and dependability would improve significantly. The City of San Francisco cited significant value for their administration, along with cost savings. The city went with Microsoft Exchange Online because it complemented the other Microsoft applications already in use, it provides anywhere email access, protects information, and the online solution helps the city achieve a 20% mandated budget reduction.

Unifying services across an entire Italian province provided great savings: $213,000 annually. Ennio Fumagalli, Provincial Council Delegate, describes his application at the Provincia di Lecco:

“All municipalities face the same challenge of providing government services to citizens at reduced costs, yet their email and collaboration services don’t always work together. Some municipalities use open source solutions with varied functionality and pricing, which makes budgeting difficult and means some jurisdictions have better services than others. Different systems make it a challenge to communicate and share calendars and arrange multi-jurisdictional meetings. Town halls keep their data on-premises, so it’s difficult to share information necessary to make decisions at the provincial level.”

Earlier this week, we told you how the Municipio de Humacao chose Microsoft Online Services over Google Apps, freeing $90,000 from their IT budget using cloud-based email. It was just what they needed: a solution which would respond to cost-cutting pressures while providing employees a responsive, comprehensive email service.

Using Resources Optimally

IT teams inside and outside of government must deliver services, hopefully inventive ones, regardless of economic constraints. Peter Schaak, Assistant Director of IT for the Village of Schaumburg echoes the do more with less mantra and cites strategic ambition in light of implementing Exchange Online.

“We’re anxious to help balance the workload,” Schaak notes. “The government sector is in a ‘do-more-with-less’ economic situation, so we’re hoping to free people up to switch back to a little more proactive IT administration and away from being purely reactive.”

Klamath County sought accountability in IT service delivery. Paul of Klamath County explains how Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Services (BPOS) increased his team’s effectiveness:

“The BPOS system administration has allowed us to take the resources needed to manage e-mail down to about .25 FTE… BPOS has helped us achieve our goal of moving toward a highly managed IT service.”

The county’s BPOS deployment vastly simplified its internal management initiative to implement a fee-for-service scheme to better rationalize support services, including IT. The result has been smarter allocation of scarce resources at a time of flat county revenues.

Value is key. After all, Microsoft Online Services are productivity solutions, at the core. The city of Buda, Texas is one place where value was a key consideration.  The city chose BPOS for improved employee productivity, better operational efficiency, effective use of IT resources, better collaboration, and to create a more flexible workflow.

I like the way Shawn McCarthy, research director with the market analysis firm, IDC, sums it up:

"Basically, cloud services give government IT departments the opportunity to relieve some pressure on them. Every department needs email but every department doesn't need to manage their own email server. When you maintain servers, they need upgrades, patch configuration management ... Going with the cloud lets IT managers focus on what is core to their divisions."

Compatibility and User Acceptance

The implementation at the State of Minnesota brings new considerations. What is the effect of online services on employees and the existing infrastructure? Microsoft expects that their implementation will require little retraining of state employees, limiting service disruption, because BPOS already works with Office. Microsoft also expects seamless migration from existing IT resources because BPOS leverages familiar technologies.  According to the state’s Office of Enterprise Technology (OET):

“OET is working closely with Microsoft to ensure a successful migration to BPOS. The goal is to create as little impact to the user as possible, but users will notice dramatically increased email capacity (from 100 MB to 5GB per user) and increased collaborative functionality, making it easier to move seamlessly between email, SharePoint, Instant Messaging and conferencing.”

The Provincia di Lecco evaluated IBM Lotus Notes, Google Apps, and Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite.  According to CIO Fabio Annoni:

“We chose Microsoft cloud services for its complete range of offerings and because it aligns closely with the IT environments at the municipalities, where everyone uses Microsoft Office.”

For the province, this standardization on Microsoft products and services enabled efficiency.

The most recent Microsoft Online Services customers see synergy in using both Microsoft products and services. The city of San Francisco went with Microsoft after considering Google Apps, in part, because Exchange Online complements the other Microsoft applications that the city already uses, while the City of Winston-Salem felt the choice would be well-accepted as most employees have used Outlook before.  In fact, according to Winston-Salem CIO Dennis Newman:

 "To fully invest in Google Apps meant we would have to uninvest in Microsoft Office licensing. To take away Office from our users would not be well received unless it was saving us money."

I’m happy to know that standardization through Microsoft Online Services could help the State of California, a government under acute economic pressure, reach strategic goals. According to state CIO, Teri Takai:

This is part of our efforts to consolidate and standardize information technology infrastructure to reduce costs and enhance productivity. Technology strategies such as cloud computing are key to executing the mission of our office which is to strengthen IT project oversight, increase transparency in technology spending, increase cost savings and define specific targets to reduce energy usage.”

Data Security and Data Archival

Finally, safeguarding and preserving governments’ and citizens’ data is very important. In particular, the Municipio de Humacao evaluated Google Apps and Evelyn Howe, Information System Administrator found:

“…the Google solution did not offer the security that we needed. Some city offices actually forbade us to use Google.”

As part of Klamath County’s choice of a Microsoft solution, Director of IT, Randy Paul noted from previous experience the importance of reputation. That is, a reputable hosting provider often has more domain expertise to address the details of things like spam and phishing, and for ensuring appropriate redundancy and back-up capacity. In addition to choosing the standard Microsoft BPOS suite, Klamath County’s installation also included an archiving module that helps to ensures that the county is compliant with federal and state record-keeping and retention mandates. Paul observed:

“Our new Microsoft archiving is far more elegant than what we have had in the past.”

Information security was a key consideration in the City of Carlsbad, California’s selection process. The city needed to confirm that any hosting partner could provide the required level of security and reliability for its messaging solution. Director of IT, Gordon Peterson stated:

“We had to make sure that if we went with a hosted e-mail solution it could match the best practices and security levels needed. The other area of concern for us was availability. Our messaging solution is a mission-critical application that everyone expects to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

After investigating different e-mail storage and protection options, the city determined that the Microsoft data center provided more security than the city’s own facility. Bob Fries, IT Manager for the Enterprise Systems Group contributed:

“We were reassured that Microsoft Online Services could deliver the security and privacy requirements necessary to protect the city’s records.”

I hope that your IT service choices help you provide solutions that assist your employees, and are cost-effective for your communities and constituents. Please let me know what needs are particularly important in the government you serve.

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