In early 2003, newly elected Alabama Gov. Bob Riley wanted to send a mass e-mail to every state employee, but the state’s lack of a central e-mail system made it impossible.
Alabama’s agencies used about 45 different e-mail systems, including Microsoft Exchange, Lotus Notes and Novell GroupWise. To e-mail colleagues at different agencies, employees called one another first to get their e-mail addresses.
“It was horribly inefficient to have multiple e-mail systems,” recalls Alabama CIO Jim Burns. “It was not conducive to collaboration. We lacked things that you may take for granted, like a global address book and sharing calendars.”
After investing three years and between $6 million and $7 million to build a central e-mail system, the state is benefiting from better communication and collaboration among its 28,000 employees, as well as improved security and cost savings (see sidebar).
Few dispute the benefits of e-mail consolidation, yet the initiative is not quick or easy to achieve. While many states have already tackled e-mail consolidation as part of larger projects, several state and local governments have yet to complete the migration. California’s Santa Clara County, for example, is in the middle of a three-year effort to standardize its 15,000 e-mail users on Microsoft Outlook and Exchange. Minnesota is planning an e-mail consolidation project and hopes to complete it by 2010.
Government CIOs concede there are many roadblocks to e-mail consolidation, such as inferior infrastructure, poor cooperation between agencies and a lack of funding. Consider the following steps to successfully jump-start your e-mail consolidation efforts.
A high-speed network is a must, Burns says. Organizations also need newer PCs that can run the latest e-mail software and a directory server that serves as a central repository.
Alabama’s state agencies used 25 separate local area networks, and some desktops and servers ran older operating systems. So the state standardized, using newer Windows XP desktops and Windows Server 2003 servers.
In 2005 and 2006, the state’s central IT department — the Information Services Division — worked with each agency’s IT department to migrate to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003. Smaller agencies with 50 to 100 users took one day to migrate, while those with thousands of users took months, Burns says.
Burns recommends standardizing on vendors that are most widely adopted throughout your organization. For example, 75 percent of the state’s users used Outlook, so the state chose Microsoft for e-mail. And Cisco Systems products were present in 90 percent of the state’s networks, so Alabama went with that vendor.
Regarding technology, the migration work was straightforward. The hard part was getting agencies to agree to consolidation, Burns says. Some IT departments thought that allowing a central IT authority to take over e-mail would reduce their importance.
Burns and his staff spent a lot of time selling the effort. As with other large IT projects, support from state leaders was critical. The governor sent a letter to agency heads mandating that they work with the Information Services Division on the project. That was helpful in convincing the agencies that balked at consolidation.
“I took the sales approach with the agency IT staff that you are losing an important function, but now you can focus on applications that are more in line with your mission,” says Burns, whose IT staff completed the consolidation effort in late 2006.
In Minnesota, the state has been working hard on interagency collaboration and enterprise IT strategy. E-mail consolidation is the first collaborative project it will tackle, says PG Narayanan, assistant commissioner at Minnesota’s Office of Enterprise Technology.
First, a small interagency team looked at the potential benefits of consolidation and recommended that the state proceed. A larger, more formal interagency team recently identified the project’s requirements and wrote a request for proposals. The team is currently reviewing proposals to consolidate the state’s 25 different e-mail systems.
E-mail consolidation had been talked about in Santa Clara County for several years, but the county never had the funding to do it all at once. That’s why CIO Joyce Wing proposed a phased three-year approach.
“E-mail consolidation is too valuable not to do,” Wing says. “From our county executive’s office and board’s perspective, it’s important for them to be able to communicate with everybody. And from an IT perspective, having 20 to 30 separate e-mail systems is too costly and inefficient.”
The county currently uses a mix of Microsoft Outlook, Novell GroupWise and Lotus Notes. Wing plans to move everyone to Microsoft Outlook/Exchange and build a single directory using Microsoft Active Directory, which will allow for single sign-on to e-mail and other services, and serve as the foundation for future projects, including Voice over IP and document management.
Last year, county leaders approved her idea to take the extra money her IT department earns serving outside entities and earmark it for e-mail consolidation.
So far, Wing has invested about $635,000 in e-mail infrastructure and licensing, which includes servers and a storage area network. Today, 74 percent of the first 8,000 staffers have moved to the new e-mail system. If the budget permits, she plans to consolidate the remaining departments over the next fiscal year.
Minnesota plans a phased approach, not for budget reasons but to ensure the migration goes smoothly. In phase one, the state will pursue a proof-of-concept implementation with four agencies totaling 4,000 users, Narayanan says. Phase two will be a full rollout.
E-mail consolidation is a multiyear process, but the benefits make the hard work worth it, Alabama’s Burns says. The state’s agencies previously paid between $10 and $80 per month per e-mail inbox. Today, it costs $5.50 per month for a standard-size inbox. The state also reduced the number of e-mail servers from 80 to 15.
Now Alabama state employees have uniform e-mail addresses and can find colleagues on a global address list, schedule meetings on a calendar and check e-mail on personal digital assistants and smartphones. “It’s simply better than anything the agencies ever had before,” Burns says.
Analysts say security is one of the biggest drivers of e-mail consolidation because it allows CIOs to ensure uniform security measures are in place.
Before consolidation in Alabama, none of the state’s 45 e-mail systems had antispam filters. Some didn’t even have antivirus software installed. Today, firewalls, intrusion prevention systems, and antivirus and antispyware software are installed.
“The more e-mail servers you have to control, the more vulnerable you are,” warns Thom Rubel, practice director of government programs at Government Insights, an IDC company in Falls Church, Va.
While e-mail consolidation requires an initial investment, it saves money in the long run. It reduces the number of e-mail servers and gives governments volume discounts for e-mail software because they’re purchasing it for an entire workforce, says analyst Michael Osterman of Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash.
of states either have completed e-mail consolidation or have a project in progress, according to a survey of state IT leaders by the National Association of State CIOs.