Thorough upfront planning enabled Montgomery County, Pa., to migrate to hosted Office 365 in less than two months, says Anthony Olivieri.

Jul 22 2013
Data Center

Why Governments Embrace Office 365

Cloud implementations offer latest features at reduced cost.

When the email system in Montgomery County, Pa., was overdue for an upgrade last year, Anthony Olivieri wouldn't settle for anything less than a long-term solution that would effectively meet the county's needs for archiving, compliance, mobility, collaboration and security — all at the right price.

Olivieri, the director of information and technology solutions for Montgomery County, initially began searching for a traditional email solution, but his team eventually found its answer in the cloud. Last spring, the county migrated to Microsoft Office 365, a hosted service that provides subscribers with access to various productivity and collaboration applications over the Internet.

"It quickly became apparent that the cloud gave us so much more than we could have gotten by doing this ourselves, and at a much better price," Olivieri says. Not only does the organization have access to the latest messaging and collaboration features, but the offering aids security compliance, supports bring-your-own-device initiatives, and includes a searchable archive.

By choosing Office 365 over other cloud offerings, Montgomery County also set in place a foundation that will allow it to buy any or all Microsoft applications on an as-needed basis. For example, Olivieri plans to utilize hosted versions of Microsoft Lync, a real-time communications application; Yammer, an internal social media platform; and SharePoint, a document management solution.

By mid-March, all 2,700 county employees from 30 departments spread across 18 locations had been migrated to the hosted Exchange email platform. "So far, we've not had any issues, not a hiccup — knock on wood," Olivieri says. Office 365 is priced based on functionality, number of users and uptime guarantee. He estimates that email alone will reduce IT administration costs by 40 percent and free his staff to concentrate on mission-related tasks and new initiatives. "It's been a win for everybody," he adds.

The Cloud Is the Way of the Future

Montgomery County is hardly alone among state and local governments discovering the benefits of cloud-based productivity, collaboration and communications tools such as those included in the Office 365 suite, says Marty Lafferty, CEO for the Distributed Computing Industry Association.

Lafferty says the growing availability of superior products and more affordable pricing have driven adoption of Office 365 and other hosted cloud solutions. "The strongest common denominator for this trend is a win-win proposition: the opportunity to reduce cost, while at the same time modernizing, boosting productivity and improving efficiency," he says.

Although cloud offerings abound, many public-sector IT leaders have opted for Office 365 because it not only meets all federal information security and privacy requirements, but the service also leverages their existing investments in Microsoft applications. That familiarity enables an easier transition to a new computing model for IT staff and users alike.

1 million+

The number of local, state and federal users that are already utilizing Office 365 applications

SOURCE: Microsoft

Joyce Wing, CIO for Santa Clara County, Calif., considered other email options for the county's 15,000 workers, but Office 365 won out because it provided the lowest total cost of ownership. The county will embark on a massive migration this summer, beginning with email and then moving to other applications such as Word and Excel.

If the county had chosen a different cloud suite, it would still need to continue using some Microsoft products and maintain each department's existing enterprise agreements, Wing says.

However, with the cloud contract, Santa Clara County was able to renegotiate its existing Microsoft enterprise agreements. "We were able to go from 16 enterprise agreements down to just one," Wing says. "And with that, we were able to go from one to 16 products per enterprise agreement to being able to offer 36-plus products for IT and business purposes, and cover every single employee in the county."

The new agreement increased Santa Clara County's annual software costs by 8.5 percent, but Wing says that difference will be more than made up through cost reductions in hardware and productivity gains among end users and IT staff. "It also brings everyone completely up to date, because having dealt with a budget deficit over the past seven or eight years, departments have been working with outdated hardware and operating systems," she adds.

"We are changing the way this county does business."

King County, Wash., also chose Microsoft as its partner in pursuing an enterprise cloud strategy for its 16,000-plus employees, having first transitioned to Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), the predecessor to Office 365. CIO Bill Kehoe began upgrading to the Office 365 service last year and is currently rolling out SharePoint, which for the first time will be acting as a true enterprise platform.

"Before, a lot of departments and agencies had an on-premises version of SharePoint, or they may have even had a hosted version, but we weren't integrated as a county so there was a lot of duplication and not much ability to share," Kehoe explains, noting that the cloud will enable employees to go to one place to find whatever resources they need from wherever they happen to be. "Now we've got one integrated solution, and it's shareable and searchable."

Still, migration to the cloud is no quick or easy feat, Kehoe points out, emphasizing that training, communications and change management programs are vital to the transition. "In our case, a lot of users had never even used SharePoint, or they had used a different version of it, so just getting into the sign-on process and then navigating through to find documents was all foreign to them," he explains.

"These kind of true enterprise platforms really transform the way people work and the business processes that are in place, so you need to be prepared for that," Kehoe recommends.

For Montgomery County, taking the time to plan up front and ensure a consolidated organizational push were critical factors that enabled the IT team to successfully move the county's entire email function to the cloud in less than two months.

"It's really important not to try to rush through it," Olivieri advises, adding that his team took the time to build a common directory and develop a strategic communications plan so end users were always aware of what was happening and what to expect.

Josh Shapiro, chairman of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, says the cloud deployment improves efficiency and helped Montgomery County achieve several goals, including supporting a mobile workforce, reducing energy costs and improving constituent service. "We are changing the way this county does business," he says.

Why You Need Input from End-Users

What finally pushed IT officials in Montgomery County, Pa., to opt for Office 365 over other cloud solutions? End users.

Anthony Olivieri and his team sought the input of department representatives in a weeklong demonstration and evaluation of the various options. The vendors provided a real-life user experience by creating dummy accounts and allowing participants to log in to the system and work individually and collaboratively. For each solution, users filled out a survey and graded their experience.

"At the end of the week, we compiled all the data and pulled the analytics, and the large majority indicated that Office 365 was the best solution," Olivieri explains.

The reasons were ease of use and transparency. "There was literally no interruption and no change when they moved from the on-premises to the cloud-based system," Olivieri says.

Based on the users' preference and the fact that Office 365 fully met Montgomery County's technical, operational and security requirements, Olivieri and his team decided that the Microsoft service was the right choice.

Colin Lenton

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