When Virginia announced on July 20 that it would be moving its approximately 59,000 state employees to Google’s productivity suite, it became the sixth state in the country to “go Google.” Similarly, on the local government side, municipalities in 42 states have turned to Google Apps for Government.
As this trend continues, it begs the question: What is it about Google’s platform that’s attracting state and local governments?
Generous email storage is one factor that’s especially appealing to governments.
“Our current standard size offering for email is 200MB. Moving to Google will provide 30GB minimum for each user with an option for unlimited storage if a second tier of service is selected by an agency,” says Nelson Moe, CIO and head of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA).
Besides email storage, the shift to Google Apps is also encouraging governments to adopt the Google Chrome browser, which offers additional features beyond what is offered by other browsers. Particularly if those browsers are older, outdated versions of Internet Explorer.
David Mihalchik, head of U.S. government and healthcare for Google for Work, says the company’s apps allow state employees to work smarter, providing them with tools they didn’t have before. State and local governments, he says, are generally thought of as 10 or 15 years behind when it comes to technology.
“With the adoption of these kinds of tools, they are able to stay up to date with cloud computing technology,” he says. “Real-time collaboration is something that is very, very important. It allows many users to be in a document or a spreadsheet at the same time from many different devices. They could be in the office, they could be at home, they could be on a tablet, they could be on a phone or a laptop and they’re able to edit in real time and see what other users are doing.”
Rethinking State IT in a Google Way
Boston and Los Angeles are among the largest cities that have turned to Google Apps. In L.A., the city leaned on Google technology to help study civic engagement, homelessness, city hiring, emergency management and economic development. They dubbed the program “Angels Lab,” and teams met on August 25 to present their ideas. Jeanne Holm, senior technology advisor to the mayor, said the mayor’s office was “excited about the outcomes from the labs.”
The interest in Google technology among the state and local crowd started back in 2011, when Wyoming CIO Flint Waters supervised the state’s migration to Google Apps. In 2013, Kristin D. Russell, then Colorado’s secretary of technology and CIO, posted her state’s reasons for switching on the Google for Work blog.
“The move to Google Apps for Government allowed us to replace our 15 siloed and disparate email systems, and the 50 servers supporting them, into a single, cloud-based solution,” she wrote.
A year later, Gregory Urban, then Maryland’s chief technology officer (and now its chief operating officer in the Department of Information Technology) posted similar sentiments in another post on the Google for Work blog.
“Previously, each agency ran its own email servers — from Microsoft Exchange and Novell, to in-house platforms,” he wrote. “We knew to move these disparate email systems into the cloud would decrease complexity and improve intra-agency collaboration, but any cloud-based solution we selected had to meet high security standards. With Google Apps for Government, all state government data and emails remain in a secure cloud. With over 50 different CIOs working in different agencies, Google Apps allows Maryland to manage security from one central point.”
After blazing a trail with its Google Apps rollout in 2011, Wyoming has more recently become even more entrenched in the Google ecosystem by upgrading from Google Apps to Google Apps Unlimited, said Flint in a StateTech interview earlier this year.
“I sought the advantage I get from going straight commercial — unlimited storage in Google accounts. My agency doesn’t have drive letters anymore. We’ve moved 100 percent to Google Drive, which means my agency has zero cost for storage. You won’t get many government CIOs to do that yet. They’re not ready,” he said.
There’s a common thread between the states and localities that have chosen Google Apps, Mihalchik says. The same consumerization trends that drove the adoption of BYOD in the workplace are driving government agencies’ desires to seek more user-friendly, simplified technology tools.
“They evaluate the tools, they evaluate the cost, they evaluate the capabilities. This is what users are clamoring for. They see their sons and daughters having these types of tools available at school and many times their kids are more productive on a school project than they’re able to be in the office,” he says.