Jan 03 2017

Mobility, Millennials Spark Need for Collaboration as a Service

City, county and state governments take advantage of cloud-based communications and collaboration tools.

Local and state governments have embraced Collaboration as a Service (CaaS) to meet the needs of an increasingly mobile and younger workforce.

CaaS solutions allow geographically dispersed employees to communicate and collaborate in new ways, from instant messaging to online file sharing to IP-based audio and video conferencing.

The technology not only boosts productivity but also cuts IT costs and helps state and local governments attract and retain millennials, who accounted for one-third of the U.S. workforce in 2015, according to a Pew Research Center report.

“They are the biggest advocates for it,” Kansas City, Mo., CIO Mary J. Miller says about today’s youngest workers.

Millennial Recruitment Tool

As more baby boomers retire, the number of millennials in the labor pool will continue to climb: PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that the generation will make up more than half the global workforce by 2020. Those shifting demographics will bring additional changes to the workplace.

According to the Future Workforce Study report conducted by Dell and Intel, 62 percent of millennials believe remote teams and technology will eventually replace face-to-face interactions, while 25 percent already prefer to communicate with colleagues via phone or video.

Because CaaS offerings such as Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Government make it possible for this younger, tech-savvy generation to telework, adopting the technology is an important recruitment tool for governments, says John Matelski, CIO of DeKalb County, Ga.

“When I interview Generation Y and millennials, they ask, ‘Can I work from home?’ And we allow for that because it enhances morale and makes for a much happier and productive workforce,” Matelski explains. “The collaboration tools give our employees the flexibility to remote in.”

Forging New Connections

DeKalb County isn’t the only government that recognizes the benefits of CaaS. According to NASCIO’s recent report, “The Adaptable State CIO,” 32 percent of respondents have already moved email and collaboration functions to the cloud, while another 59 percent of CIOs are either planning or in the midst of an implementation.

Kansas City, for instance, adopted cloud-based email about seven years ago with the move to Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite. When Microsoft launched Office 365 in 2011, the city switched to the new service.

Today, Kansas City’s 4,200 employees use Office 365’s full suite of tools, from OneDrive for saving and sharing documents to Skype for Business for voice calls and web meetings, Miller says.

“We have offices across the 300 square miles of the city, and instead of having to drive 15 to 20 miles for face-to-face meetings, we can use Skype for Business for a meeting and share desktops and look at documents,” she says.

Similar collaboration takes place in DeKalb County. According to Matelski, the county moved its 6,500 employees from Microsoft Exchange servers to Office 365 email two years ago. In doing so, DeKalb gained access to new CaaS tools that empower better communication between internal and external agencies, he says.

“It’s allowed people to share information more quickly through SharePoint and facilitates real-time communications,” Matelski says.

In Maryland, where all 54,000 employees made the move to Google Apps for Government in 2014, cloud-based Gmail not only streamlines communication but also promotes unity.

“Employees used to have email addresses unique to their agencies, creating an identity that emphasizes their agency relationship,” wrote Gregory Urban, Maryland’s then-CTO (and current COO), in a 2014 blog post. Moving to a shared Maryland.gov email domain changed all that.

“We’re impressed at how effectively Google Apps has brought disparate agencies closer together, making us into a stronger team,” Urban added.

Deployment Best Practices

Although CaaS offers myriad benefits to governments, deployments require thorough planning. In DeKalb County, the IT team considered both Google Apps and Office 365 before ultimately choosing the latter for its collaboration suite. The decision came down to ease of use, Matelski says.

“The learning curve for the county staff to move to Google Apps and switch from Microsoft Word to Google Docs and from Excel to Google Spreadsheets would not have been a painless process,” he says. “Organizations have done it successfully, but for us, the amount of training it would require did not make sense.”

To ensure a successful implementation, DeKalb spent two months migrating its 30 agencies and called upon the assistance of Microsoft Services consultants.

Matelski says that by taking this sort of phased approach to adoption and leaning on vendors’ technical support staff, other organizations can make 2017 their most collaborative yet.


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