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Larimer County, Colo. moves to the cloud with Google Apps

Written by PSIT Staff

Larimer County is located in north central Colorado and is the seventh largest county in Colorado based on population. The county extends to the Continental Divide and includes several mountain communities and Rocky Mountain National Park. During the July 4 weekend last year, Larimer County installed Google Apps for all county employees.

According to Larimer County CIO Andrew Paratore, some of the attractions of Google Apps included reduced cost, less internal IT resources for support and infrastructure, and ease of upgrades. Additional benefits include easier integration with a variety of mobile devices such as BlackBerry, Android and iPhone. Paratore said the Google Apps products like Google Docs, Calendar and Gmail are solid products, with excellent customer support and quicker releases of enhancements. Larimer began the evaluation process on Jan. 1, 2010, and in April of 2010 they chose Google.

Prior to Google, Larimer County used Novell E-Directory and BlackBerry servers. Paratore said although those served the county well, there was not much work group collaboration. During the decision process, vendors provided comparisons between GroupWise and MS Exchange. Larimer performed a sixweek pilot with both MS Exchange and Google Gmail. Senior leadership at Larimer County reviewed an executive report with ROI and decided on Google Apps. The pilot program involved 100 employees across the entire organization. Hands-on training included 10 exercises, some via self-serve video clips with employee feedback. Larimer County tested scenarios for accuracy throughout the conversion process.

Going Live

Dubbed the “Big Bang Approach,” the county migrated the entire organization during three days during the 4th of July weekend. That included 1,975 mailboxes, with 4.2 million messages. Only MS Word documents that were attached to an e-mail transferred over. Some of the departments involved in the migration were Public Works, Sheriff, Treasury, Commissioner, etc.

Larimer County had “Open Mic” Webinars and on-site assistance for support during the first week of roll-out. They partnered with Tempus Nova for the transition. Larimer also performed mobile device workshops for employees. Paratore said initial calls to the Help Desk were high, but after two weeks, they were normal. Once they went live, no new e-mail came in through the employees’ old GroupWise accounts, but Larimer left it up for three months just in case. Larimer used “Archive to Go,” which basically takes snapshots of everything in an e-mail Inbox.

The initial savings were one-half to three-fourths FT in IT ($50,000). Larimer County reduced its staff by one FTE and reduced its capital hardware by three servers. Ultimately, Larimer County uses Google Apps for less than $50 per user per year. In addition, Larimer did not have to upgrade its Internet connection for the transition.

In addition to the cost savings, Paratore noted other benefits such as “more graceful” upgrades (instead of waiting two or three years). The Google Apps products are easier to use and understand. Employees feel more empowered with more selfinvolvement (trying to solve problems on their own). Other features allow the same product experience wherever the employee is working. In the past, Larimer County had to authorize IT administrators to search each individual e-mails, then reset passwords. eDiscovery and archiving eliminate that arduous process. According to Paratore, employees are already using and embracing the collaboration tools. Collaboration Project Management shows who is in a certain document, and multiple users can edit it in real time, all at the same time.

Lessons Learned

Paratore said the transition was “not without its bumps, so plan on it and make people aware.” He recommended conducting a pilot program for user acceptance, with a lot of communication and awareness. Allow more time for hands-on training for staff, and don’t underestimate the workload and the impact to business. Based on his experience, Paratore said leadership, management and executive assistants were the most vocal because they were impacted the most. According to Dan Israel, from product marketing at Google Apps, “Google takes security very seriously.”

According to Paratore, there was a fear among some of Larimer’s employees that Google employees could get into their e-mail. Paratore said Larimer County talked to Orlando to find out their experiences with Google’s security since switching to Google Apps. They were OK with it, so “that was good enough for us,” Paratore stated.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jan/Feb 2011

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