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City of Orlando goes Google

Located in the very heart of Central Florida, Orlando is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. With a growing population of more than 218,000 and a service population of 320,000, the City of Orlando decided to cut costs by more than 66 percent by moving e-mail and apps “into the cloud.”

Conrad Cross, CIO for Orlando, needed to replace the city’s legacy e-mail and communications infrastructure after budget cuts. After considering the usual options, Cross found value in a cloud-based solution offered by Google Apps.

Google™ is the fourth largest server manufacturer in the world. Google Apps users include Fortune 500 companies (Genentech, Delta hotels, Fujisoft, Taylor Woodrow), the public sector, small and mid-size businesses (Hamilton Beach, Prudential), academics (Northwestern University, Hofstra University) and non-profit organizations.

Orlando became one of the first majorU.S. cities to switch to Google e-mail. With many constituents to please, including the mayor’s office and the public safety departments, Cross and his team converted 3,000 users to the new system within 45 days, an aggressive deployment. The City signed the agreement in October 2009, acquired licenses in November 2009, and in December 2009, they had a section of the city up and running on it. The results were compelling: no more requests for mailbox increases; no need to upgrade aging hardware; and a mayor who asks the CIO for the latest updates on Google.

The City of Orlando used Lotus Notes for 10 years prior to switching to Google. Their mail application ran on two IBM AS/400 servers, one BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES), with 268 BlackBerry devices. According to Cross, there was no centralized document storage, 100 MB of storage per mailbox, and no electronic discovery application.

Besides budget cuts, Cross said some of the deciding factors in choosing Google included: aging hardware, license renewals, Lotus Notes administrators retired, insufficient mailbox storage and lack of centralized archiving solution. The implications are bigger than simply changing the icon the Orlando employees click on their desktops. For city officials, it means cutting costs by two-thirds, saving taxpayers an estimated $262,500 per year.

With the old system, city officials estimated the cost was $133 per year for each of the 3,000 city employees (including administration, fire and police). This totaled $399,000 including annual software licenses. The Google estimates are $50 per user per year, or $150,000 total per year.

In return, everyone from city planners to police officers will use the Web-based e-mail system similar to Google’s popular Gmail, but without advertisements that support the free consumer version. Google servers will store all the city’s e-mail and run the application, and Google technicians—not city employees—will make sure it runs smoothly.

As of March 31, 2010, Orlando was 83 days into the implementation process, and Cross said he still had a direct line to the project manager at Google for support. “The costs and IT support are someone else’s nightmare, and that’s what we’re paying for,” Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Rebecca Sutton stated.

More than 2 million businesses now run Google Apps, which include: Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Instant Messenger (IM), virus protection, spam filtering, video chat, Youtube capabilities, etc. The Orlando contract includes “Google Docs” that include word processing, spreadsheets and presentation software.

Google’s archrival Microsoft dominates the market with its Office software (Outlook, Word, Excel, etc.). In contrast, Google doesn’t rely on software saved on the user’s computers, but in the “cloud computing” system in which applications are Internet-based and run on remote Web servers.

With the new system, Orlando no longer needs the City Hall servers it used for Lotus Notes, which in turn means they don’t have to pay for the electricity those servers consume, or the extra data storage to archive mail. In addition, they don’t have to replace the two network administrators who retired. Basically, they gained floor space and use less electricity now.

Google VP of Sales Michael Lock said Google will archive Orlando records, which must be kept accessible under state public records law, in “super-secret data centers.” In addition, the Google system supports many mobile devices, with its 25 Gigabytes of storage space instead of 100 Megabytes per user. In other words, workers don’t have to delete e-mails in their Inboxes or documents to make room on the server anymore.

Cross said the city is still using Microsoft Office. They can use Google’s word processing now, but it’s not required for employees. “We will evaluate every purchase of Microsoft Office going forward,” Cross stated.

Orlando is not Google’s biggest contract to date, but it is a well-known city, and Lock hopes other cities will follow Orlando’s lead. Los Angeles signed a contract to go Google. The city approved a $7.25 million e-mail contract for 30,000 employees. “Google is the best thing… I love it,” said Orlando City Commissioner Robert F. Stuart.

Orlando Police Department

The Orlando Police Department’s (OPD) mission statement is “Keep Orlando a safe city by reducing crime and maintaining livable neighborhoods.” The 1,001 sworn and civilian employees of the police department serve the citizens of Orlando through crime prevention, criminal investigations and apprehension, neighborhood policing, involvement through the schools with young people, and overall delivery of police services.

The public safety department of Orlando waited until 2010 for their deployment of the Google system. Police are now getting e-mail in their vehicles with air cards and NetMotion software in laptops in cars. So the switch to Google was a natural fit because officers are doing so much more communicating in the field now.

According to Deputy Chief Larry Zwieg, OPD is currently using Google Apps for the following: Mail, Calendars, Documents and sites. One site to note is the OPD “Worst of the Worst” list (WOW). It is a site where officers can view photos and information about the top 10 violent criminals currently active in the three patrol divisions. They can also post information on the site related to each WOW criminal.

Zwieg said the city team compiled a list of required/optional features and sent it to the major E-mail Cloud vendors for responses. The decision to move to Google was made based on the offered features, implementation cost and annual operating cost.

The response from the officers has been favorable. “So far, so good. It was a relatively smooth process from Lotus Notes to Google mail,” Zwieg stated.

In terms of technical support, Zwieg said the Google team was there to support them during the migration process and continued to make Postini and Google applications system experts available to provide solutions, address issues, share best practices, and provide continued support for post-implementation concerns.

Photos courtesy of the Orlando Police Department.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jul/Aug 2010

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