Wyoming Goes Google

E-Newsletter Issue #73/July 7, 2011

Wyoming has gone Google.

Just a few years ago, the productivity of Wyoming state government was burdened by a complex patchwork of information technology software.

As Renny MacKay, a spokesman for Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead puts it, “We had 13 different platforms for 10,000 employees, which made communicating more difficult than it should have been.”

One system directory, for instance, didn’t include government employees’ contact information that was housed in another system, which meant staff struggled to collaborate. The state also had different suffixes for different email accounts, which created confusion about officials’ email addresses internally and for the public. The different technologies didn’t interoperate as efficiently as they could, and addressing this issue provided an opportunity for the state to cut operating costs.

So Wyoming began to look for solutions to streamline its information technology infrastructure, making communications between state employees and the public easier.

“The transition to Google Apps was born out of a desire to get everyone on the same platform,” said MacKay.

After an open and competitive process, the state awarded the bid for technical expertise for the migration to Google partner Tempus Nova, a company that specializes in helping its clients’ transition users from Lotus Notes, Groupwise and Exchange to Google Apps. The change for Wyoming had significance beyond the typical software upgrade: By migrating to Google, Wyoming is migrating to the “cloud.”

While many people think of Google as a verb for Web search, the company also offers online services that include Web-based or “cloud” versions of productivity software, such as word processors, spreadsheets and presentations. These tools are part of the suite of Google Apps for Government, a collection of applications Wyoming is beginning to use.

These online tools are accessed using a Web browser, like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Mozilla’s Firefox or even Google’s own Chrome. That eliminates the need to have software installed and updated on each computer’s hard drive. Instead, the latest version of a Google App, like its word processor, will automatically load in the browser window.

In addition, Google’s word processor will automatically save the document being created on Google’s servers instead of on the computer’s hard drive. This capability strikes at the heart of the “cloud” metaphor—software and files are stored on external servers and accessed using the Internet. This greatly reduces atomized complexity of the infrastructure, which is a boon to IT departments. Software and file management is handled externally instead of across thousands of individual computers. This simplicity pays off.

“Typical cost savings are found in server maintenance, software upgrades and IT labor,” a Google spokesperson said.

Wyoming expects the implementation to save the state more than $1 million per year.

“In man-hours saved, I'm sure that $1 million is very, very conservative,” Wyoming CIO Flint Waters noted at a press conference.

The automated document storage and search functionality built into Google Apps allow for strong record keeping and “e-discovery.” Google Apps also provides several tools for collaboration, which can assist with employee productivity. For example, if a few employees are contributing to the same spreadsheet, they all can simultaneously access the file from their Internet-connected devices and edit it in real time. This solution often is simpler than circulating multiple email attachments of a document. Google Apps was also the first cloud computing suite to be certified according to the standards of the Federal Information Security Management Act, which means the security offered by Google is equivalent to or better than many existing state IT systems.

Google Apps is a new frontier for Wyoming, and it’s the first state to completely “go Google.” But it likely won’t be the last. Some states already have begun using Google Apps in more limited applications.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control recently moved its 4,200 employees to Google Apps, according to Google. The Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks has been a customer since 2010, while the New Mexico Attorney General's Office made the switch in 2009. Other states—including Colorado, Iowa, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Wisconsin—are bringing Apps to their K-12 classrooms.

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