In late June, Wyoming became the first state government to adopt Google's cloud computing solution, moving 10,000 state workers over to the platform, which will save the state more than $1 million per year. Chief Information Officer Flint Waters came on board when the transition was already underway and says he wasn't entirely receptive to Google.
But now? Waters says using Google Apps "has been excellent." It lets government offices co-author a document simultaneously and see everyone else's edits in real time. "They can collaborate at a scale that was never possible before."
In the beginning, Wyoming lacked a shared address book across all agencies, Waters says, which meant an employee in game and fish, for instance, had to know the email address of an individual he or she wanted to reach at the budget office. "Now, not only do I have all of that information available to me," he says, "but at a click of a button, I can add them to an individual document and grant them authority -- without involving a system administrator, without involving a security individual from both agencies to negotiate a shared storage on somebody's file servers. All of those debates about territorial storage of content go away."
The conversion to Google took less than nine months to complete, and Waters says there were some painful moments along the way. While the changeover was seen as mostly positive by employees, he says, some people just don't do well with change at all, and others miss some functionalities in certain applications. "Those are some growing pains that we are working through," he says. "They aren't Google-specific; they're really related to any project that would bring everybody's data together when there had not been standards."
Waters is now putting standards for naming conventions and methodologies into place, but says that that is more of a challenge "than any independent software solution you are going to implement."
The technology transition was a struggle -- namely bringing multiple email solutions together. Now, however, Wyoming state government focuses less on the types of platforms in state agencies. "A year ago, the standard was Microsoft apps and Blackberries, and that was really what you expected everyone to have," Waters says, noting that he has a 27-inch iMac on his desk; the governor carries an iPad; and there are Android devices and iPhones throughout the enterprise. "We are able to focus on the mission and not the platform," he says. "We are not a Microsoft shop; we are not an Oracle shop -- we are a solution shop, and this really has enabled a lot of that."
Security measures like enhanced firewalls, encryption and password protection are included in the new system, Waters told a Colorado news station, and data stored on employees computers, phones or tablets can be wiped remotely if necessary.
From the point of view of Gov. Matt Mead's office, cloud computing has been a great tool, says Renny MacKay, Mead's communications director. "We've been able to improve collaboration on documents and spreadsheets, [which] is a huge benefit," he says, "because it means that staff in different buildings and on trips across the country can easily contribute to the work of the entire office."
And they can "meet" quickly and spontaneously without leaving their separate offices. "I'll be working on a document and I'll get a video chat request," Waters says. "I hit the button, and there's the governor sitting at his desk." Waters answers his questions, and in two minutes, they solve on video chat what it would previously take a week or more to schedule and to try to get face time to address. "This has been phenomenal in changing the mindset and allowing us to focus on working together and providing the solution to the citizen."
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