All of Minnesota’s executive branch government employees are now working in a cloud environment, enabling the state to more effectively collaborate across agencies, reduce costs, expand its IT abilities, improve citizen services, and increase security.
The move involves 35,000 employees in more than 70 executive agencies using Microsoft Office 365 to securely access email, share calendars, IM, video conference and collaboratively work on projects over the web. It is the largest state deployment of the technology, said Stuart McKee, CTO, US State and Local Government, Microsoft.
If a natural disaster or other crisis occurred that required an interagency response and up-to-the-minute information, we found it challenging to coordinate duties and share information effectively among agencies. Now, the Governor has the capability to send a single email or post a message to the intranet to all state employees to alert them and tell them what steps to take. The value comes from everyone communicating on the same platform.” – Carolyn Parnell
The difference between Minnesota’s and other states’ technology initiatives, continued McKee, is its pragmatic approach and realizing the benefits of adopting the technology across a breadth of agencies of different sizes and requirements.
“Too often we have technology enthusiasm or hype and the reality is that it’s hard work,” he said. “It’s indicative of what Minnesota has done…to be able to implement the technology.”
Technology should be part of “a strategic agenda and be the underpinning to solving difficult challenges…one size doesn’t fit all,” McKee added.
Tarek Tomes, Office of Enterprise Technology (OET) Assistant Commissioner, said prior to using the system, agencies could not easily share information with each other.
“They had issues exchanging documents, which inhibited collaboration and led to duplicating work unnecessarily,” he said.
The inability to easily share information made it difficult to quickly respond to emergencies, said state CIO Carolyn Parnell, whose appointment to the post was announced February 1.
“If a natural disaster or other crisis occurred that required an interagency response and up-to-the-minute information, we found it challenging to coordinate duties and share information effectively among agencies,” said Parnell. Now, “the Governor has the capability to send a single email or post a message to the intranet to all state employees to alert them and tell them what steps to take. The value comes from everyone communicating on the same platform.”
Ed Valencia, OET Deputy Commissioner and Chief Technology Officer for the state, cited the state’s government shutdown in summer 2011 as “the most recent example [of when] we needed to update all employees on information that was changing rapidly.”
Tomes anticipates a reduced technology support structure and reduced costs as a result of the move. However, Valencia sees greater value in shifting the IT focus from maintaining operations to “being more innovative with these tools and improving the effectiveness of communications and collaboration across state agencies.”
Minnesota deployed Microsoft Office 365; Lync 2010; Lync Online; Outlook 2010; Exchange Online; and SharePoint Online across all executive branch employees. The technology is available for use by entities in other jurisdictions in the state. OET is also piloting the use of the technology on Windows 7 smartphones.
The move to Microsoft Office 365 is part of a broader initiative to consolidate and streamline the state’s executive branch IT functions. The technology, particularly the intranet and Team Sites in SharePoint Online, is a primary tool to help manage the consolidation project, Parnell said.
“Most government business involves the sharing of information either internally or with citizens, sometimes in matters of life and death. The speed at which the right people can connect with each other-and share data-to solve a problem is vital to providing good government service,” said Valencia.
Other government agencies moving to Office 365 include New York, the states of California and Nebraska, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.