Los Angeles is slated to complete its transition to Google Apps for Government this October—including services to security-sensitive sectors like the police department. Right now the migration’s focus is getting the e-mail and calendar portion of the system finished. But down the road, there will be many more options, including video apps.
by Robin Berger
The nation’s second-largest city made headlines last year with its decision to switch to Google to support its 30,000-plus employees and 44 different departments. Reports pegged the 5-year deal at more than $7.25 million, plus upgrades to bolster security, and continued licensing payments on its old service contract as increased security precautions were devised and implemented beyond the June 30 target date for completion.
These costs definitely stood out in the face of the city’s projected $485 million budget deficit. And overseeing such a radical change was even more daunting as fiscally hard times had reportedly forced the city to slash its IT payroll from 800 to 500 jobs over the past three years. But the city defended its choice as a crucial means to rectify its hamstrung communication system.
“Our Novell Groupwise system didn’t work on some mobile devices and we had to enforce inbox space quotas that city employees found limiting,” said Kevin Crawford, assistant general manager of the city’s Information Technology Agency. “In addition to providing better collaboration tools and remote access, we also needed archiving and disaster recovery capabilities to safeguard information. Disaster recovery precautions are especially important in this part of the world where earthquakes are not a question of if, but when.”
The ITA estimated the move would save Los Angeles $5.5 million over five years. These projected savings included lower electricity bills and the ability to free up 100 servers previously dedicated to its former e-mail system. Moreover, a timely payout from a 2006 class-action lawsuit regarding overcharges on software will force Google rival Microsoft to pick up $1.5 million of the tab.
Google Apps rests on a Cloud Computing model—an Internet-based network that operates somewhat like an electricity grid in providing users with ondemand access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources.
According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, cloud computing is “still an evolving paradigm.”
“Its definitions, use cases, underlying technologies, issues, risks, and benefits will be refined in a spirited debate by the public and private sectors,” said in its most recent assessment of the technology, in October 2009. “These definitions attributes, and characteristics will evolve and change over time.”
Google Apps is federally certified for multi-tenant cloud applications as outlined by the Federal Information Security Management Act.
“We have three options for staff: online video, like YouTube, which is internal to the city; video conferencing; and the ability to place videos on Google sites externally,” said Crawford. “We’re giving departments the ability to turn these off if they want to, but it comes turned on.”
Although he conceded that some employees are struggling with their adjustment to the new e-mail and calendar directives, he noted that many others have—“within days of their migration”—put his staff on notice that they’re ready to move on to the next step, which includes video.
His own staff, he said, has already videotaped its training sessions and put them on the cloud.
“We have been using the video options extensively,” said Project Liaison and Assistant Programmer Charlene Dennis. “We offer webinars and we also offer a section on our website where we have videos set up to capture different procedures, like ‘just getting started on Gmail.’ There are about four or five videos.”
She also noted initial video interest from the city’s fire department for training videos, though no follow up has ensued following the retirement of the fire department’s most ardent online video advocate. More recently, she said, interest has cropped up from the city’s personnel division and Community Development Department (CCD), which administers federal and state grant programs.
Jimmy Lee, senior systems analyst for the CCD’s Computer Systems Division, was interested in the video feature used to share clips internally, particularly online training videos. He said the CCD was also interested in videoconferencing.
“We’re interested in ‘chat’ because we have some remote sites that we wanted to communicate with from our main office,” said Lee. “Instead of talking over the phone or having to travel to a remote site from the central office, we could do a conference call with the field.”
But video conferencing will be subject to fiscal restraints in the near future.
“We don’t have cameras at everybody’s work stations,” said Crawford. Nor was there the budget to get more cameras any time soon.