Maryland State CTO: We Moved To Google Apps And The Cloud, And So Should You

It's time for state governments to get out of the IT infrastructure business and move to the cloud, according to Greg Urban, chief technology officer for the state of Maryland. Speaking at The Channel Company’s recent XChange Public Sector conference in Washington, D.C., Urban discussed how his state embraced the cloud and specifically Google Apps.

Maryland's state government made the decision in 2011 to migrate to Google Apps for Government for all of its 54,000 employees (currently 36,000 of those employees have been successfully migrated). The rollout was part of a landmark $56 million project to consolidate dozens of disparate email and collaboration applications into one cohesive solution.

"We had 50 to 60 different email systems alone," Urban told the audience. "One of the challenges that we have is trying to collaborate as an enterprise. To be so distributed and to not be able to work together on a common platform for applications such as email and other communication tools was a bit of a challenge."

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Urban said that each state agency, for example, used to run its own email servers. In addition, the state government has more than 50 different CIOs for its various agencies and departments. The plan, he said, was to consolidate those IT platforms and standardize on one cohesive system.

"The focus of this has not been on being cheaper," Urban said. "The focus has been on being better and more efficient."

Manosh Chakravorty, head of Google Enterprise's State, Local, and Education (SLED) business, joined Urban on stage at XChange Public Sector and said that early on in the competitive bidding process, which began in 2010, the focus was more on simplifying Maryland's IT systems rather than trying to sell the state on Google Apps.

"At that level, it was Google versus Microsoft or anybody else," Chakravorty told the audience. "It was about having 40 email systems. Clearly, you would save money by moving to just one platform."

After reviewing a number of vendor offerings, the state selected Google Apps for Government. "It was tough. We set a really high bar [for our requirements]," Urban said. "It was clear that the one product that was mature and had the size and scale was Google's."

The state began the Google Apps rollout in 2012, and as Urban described it, the plan was to build "a coalition of the willing." In other words, Urban's team targeted agencies and departments that were using aging legacy systems and had a motivation to migrate to Google Apps.

To assist with the deployment, Maryland and Google tapped SADA Systems, a Premier Enterprise Google Reseller based in Hollywood, Calif. Despite being a West Coast solution provider, SADA was one of two top Google partners in the running for the Maryland project and ultimately won the contract, thanks to strong ties to Google's SLED team, according to Tony Safoian, president and CEO of SADA Systems.

Chakravorty said SADA was instrumental in helping the vendor promote Google Apps to Urban and other state officials early in the bidding process. In addition, SADA benefited from being an early adopter of Google Apps for Government when the bidding process began in 2010. "At the time, our partner program was very small," Chakravorty said. "In state and local government, we probably only had three authorized partners to do business with at that time."

SADA Systems sold the Google Apps licenses for the project and also built a tool designed to help Urban and his team manage and provision those licenses across the various agencies and departments in the state. Therefore, Maryland's own IT team was able to deploy Google Apps. "They went into this not knowing a lot about the deployment of cloud apps, so we helped with that as well by providing consulting services and best practices around Google Apps," Safoian said. "We handled the licensing and developed the license management tool, and ultimately they deployed the apps themselves."

Since the project began in earnest in 2012, SADA has seen interest in both cloud services and Google Apps skyrocket in the public sector. "We see massive demand in the state and local market for cloud and Google Apps especially," Safoian said. "It started years ago with a lot of demand in higher education, and then that grew into K-12 education, and now we're seeing it across state and local agencies."

Maryland's Google Apps rollout is expected to be completed by mid-year of 2015. Urban said he expects more cloud deployments within Maryland's state government, and he advised other states to embrace cloud and let someone else manage their IT systems. "The [state] CIOs should really get out of the infrastructure business," Urban said.

Safoian agreed and predicted the days of state government spending millions of dollars on IT hardware and capital expenditure purchases are coming to an end. "Cloud is definitely growing in the government market," Safoian said. "I don't think many states are going to be managing their own IT infrastructure in the future."