Ditching the Desktop Ditching the Desktop Design Department

Imagine accessing documents from any computer with an Internet connection and not worrying about misplacing a USB flash drive or hauling around a laptop. Web sites have emerged that allow just that, with the added bonus of document storage, collaboration and sharing without the hassle of e-mail attachments. Not only can users free themselves from hard drives, they also can work together on documents in real time.

Online document management sites -- Acrobat.com, Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live Workspace -- allow seamless partnership among programs similar to the ones used every day by government agencies. They can provide cost savings, collaboration, document creation and storage, and eliminate the need for portable storage devices. The sites let users access documents from any computer with an Internet connection and a standard browser without downloading anything.

"The drivers of moving online are: I want to access this stuff from two different machines, I want all of my things searchable or I want to share them with a set of people," said Jonathan Rochelle, project manager of spreadsheets for Google Docs. "We're finding that institutions are finding it easier to share, which is a much more relevant action within a group these days."

D.C. Deploys Google

The District of Columbia was planning to spend $4 million on a new intranet deployment but killed that project and launched Google Apps, a suite of Web-hosted collaboration services, such as Google Docs, Google Talk (an instant messaging and voice over internet protocol tool) and Gmail.

This move saved the district more than $3.5 million.

Abandoning the original intranet project was a logical business decision for the district, said Vivek Kundra, the District of Columbia's chief technology officer. "I said we could do that in a very low-cost fashion using Google Apps to drive collaboration, move us to real-time sharing of information and drive adoption, in terms of technologies people are already familiar with," he said. The decision to deploy Google Apps aligned with Kundra's three core drivers: being good guardians of taxpayer dollars, getting the greatest value from technologies and providing solutions quickly.

The district's Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) deployed Google Apps in October 2007 for its approximately 700 employees. "We literally just turned it on, so it wasn't like we had to deploy software and spend seven months architecting it," Kundra said.

Following OCTO's successful deployment, Kundra decided to launch Google Apps for the district's entire government -- about 38,000 employees -- beginning July 24, 2008. The goal is to move all government information to the intranet via Google Apps.

Kundra's advice for others looking to move online: "I would say look at the power of the consumer-market forces. Don't underestimate that, because when you're deploying applications for millions and millions of users, the demand on that infrastructure compared to a small enterprise is very different."

Cloud Collaboration

Google Docs provides online storage, creation and collaboration of presentations, word processing and spreadsheet documents. When sharing a document, the owner can invite users, who are given a read-only copy or assigned editing privileges. The site permits users to make documents public by publishing them as Web pages or posting them to a blog.

Google's Rochelle said the collaboration portion of the applications is what makes a difference. "That is what varies significantly and lets people turn the corner on productivity," he said.

When documents need to be edited or proofed by multiple people, online document management allows smooth transitions. "The problem with attachments and e-mails is that they really just proliferate versions," Rochelle said. "The first difference really is in the single-version control. There is a single place where this document lives, many people can edit and access it, and it's all online in one version. You

Elaine Rundle  |  Staff Writer