Chicago is saying goodbye to its three separate internal email systems -- and saying hello to email in the cloud.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office announced on Thursday, Jan. 3, that the city is migrating desktop applications and email for 30,000 city employees across all city departments onto the Microsoft 365 cloud service -- a move that will reduce taxpayer dollars by $400,000 annually. The phased migration to the cloud is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Cloud adoption has been considered a cost-saving step for IT departments, but according to Chicago CIO Brett Goldstein, migrating email to the cloud also frees up time to focus on innovation elsewhere in the city.

“Should I as a city IT department be in the email business? I don’t think so,” Goldstein said. “I should get out of that business, free up resources, do it outside, do it better, do it at a lower cost, and then shift to the other part, which is innovation.”

Goldstein, who also serves as commissioner of the Department of Innovation and Technology, said getting out of the “email business” means time can be better spent leveraging Chicago’s data initiative rather than dealing with round-the-clock email concerns.

By migrating email to the cloud, Goldstein said he can redirect more focus on IT operations like the way Chicago handles transactional databases and warehousing in the city. Because of the high number of databases Chicago has throughout its enterprise, Goldstein is working toward a database shared service concept.

“We’re doing distributed data work now in the city, which is very interesting,” Goldstein said. “We’re dealing with big data and we’ve leveraged open source. We’ve been in the big data space for a very low cost and we’re very happy with the results.”

Chicago has already made strides to carry out its data-focused innovation efforts. Already the city merged the Chicago Public Libraries and nonemergency public safety IT support under the Department of Innovation and Technology to reduce duplication and enhance collaboration. To coincide with city’s long-term efforts toward data-focused innovation plans, the city has published hundreds of city data sets through Chicago’s data portal, as well as implemented Open311 service.

Emanuel's office also announced on Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013, the launch of Chicago Digital, a new online resource that connects citizens with innovative digital tools, offers increased access to the city’s technology initiatives, and makes it easier to connect with city departments and agencies through social media, according to a press release. The site also houses a gallery of Web and smart phone applications built by local Chicago developers.

“As Chicago continues to lead in expanding open data, and using data to make city services more effective, we’re dedicated to finding new ways to involve Chicagoans in our continued efforts to improve and share innovation,” Emanuel said. “Bringing the city’s digital resources together in one place,  as well as including applications from our booming technology community, facilitates our commitment to collaboration and innovation.”

Chicago’s announcement to move to cloud email is one of several city and state government announcements to carry out similar cloud rollouts. In 2011, the San Francisco city-county government announced plans to deploy Microsoft cloud email that would host services for the city and county’s 23,000 municipal employees onto Exchange Online.

According to the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology, the state selected Google in 2012 to serve as its cloud email and calendar services provider, which would cut $2 million in costs annually.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.