Alexandria, Va., will save more than $1 million over the next six years, thanks to a transition to centralized IT services and cloud computing.
Led by Tom Trobridge, Alexandria’s IT director, the city moved from a select agreement with Microsoft, where individual departments bought computer software equipment on an as-needed basis, to an enterprise agreement. The switch enabled city departments to all have the same computers, operating systems and software packages, which severely cut costs.
“We knew we had to standardize and the way to do that was to sign an enterprise agreement,” Trobridge said. “We put the numbers together and [it] came up to over $1 million in savings just by changing the licensing model.”
While the savings were nice, Trobridge explained that the change stemmed more from frustrations regarding the city’s old IBM Lotus Notes e-mail system. The IT director said the city was having problems exchanging documents with other jurisdictions and new employees were wondering why the city was operating on the program.
With Microsoft Exchange available as part of their enterprise agreement, Trobridge and his staff received permission from Alexandria’s city manager, James K. Hartmann, to change the e-mail platform. Trobridge wasted no time jumping to the cloud.
Alexandria’s IT department started the process in November 2010, creating a dual environment using both Lotus Notes and cloud-based Microsoft Outlook, while the e-mail migration took place. About 100 users, including most of the IT staff, were put in the cloud and tested the system for six weeks. In January the change-over began in earnest, and Trobridge said 95 percent of city employees are now using the new e-mail system.
“We’re almost done,” he said. “I’ve got 3.5 TB of e-mail up there, and it’s running great.”
Despite the seamless transition, security remains a big issue and concern for Trobridge. The IT director admitted that he looked at a number of different cloud providers, but settled on Microsoft because of the company’s maturity and Federal Information Security Management Act compliant data centers.
Alexandria’s internal computer systems aren’t the only pieces of technology receiving an overhaul. The city also upgraded its cell phone offerings, moving from Research in Motion’s BlackBerry to a choice between Apple’s iPhone and Android phones for employees.
But the upgrade wasn’t intentional. Trobridge explained that when the city was changing its e-mail system, to get BlackBerrys to do active synchronization with Outlook in the cloud required an additional license. The price tag for that was $120 per phone.
“We hadn’t expected that, it was really an unanticipated cost,” Trobridge said. “My telecom guy said that Outlook syncs automatically with Androids and iPhones and that we could get 3G for about $50 per phone, so it made sense as a cost saver.”
BlackBerry lovers in Alexandria needn’t fret, however. Trobridge said when the city moves to the Microsoft Office 365 operating system later this year, BlackBerrys should be set up to sync with Outlook, which will give employees the option of using them once again.
Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.