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Randi Levin, CTO, Los Angeles

Randi Levin, CTO, Los Angeles

No public-sector CIO has endured turmoil and relished triumph quite like Randi Levin, who last summer was amid a politically charged debate about Los Angeles' enterprisewide adoption of Google's Gmail e-mail service.

The five-year agreement, approved by the Los Angeles City Council in October 2009, sparked an intense lobbying battle between Google and its competitors that surprised staff at the city's Information Technology Agency.

"We were originally under the impression Washington, D.C., had done the whole [Gmail] migration," said Levin, who's led the agency for the past two and a half years. "I don't want to go into all the reasons why we thought that, but we certainly didn't think we were going to be the first, nor did we think it was going to be as political as it turned out to be."

The decision will migrate the e-mail of 30,000-plus city employees to Google's off-site "government cloud" that debuts this year, and will later bring Google Apps - docs, voice, chat, mobile functionality and Web site support - to city departments. The move, Levin says, will save more than $5 million in hard costs and $20 million more through increased productivity.

But it took some time to win support. Some council members and public safety officials initially opposed the plan because of perceived security concerns about cloud computing and protecting sensitive data. Some also were nervous that L.A. would be the first large government to adopt Google across the enterprise, however, Levin said those concerns have since been addressed and everyone is on board.

Levin and her IT managers believed from the start that L.A. was making the right decision by choosing Gmail. "In all, everyone's trying to figure out that age-old question of doing more with less, and people are realizing that running infrastructure, particularly, is becoming much more of a commodity - and there are others who can do it better, faster and cheaper."