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Arizona Shifts from Disparate Email to Google’s G Suite

The state has so far migrated roughly 80 internal agencies and 28,000 users to daily tools like Gmail and Google Calendar, with the remaining four agencies set to join the rest within the next 30 days.

So far, Arizona has migrated 80 internal agencies and as many as 28,000 state employee users to Google’s G Suite, a slate of cloud computing daily tools that includes nigh-ubiquitous platforms like Gmail and Google Calendar.

If all goes according to plan, the remaining four state agencies will join this number in the coming weeks, marking statewide adoption for a single computing platform. This is a far cry from the status quo when Arizona decided to embrace G Suite, which saw the state government split up among 30 different email systems, said Arizona CIO Morgan Reed. The advantages to completing this process, he noted, are twofold.

First of all, it serves the state well for all of its roughly 35,000 employees to be using one system, enabling them to share calendars, documents, and other functionalities. It’s also advantageous because G Suite is a modern and dynamic system, whereas some of the disparate email setups were legacy platforms. They were, in a few cases, more than 10 years old, and their developers had stopped making security patches, leaving them vulnerable to cyberattacks. These vulnerabilities posed a threat to the state agencies, obviously, but also to the citizens who interacted with them. Reed noted that during the migration process, the state was running incoming emails through multiple security filters, and G Suite routinely spotted considerably more risks than older systems.

Secondly, Reed said that G Suite gives the state an advantage in recruiting younger, skilled workers who grew up with Gmail and have never used older computing systems. Young people are generally already using G Suite for work or school or other personal pursuits, and Arizona having adopted it removes a barrier of entry for them.

In fact, Heather Sheston, a state employee who has headed up the G Suite adaptation process full time dating back to January 2018, said one of the first lessons that became clear to the team was that many public employees already had working familiarity with G Suite. The state initially approached trainings with the assumption that no one had used G Suite before, and it had to quickly realign after learning that wasn’t the case, offering more intermediate lessons on its functionality and less beginner-level training.

These training efforts were diverse and spanned several mediums, ranging from in-person lessons to recorded sessions that users could watch at any time.

Still, Reed notes that the entire process was a big lift. Unlike something like consolidating data centers, switching to G Suite will ultimately change how people go about their individual work days, affecting everything from email to calendar usage to scheduling meetings.

To ensure success, the state had to focus intensely on individuals, many of whom had been through similar processes before that maybe didn’t work out so well. Arizona had one employee — a great grandmother — who was on the fourth email migration of her career.

“Change management was the biggest part of this project,” Reed said. “It really wasn’t the ones and zeroes. Technology was the easiest part. It was managing change in 130 agencies, boards and departments.”

A vital step in doing that was making Sheston a full-time staffer dedicated to the migration process. In addition, Sheston was given the resources she needed, including five full-time staffers and eight part-time staffers to join her on the project. Another vital component was buy-in from executives, Sheston said, including both Reed and Gov. Doug Ducey.

Ultimately, Arizona hasn’t calculated an exact total yet, but the expectation is that having all of its state government under one modern set of cloud computing tools will save millions of dollars in terms of efficiency.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.