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New York State Ready for Quick Move into Cloud Email

New York State is consolidating email and moving to Microsoft Office 365.

New York State government is poised to move quickly to a single cloud-based system for email and office tools, with the target date for the completed migration less than five months away.

Officials are confident it won’t take long to transition onto Microsoft Office 365, in part because approximately 70,000 of the state’s 120,000 employees already are using NYSeMail, the state’s centralized on-premise email system built on Microsoft Exchange.

Twenty-six agencies use NYSeMail, while 50 agencies manage their own standalone email systems. Some state agencies still have thousands of users on GroupWise or Lotus Notes, with no consistency in the version or patches they are using. Brian Digman, the state’s CIO, said agencies also are using several different versions of Office.

“We were just all over the map,” Digman said.

New York State projects it will save at least $3 million annually by moving to cloud email, which is part of a larger IT transformation project spurred by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Consolidating email was one recommendation of the SAGE (Spending and Government Efficiency) Commission, which Cuomo formed two years ago to identify where government could become more efficient.

With Office 365, each state employee will get a 25-gigabyte mailbox, a 50-fold increase to the state’s current 500 MB limit. They also will be able to securely access their email and Microsoft’s other offerings, including Office and SharePoint, on a variety of devices when connected to the Internet.

Digman said having a common platform should improve efficiency and interagency collaboration. The state’s agency-level CIOs already are discussing how the new platform could be integrated as they’re writing shared applications, and how Office 365 can be used to more efficiently communicate with citizens and to support new initiatives brought forward in the state.

“We’re in a much better position to respond quickly because it’s in the cloud,” Digman said.

Moving to cloud email also will allow the state to get out of email administration. As part of the IT transformation, the state is consolidating multiple data centers into a single Tier 3 facility and standing up a separate disaster recovery site.

“I think what will happen is people who had been at least part time administering email servers -- we’ll need their help consolidating the servers that are left over and in administering the new data center,” Digman said.

The five-month time frame for the Office 365 migration is aggressive, but Digman said confidence has been boosted by an earlier pilot project that occurred in the New York State Department of Health. More than six hundred users there recently were moved from Lotus Notes to Office 365.

John Norton, CIO of the health cluster with the New York State Office of Information Technology Services, said that those users were put on Office 365 more quickly by migrating only the most recent 180 days of email to start with (only a very small fraction of employees regularly access email older than that), and focusing in the beginning on calendaring, word processing and training.

“The technology is not too hard,” Norton said. “It’s really the training. We put a lot of time into that.”

The state gave the pilot users one-on-one training, computer-based options, online books and several other options, he said.

Norton added that he’s eager to have his agencies on the same version of SharePoint to improve collaboration. And he anticipates that his health agencies will save money. Twenty-four hospitals that before had their own email systems -- 24 separate instances of GroupWise -- will soon be consolidated on Microsoft.

“All hands are going to be on deck. ... Our goal is to meet (the end-of-year time frame) the governor has put out,” Norton said, adding that the exact timing likely will depend on how much email is migrated and other management decisions.

New York has opened its Office 365 contract to all localities in the state that want to participate. Digman said cities and counties have expressed interest in the days since the agreement was announced publicly last week.

“I would envision a day where they jump right on board for the same reasons the state did it,” Digman said.

More than 1 million U.S. government workers have been moved or are being moved to Office 365, according to Microsoft. The company’s clients include the cities of Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle as well as the state governments of California, Texas and Washington.

Matt Williams is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine.