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One Early Cloud Email Adopter Switches Teams — What Does It Mean?

Orlando, Fla., moved its email system to the cloud in 2009, but switched providers this year due to just a couple of subtle differences.

A growing number of cities, counties and states today are making the leap to cloud infrastructure. And while many are more recent entrants to the cloud, Orlando, Fla., moved its email system to the cloud in 2009 — an early adopter by anyone’s definition. At that time, governments were just beginning to explore the cloud’s potential for savings and scalability, and stories about the migration of major systems were a novelty.

In the years since, much attention was paid to the two biggest players in the market — Microsoft and Google — as many states and localities announced similar moves of their email and productivity suites to the cloud. Wyoming migrated to a hosted solution in 2011, citing cost savings and improved collaboration possibilities with Google Apps for Government. Other states like Minnesota and New York chose Microsoft, abandoning many disparate on-premise systems for a cloud solution with automatic upgrades that integrated seamlessly with existing productivity tools.

Jurisdictions continued to choose sides in subsequent years as they moved toward the cloud. The question for most public-sector organizations became not if but when they’d make the leap. A 2016 report from Gartner, Predicts 2016: Cloud Computing to Drive Digital Business, predicted cloud ubiquity by 2020. “It will be largely unthinkable to eschew cloud deployments as a matter of policy,” the report said.

Time for Orlando to Re-Bid

As Orlando neared the end of its original seven-year contract with Google for cloud-based email, it issued another RFP. And once the bids came in, a diverse committee made up of both technical and nontechnical personnel was involved in the selection process, Orlando CIO Rosa Akhtarkhavari explained. The choice to include a large group of stakeholders was intentional to ensure that the needs of all 3,000 city employees — which include a significant contingent of public safety officials, including police officers and firefighters — were considered.

Rosa Akhtarkhavari, CIO, Orlando, Fla.

Orlando CIO Rosa Akhtarkhavari. Photo by Steve Williams.

In the end, a couple of subtle differences tipped the scales in favor of Microsoft.

“The primary reason Orlando selected Office 365 versus Google was Microsoft’s firm commitment to pursue FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) compliance,” Akhtarkhavari said. “Office 365’s integrated security solution was also a deciding factor. Google’s encryption offering is a third-party add-on.”

Improved integration with existing Microsoft products and staff capabilities was another factor that led to its selection. “Office 365 more closely conforms to city standards and skill sets,” the CIO said, adding that cost differences were negligible.

Orlando also has standardized around Microsoft’s .NET framework. “The opportunity to advance integration in support of Orlando’s internal direction, as well as a stronger commitment to CJIS compliance, is the basis for the decision to select Office 365,” Akhtarkhavari said.

The Transition

Akhtarkhavari has only positive things to say about the city's seven-year experience with Google. In fact, Orlando chose to opt in to the extensions that were available in the original contract, adding features along the way, including email encryption and archiving. She is quick to compliment the service and features available from Google during the life of the contract.

Orlando only had a short time span of three months to move six years’ worth of data to the new system, a process that came with the typical bumps in the road. But by the time the contract ended with Google, the city was up and running in Microsoft with 100 percent of its data successfully transferred. Orlando went live with Microsoft Office 365 on Jan. 7, 2017.

Orlando’s journey to the cloud didn’t end with email. Further evidence of the city’s cloud maturity came in the 2013 migration of its Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to a cloud-based system from Workday. And after the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016, Orlando turned to Microsoft Azure to quickly scale up to handle the influx of donations pouring in for those affected by the tragedy.

The city is now considering moving media storage to the cloud. It is currently working with Motorola to store body-worn camera video in the cloud as well, an arrangement they expect to be in place by September.

Morgan Rothenbaum contributed to this story.

Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.