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USDA Communications Moves To The Cloud

Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a massive move of its 120,000 employees to communications technology hosted in “the cloud,” the common term for Web-based services like email, instant messaging, and content management. This new initiative is part of a major consolidation of over 20 different email systems currently in use, and is expected to drastically improve the USDA’s communication and collaboration capabilities in the U.S. and around the world.
Collaboration in an Age of Open Government

Today’s annoucement by USDA is somewhat of a landmark in the world of open government, as they will become the first cabinet-level agency to embrace and deploy cloud computing technology for e-mail and collaboration. Cloud computing, along with “open data,” social media, and mobile technology, is one of the areas of rapid change that governments are racing to take advantage of under a mandate of transparency, collaboration, and participation.

Many government agencies, from the military services to the State Department and others have outposts all over the country and the world. USDA is no exception. For USDA, this move to cloud computing communications should increase productivity for their 120,000 employees in 5,000 offices in over 100 countries. It should in principle also aid decision-making within the agency.

“We have a distributed workforce and a broad mission that ranges from resource management to homeland security to food safety to helping rural communities create prosperity so they’re self-sustaining,” USDA Chief Information Officer (CIO) Chris Smith said in a press release. “This will help us fulfill the IT side of our mission. The more robust set of tools we can put in place, the better we’ll deliver goods and services for our mission to citizens here and around the world.”

A Wave of Government Cloud Computing

Today’s announcement deepens Microsoft’s partnership with the public sector, said Curt Kolcun, Microsoft’s vice president of U.S. Public Sector. “The past few months have marked a transformative time in government IT, with the state of California, the state of Minnesota, and New York City each embracing cloud computing and choosing Microsoft’s cloud solutions,” Kolcun said. “And now that momentum is carrying into the federal sector, with this groundbreaking implementation from USDA.”

These government shifts to cloud computing for efficiency and productivity were reviewed well by Kristin Bockius in her recent article “Recession-Era Government Cloud Computing.”

At an inflection point in the economy and under the Open Government umbrella of moving to make the government more efficient and cost-effective, this increased efficiency for USDA employees will yield a better use of taxpayer dollars, and sets a Federal government-wide example. By moving to Microsoft Online Services, the USDA is estimated to save $5 per user per year.

The migration to the cloud is part of USDA Chief Information Officer Chris Smith’s vision to consolidate disparate messaging environments onto a single, unified platform, which will reduce costs, boost workforce productivity and improve communications and collaboration across the agency. USDA will deploy Microsoft’s Exchange Online, SharePoint Online and Office Communications Online for collaboration, messaging, calendaring, instant messaging, presence and audio, video and Web conferencing.

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