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Project of the Week: GSA Is In The Cloud

This week’s Project of the Week is brought to you by one of GovLoop’s 2011 Major Partners, Google. As the year continues they will be present on GovLoop to help answer any questions you have within the Google for Gov group right here on GovLoop.

Dr. GovLoop recently corresponded with Google and what all they are doing to help improve GSA’s communications – Check out this conversation with Dan Israel of Google:

Why did GSA decide to move its email to the cloud?
GSA needed applications that would enable a more mobile workforce & allow employees to collaborate better with colleagues and customers. The agency also sought a substantial reduction in costs compared to its previous email platform. Martha Johnson’s blog post gives GSA’s perspective.

How did the transition go?
With help from Unisys, GSA successfully migrated 17,000 employees and contractors — and 10 terabytes of data — to Google Apps for Government within six months. The project was on budget and on time, even with a fairly aggressive schedule.

What else are GSA employees getting from Google in addition to email?
GSA employees now have access to the entire Google Apps for Government suite. Shared calendars help them easily coordinate schedules, voice and video chat let them communicate face-to-face with mobile colleagues, and Google Docs allow them to work together in real-time on documents, spreadsheets & presentations. GSA also gave employees the Chrome for Business web browser for a faster, simpler, more secure experience with Google Apps.

What feedback have you received from GSA employees?
Several Google employees spent the first couple days on site at various GSA locations, helping people with the transition. On the whole, the feedback we received was quite positive. People were excited about getting more modern, useful tools. Many GSA employees have used Gmail for their personal email and were already familiar with the product. For others, it’s been a learning process and they have a great support network from their GSA colleagues, Google & Unisys to help them.

How can other agencies benefit from GSA’s experience?
GSA’s experience migrating to the cloud can help other federal agencies contract for and make the transition to the cloud. You can learn more about Google Apps for Government, and other government customers using these apps on our website.

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Profile Photo Chris Poirier

I support google and their products when I can..however to be fair..and transparent..I would encourage people to ask actual employees at GSA how this experience has been so far. From what I’ve heard, from many, it’s anything but the roses and rainbows mentioned above.
A few examples I’ve heard:
1.) complete and utter lack of training of employees (CBTs and a helpdesk number where people point you back to the CBTs.)
2.) system lacks functionality they had prior to migration. (encryption, auto attachment forward, return receipt, easy archiving, etc.)
3.) multiple domino databases held within their old lotus notes system were not migrated prior to switch over. (many offices lost or will lose databases they were never informed would require funding and programmatic support to maintain post google)
4.) being in the could, when external internet connectivity is lost, the network loses all email connectivity (including blackberry)
5.) many of the google apps, etc require and/or use chrome. chrome does not work via GSAs current telework solution impacting teleworkers when at home.

6.) random thought, but no one has answered: GSA employees show up in personal GChat sessions of non GSA employees automatically like any normal person. Does this mean the GSA gchat/gmail is completely open and not controlled by the agency? (What i’m saying is that their chat function is public, not controlled/agency in anyway..how did GSA get that past security when most other agencies can’t even link microsoft communicator between sub components due to security and that tool is ENTIRELY INSIDE THE FIREWALL..just saying..)

..list goes on and on and on…sadly this project actually sounds like a good example of rushing to market instead of conducting appropriate requirements collection and fielding a solution that actually works..As I said, hate to be that guy, but in the interest of transparency, I had to provide some of the things I have been hearing…

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Profile Photo Julie Chase

The cloud? As if. We are working with Windows XP, Office 2007 and our internet consists of WARNING banners. Chat? really? It’s just a dream here. We are still shaking from the nightmares NMCI is causing, I do know there is going be a big party when NMCI finally departs. :o)

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Profile Photo Steve Ressler

Thanks for feedback Chris. Interesting on the gchat comment – I can see that from both perspectives. As user, I’d want to show up in personal gchat to talk to friends, colleagues in other agencies, etc. But as mentioned, some security issues.

We had a large contingent of GSA folks at our Next Generation of Gov’t Summit last week and I asked a bunch of them their experience moving to Google Apps. Almost all of them were really stoked – may be because some of the functionality like return receipts isn’t a native need for Gen Y.

One of the things I found most interesting was one GSAer said that people are going to town in Google Sites. Basically building a lot of little intranet pages for various projects. Which he said was awesome because before took a ton of approvals to make changes to anything intranet. But also heard from someone else that there is a need to do some pruning with sites or framework so doesn’t get too much sprawl (kind of like any wiki)

And I agree on training/change management – any changes to a core application like email is a big shock to people so there needs to be a decent amount of hand holding. Especially as no matter what when you change systems, it’s going to operate differently and some piece of functionality will always be lost (need to do requirements right so not mission critical requirements) – Would be a great train the trainer situation too to have folks across agency become “Google Apps Ninjas” and host brownbags and other sessions of why cool/useful.

Finally – offline syncing is so key when Internet goes down, lose connectivity. Most cloud providers working on stuff like that – for example, my Spotify has offline sync. But still a lot of work to be done here.

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Profile Photo Chris Poirier

Being a Gen Y myself, I get that gmail’s interface is smooth, clean, and easy to use for us and that would be a win alone in its self to 90% of Gen Y. I even feel that Google apps is an outstanding solution for business and government, however I fear the overarching problems in GSA’s implementation (and LA County..) could be the failure of Google across government:
As I’m sure most of the GSA folks in attendance were from EGOV, etc of course they would be on fire for the first Google for government implementation, however the operations side of the house is on fire for the lack of engagement during the requirements phase of selecting a cloud product and even more so at its implementation. (Which, far as I’m concerned..if you fail either of those individually you have failed..let alone both..)

Still unresolved, major issues:
1.) complete and utter lack of training of employees (CBTs and a helpdesk number where people point you back to the CBTs.) As stated, implementation is key on anything new like this and it sounds like Google dropped their product and ran for the hills. (Of course i’ve heard from many this is a side of Google many dislike, as this is apparently their M.O. “You should KNOW how to use our products..” Most have no idea what apps are available, what they do, and how they work. Worse yet, some of the applications DON’T work (e.g., was informed that video chat doesn’t work for most of the folks in the enterprise..that and GSA doesn’t issue web cams..or if they do..very few people know how to get them.)

2.) system lacks functionality they had prior to migration. (encryption, auto attachment forward, return receipt, easy archiving, etc.) Return receipt is a “small problem” compared to appropriate protection of PII (encryption) and archiving for records retention. To date, there is no answer on whether the new system even meets NARA requirements for retention of public records, auditing records, etc. (I’ve heard that GSA’s IG retained the legacy system because the cloud based Google solution does not meet any of their requirements.)

3.) multiple domino databases held within their old lotus notes system were not migrated prior to switch over. (many offices lost or will lose databases they were never informed would require funding and programmatic support to maintain post Google) With primary business processes going ignored in implementation, GSA will most likely spend MORE money to convert lotus based business systems then they had planned to. Many offices were not informed until AFTER selection and implementation that they would be losing their business systems and needed to replace the lotus legacy systems on their own.

*new issue* Google sites: After reading your response I asked a few people about this and they said the same thing: Everyone seems to have one…But no one seems to be administrating them. They also apparently require independent passwords for some, which now has operations people retaining even more user names and passwords than before. (like the security and access control part, but seems to defeat the purpose..)

My bottom line is not the issue of GEN Y vs whatever *insert gen here*. It’s more so that requirements were not taken, a solution was selected in a vacuum, and now the agency will suffer from that for a few years as they bridge the gaps that went unaddressed. By IT standards, this is far from a victory, but as originally stated a failure as basic business practices now have to be changed. (Remember technology informs business process..does not create it..) As an outsider looking in, I see an implementation that does more harm to the could argument then supports it.

Lack of good requirements prior to solution purchase, development, and implementation is slowing down the turn over here and will ultimately result in multiple re-engineering of base systems etc. (..costing money..not saving.) Lack of training, guidance, and policy has many employees frustrate

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Profile Photo Chris Poirier

continued:

Lack of good requirements prior to solution purchase, development, and implementation is slowing down the turn over here and will ultimately result in multiple re-engineering of base systems etc. (..costing money..not saving.) Lack of training, guidance, and policy has many employees frustrated and taking more time to do their day-to-day jobs (..costing money, time, effort, and alienating generations/cultures that were tech adverse to begin with..) Though like anything I’m sure a lot of this will be over come over the years, but i’m positive it could have been done considerably better than it was. Shoving a square peg through a circle hole might eventually work, especially if its a sexy square peg, but that doesn’t make it the right solution.

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