REDMOND, Wash., Oct. 10, 2007 — As government agencies continue to strive to operate more efficiently and offer improved services to taxpayers, they are turning with increasing frequency to Microsoft for technology and services that help them achieve their goals.
To wit, a recent Federal Computer Week Government IT Buying Study finds that 91 percent of government organizations are using Microsoft software for enterprise and applications software. And another recent study, North American Government Application Software Adoption For 2007, Forrester Research, Inc., February 2007, finds that “Windows Server remains the primary OS for government,” with 67 percent of “government application software decision-makers identifying Windows Server as the OS that they use to run their most important enterprise packaged applications.”
It’s part of a larger trend in which state and local governments are increasingly applying private business/commercial approaches to government in an effort to boost efficiency and provide the expanded services — e-Commerce and rich Web sites, for instance — that taxpayers have come to expect. In applying these approaches, IT professionals in governmental agencies face a peculiar set of challenges — from the realities of budget constraints to the difficulties inherent in connecting disparate departments while delivering a more integrated and reliable IT environment.
To learn more about these challenges and the pros and cons state and city officials weigh as they try to make the most of precious IT dollars while providing the best possible service to employees and the public, PressPass spoke with Doug Kasamis, deputy director of IT with the State of Illinois; Shital Patel, chief information officer with the City of Indianapolis; and Ken Sorenson, chief technical officer with the City of Indianapolis.
PressPass: Please describe some of the unique challenges you faced in terms of increasing efficiency, reducing costs and gaining greater value from your IT infrastructure.
Kasamis: When Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich took office in January 2003, he inherited an annual deficit of US$5 billion. He pledged to increase efficiency without raising income or sales taxes, and one of the areas that was ripe for an increase in efficiency was the state’s IT infrastructure. The government is divided into more than 50 state agencies and employs about 57,000 people. Historically, each agency throughout the state was responsible for its own hardware and software procurement, implementation and management, so there were a vast number of disparate operating systems and applications, including various flavors of Linux.
Patel: At the City of Indianapolis, we too were facing mounting pressure to increase efficiency while minimizing the cost to taxpayers. Over the years, our IT infrastructure evolved into a heterogeneous mixture of operating systems and applications of different ages from different vendors. Our city computers had everything from Sun Solaris 8.0 to Red Hat Linux 4.3 running with a range of Novell NetWare operating systems. It was a deployment and support nightmare made worse by the inevitable aging of the technology over time. We urgently needed to find a way to effectively connect the 5,700 employees in 60 city departments, 1,800 contractors and community partners — all of whom count on the city’s IT systems to work efficiently.
PressPass: Can you highlight some of the challenges you faced with a specific technology?
Kasamis: At the state of Illinois, the messaging infrastructure consisted of a mix of systems, including IBM Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise and Microsoft Exchange Server. This was further complicated by the fact that there were multiple versions of these systems in use throughout state-run organizations. In the absence of a global address list, each agency had its own naming convention for e-mail addresses, requiring employees to use guesswork or to sort through agency lists to communicate with one another, and creating confusion for citizens. The resulting lack of visibility into other agencies made it difficult for employees to maintain an appropriate level of public service and ultimately impacted our productivity as a larger state organization. State government is collaborative by nature, but reaching out to our colleagues in other agencies to get information for constituents or lawmakers was time consuming and frustrating.
PressPass: At a high level, what immediate steps did you take to address these challenges?
Kasamis: Increased efficiency via consolidation was our main goal when we began to consider a new and improved IT solution, so we opted to consolidate all IT infrastructure services into a single entity — the Bureau of Communication and Computer Services (BCCS) in the Department of Central Management Services (CMS).
Patel: First and foremost, I had to reduce the amount of time my IT staff spent trouble shooting problems and going out to individual desktops to assess what software was running. We looked at all of our choices for standardizing on one set of technologies. In the end, the city chose to implement Microsoft technologies because of the power and interoperability of the Microsoft .NET Framework, the opportunity to streamline management, and the likelihood for a lower TCO (total cost of ownership).
PressPass: What were your goals in terms of cutting costs?
Kasamis: Given the deficit that the State of Illinois faced, our cost-cutting goals were fairly aggressive. Besides seeking smoother communications, the state wanted to reduce the cost of technology by taking advantage of economies of scale. In the past, the organization regularly missed opportunities to share resources among agencies. For example, agencies would often purchase new licenses rather than take advantage of existing state-owned licenses simply because they didn’t know the latter existed. We also wanted to conserve resources by eliminating some of the redundant administrative functions. Every agency, for example, employed its own IT administrators to handle directory, file and print, messaging and desktop computer tasks. For that reason, agency help-desk personnel found it difficult to adequately support end users because they had to know so many different software applications and versions.
Sorenson: The City of Indianapolis went beyond just examining the acquisition costs of its new solution and took a look at the TCO over time. We’ll have a more efficient IT environment, which equals a lower TCO, and, therefore, will reduce costs for our constituents. We’re hoping that our standardization and commitment to a Microsoft-based environment will help us replace many of our mainframe applications, which will help us lower our support costs, make it easier to find qualified resources to implement and support our environment, and let us enjoy more flexibility in our applications. We owe it to taxpayers to choose software that comes with a reliable support base. We didn’t seriously consider Linux because we felt the support base was readily available for Microsoft. We had to consider price acquisition relative to TCO in the long term and piecing together open-source software solution components just didn’t make sense. By having a common platform that we can rely on, we won’t need to maintain the level of in-house expertise to the same depth because we can so easily turn to Microsoft for help.
PressPass: What other products and solutions did you evaluate in this procurement process, and what were the primary drivers that led to the decision to invest in a new technology solution?
Kasamis: We definitely did our research. One of the unique aspects of state government is the diverse business missions that must be supported by technology. As a result, the state needed a solution that would support a variety of different applications. We felt that Microsoft Windows Server and Exchange Server provided the best solution in terms of scale, security and stability needed to operate the application portfolio. We didn’t choose a Linux-based system because we considered the risk in implementation and operations too great for the state’s needs.
Sorenson: We, too, evaluated all of our choices for standardizing on one set of technologies. Staying with Novell NetWare and GroupWise was an option, as was moving to a different brand of Linux, but in the end it was the interoperability that comes with the Microsoft technologies that we felt gave us far more opportunities and a better long-term approach than the Linux-based solutions we evaluated.
PressPass: What specific Microsoft technology are you using?
Kasamis: We’ve selected a standardized messaging solution that includes the Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 communication and collaboration server and the Windows Server 2003 operating system with Active Directory service, which are part of Windows Server System integrated server software. For the state’s 57,000 desktop and portable computers, we will deploy the most appropriate of three profiles — Basic, Standard or Professional. These profiles help the state procure only what is needed to enable employee productivity without unnecessary spending.
Sorenson: We’re using a range of Microsoft technologies, including Microsoft Exchange Server 2003, Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Office 2003 Professional Edition and Windows XP. Also, we expect to leverage the strength of Active Directory and the Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0.
PressPass: What are some of the benefits you’ve realized since deployment?
Kasamis: Migrating to Microsoft technology has helped the state in achieving its primary objective of saving money. We feel our new combined solution costs less than the previous systems, delivers improved communications capabilities to employees statewide, and provides the advantages of better long-term security features and faster disaster recovery. Choosing Microsoft technology was a fiscally responsible decision that we estimate will save us $10.5 million over five years in software costs alone. It also enables us to run a leaner organization because we are reducing staffing redundancies, which translates into additional savings for us. Also, one of the additional benefits of going with Microsoft solutions is that the local governments in Illinois have been able to leverage this contract to reduce their software costs by a combined value of over $20 million. This success has translated into real savings to the citizens of Illinois, while providing easier access to government.
Patel: Once we have completed deployment, the City of Indianapolis looks forward to having a standardized environment so that it can take advantage of increased productivity, a lower management burden with better reliability, enhanced security features and a more cost-effective solution that conserves tax dollars. We also anticipate improvements in performance and stability. Having a single source for problem resolution and integration will allow us to receive the long-term support we need to keep our environment working for the good of our citizens.