Labor takes on its e-mail Babel

'We had to get in line with the President's Management Agenda. We regarded this change as an internal efficiency goal.'

'Labor CIO Patrick Pizzella

Henrik G. DeGyor

The Labor Department is on track to jettison two of its existing e-mail systems and expand a third across the department, officials said.

Labor CIO Patrick Pizzella said secretary Elaine L. Chao directed IT officials to consolidate the three e-mail systems after she found that messages sometimes took hours to reach their intended destinations within the department. Labor used the Sendmail mail client, an open-source product supported by Sendmail Inc. of Emeryville, Calif., with Microsoft Outlook server; GroupWise from Novell Inc. and Outlook with the Microsoft Exchange client.

'We looked at the situation and determined there were a lot of benefits to having one common e-mail system,' Pizzella said. Under the existing system, 'Whenever you wanted to send a departmentwide e-mail, you had to call people on the phone to get them to open their systems to receive it.'

Labor wanted to make sure that its e-mail application was secure, reliable and delivered messages in a timely fashion, he said.

Starting in February last year, a team of IT officials from several Labor agencies evaluated the e-mail software and decided to standardize on Microsoft Outlook.

At the time, 87 percent of Labor's employees were using Outlook with one program or the other. Six of the department's nine agencies'62 percent of Labor's employees'were using Outlook with Exchange, 25 percent were using Outlook with Sendmail and 13 percent were using GroupWise.

'I think compatibility [with other desktop applications] was an important factor in the decision,' Pizzella said.

A Labor spokesman said Outlook and Exchange provided users 'a rich set of collaborative capabilities' that integrated with the department's standard Microsoft Office automation suite. 'We wanted to minimize the disruption to users related to learning how to use a new e-mail client,' the spokesman said.

Labor IT officials planned an 18-month switchover of the existing e-mail systems. 'You don't just flip a switch and get 17,000 people in 50 states on one e-mail system at one time,' Pizzella said. The department completed the process last month, on schedule, said Jordan Stoick, Labor spokesman.

Labor employees will keep their e-mail addresses if they move to different agencies within the department. The department's agencies will continue to administer their own e-mail systems, using standard software.

All for one, efficiencywise

Some employees objected to the e-mail consolidation plan, Pizzella said. 'Some folks would just prefer not to change. To them, the status quo was OK,' he said. 'But we decided we had to get in line with the President's Management Agenda. We regarded this change as an internal efficiency goal.'

Labor expects to save money by consolidating and reducing training that the three systems required, as well as by cutting maintenance costs. Having standard software will also simplify upgrades, Pizzella said.

'I think the three e-mail systems were adopted over time, prior to [the] Clinger-Cohen' Act that reformed IT procurement, Pizzella said. 'Back then, there wasn't as much coordination in IT purchasing decisions as we have now.'

Pizzella said two factors that eased the consolidation process were strong support from executive managers such as Secretary Chao, and involving users from the start.

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