Minnesota lets 35,000 workers collaborate with Office 365

Minnesota has created a “collaboration ecosystem” to improve productivity and constituent services by moving 35,000 state workers to Microsoft Office 365, the company’s cloud-based messaging and communications platform.

"One of our requirements for adopting Office 365 cloud services was seamless end-user adoption," said Tarek Tomes, assistant commissioner with the Minnesota Office of Enterprise Technology.

OET provides IT services to Minnesota's executive branch, which comprises more than 70 agencies, and to other public-sector customers, including local governments, cities, counties and educational organizations. The deployment encompasses all executive branch agencies, and it gives other OET customers the option to use Office 365.


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Minnesota’s journey to the cloud began four years ago when state officials decided to standardize their messaging system. Like many government agencies, Minnesota had a hodgepodge of 35 to 40 disparate e-mail systems, including IBM Lotus Notes, Novell Groupwise and every flavor of Microsoft Exchange, Tomes said during a recent presentation at the Microsoft Public Sector CIO Summit in Redmond, Wash.

At the time, there were managed services providers offering messaging services, but actual cloud services had not matured, Tomes said. Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service-provider interaction.

By 2010, OET had standardized on Microsoft Exchange 2007 because Exchange was the dominant messaging platform in the executive branch. However, by the time OET officials consolidated users onto Exchange 2007, they discovered the platform was already outdated.

OET did provide Microsoft SharePoint services, but with the move to the cloud, OET officials were faced with the challenge of how to scale the collaboration platform for thousands of users.

OET official also had to consider how much capacity should be provided to service the executive branch, how to service users beyond the executive branch, and how to ensure that users pay for what they need and not have excess capacity that could be used by others.

All of these considerations led Minnesota to migrate workers to Office 365, Tomes said. Office 365 has been running in production since October 2011. The state accomplished migration in two months, resulting in 50 times more storage capacity. However, it took nine months to conduct detailed planning for the move, ensuring that all of the necessary directory integration would be accomplished for a successful transition.

Cross-collaboration between agencies was difficult in the previous environment. Business users would come to OET saying they wanted to collaborate with people from five different organizations. OET would say it could take two to three months; firewall ports would have to be opened, and all of the necessary work on directories would have to be done. After hearing this, business users would tune out quickly, Tomes said.

“Our vision was to get to a collaboration ecosystem wherein everyone is collaborating in one place, where innovation and development happens in one place," Tomes said. Additionally, OET officials wanted an environment where they could create reusable development components that other organizations could use to tap into critical human service information that could be brought into SharePoint through dashboards, Tomes said.

With Microsoft’s cloud productivity services, Minnesota can expand its IT capabilities, increase security and markedly reduce costs by taking advantage of the combined demand of all state agencies, Tomes noted. 



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