Blackberry in the cloud displaying a communication error message

Tips for moving BlackBerrys along with e-mail to the cloud

As government agencies move e-mail to cloud-based systems, one of the bigger challenges is linking mobile devices, especially BlackBerry smart phones.

The Environmental Protection Agency grappled with moving BlackBerry users to the cloud as the agency transitioned 25,000 employee mailboxes -- including about 4,500 BlackBerry phones -- to Microsoft Office 365 for Government, said Lynn Singleton, director of environment services for Lockheed Martin.

EPA officials brought in Lockheed Martin in September 2012 to assist in the migration of e-mail along with other mail-related components such as calendars, rooms and resources, groups, mail and databases.  The move from a 15-year old enterprise Lotus Notes e-mail system to Office 365 is expected to save the EPA approximately $12 million over the four-year contract period.

“The challenge with BlackBerrys is that [users] might be out in areas where there is no service,” Singleton said. To prepare for the transition, IT administrators have to remotely connect with the BlackBerry phones so the devices can be “wiped and cleaned.” Then the BlackBerry user gets new activation codes, which lets them download a new e-mail operating system. Sometimes this process can be interrupted if the cell phone signal is weak, causing a failure in the download, Singleton noted.

As with the transition of e-mail, Lockheed Martin performed a series of pilot tests with the BlackBerry users prior to the main migration over the Presidents’ Day weekend in February. “We migrated around 1,000 Blackberry users through our series of pilots,” Singleton explained. During the migration weekend, the Lockheed Martin team moved the remaining 3,500.

Often, it is not a simple matter of replacing BlackBerry devices to work with a new e-mail system.  The goal of many agencies is to provide a platform for users to collaborate and share knowledge and documents, as the General Services Administration discovered in its transition of 17,000 employees to Google Apps for Government. GSA officials had to rethink their entire mobile strategy for how to connect people when they are on the go.  

Agency managers should view BlackBerry users as a unique case, Singleton advised. Often they are senior managers who are used to having connectivity. Some users might have more critical needs than others, such as emergency response personnel, he said. A transition team needs to have a plan to first move users whose connectivity to the organization’s messaging and collaboration system is critical.

Lockheed Martin incorporated these BlackBerry users into the help desk, Singleton said.  “So when we rolled out [the migration to the cloud] there was special treatment to bring them up to speed quickly or remediate [problems] quickly.”

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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