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County’s telework success built on cloud foundation

King County, Wash., saw the first U.S.-based coronavirus patients and shifted to online work at the beginning of March – almost two weeks earlier than other parts of the country. Previous investments in cloud-based technologies had prepared the county for a near-seamless telework transition.

A user of the Microsoft Office 365 product suite in the commercial cloud since 2018, the county completed a three-month migration to the company’s Government Community Cloud (GCC) at the end of March. With help from AvePoint, a Microsoft partner, the county was able to ensure compliance and security while scaling collaborative public services in the cloud.

As a result, when work-from-home orders went out in the county March 3, employees were already accustomed to using Office 365 to work onsite, in the field or at home and to access all their files and get email phone calls. “It was just a seamless transition,” King County CIO Tanya Hannah said.

More than 5,500 of the county’s 15,000 employees are still working from home, and mandatory telework will extend to July 2021. The county is also preparing to move to permanent telework for staff members who don’t need to come into an office, Hannah said.

Most employees have county-issued laptops as part of King County’s mobile-first practice, which cloud supports, she said. “We want to have the ability to pick up your laptop and device and be able to go anywhere at the drop of a dime,” Hannah said. “You want your applications accessible in any type of form, during any circumstance. You want the public to be able to still reach you.”

What’s more, the cloud enabled the county to quickly spin up websites and information sources for county residents. In the spring when the pandemic reached its peak, Hannah said her team was building sites for isolation, quarantine and recovery resources, and they stood up a web chat to help answer questions from residents about symptoms, testing locations, precautions to take and where to find personal protective equipment.

Dux Raymond Sy, chief brand officer of AvePoint, credits the migration’s success to careful planning. The company worked with the county to determine what it wanted to move to the cloud first and what would be one-to-one moves from the commercial to government cloud. For example, moving the SharePoint collaboration tools was fairly seamless, but the Planner task management tool was somewhat new to GCC and had no direct migration path, he said.

Another consideration was futureproofing. GCC helps ensure that the county stays in compliance with fast-changing regulations and requirements. “As we moved, we looked at what’s coming in the future, but also looked at considerations around compliance, data governance, making sure that they’re set up as they move forward and take advantage of all these new workloads and capabilities,” Sy said.

Before adopting Office 365, King County’s infrastructure and applications were on-premises in government-hosted environments. Hannah said the county needed to return to a government-focused environment.

“We needed to move to the government cloud because when you think of government, you’re handling … criminal justice information,” she said. “There’s public health data, and so the protections and the regulatory requirements are very much different than when you’re operating as a private-sector company.”

The cloud is helping the county meet goals, deliver business resiliency, support disaster recovery and ensure that employees have the tools to enable more efficient government services, she said.

“To be successful, for public agencies, you really need good strategic partners that can help you think much more broadly than the problem you’re trying to solve for,” Hannah said. “Now we can think about delivering services differently, such as combining the Teams voice and video with scheduling to integrating it with fileshares so that when you are interacting with the public, you can actually build an app quickly and make it a better experience for those we are trying to serve.”

The move to GCC has better positioned the county to be able to adapt to changing service-delivery models in the future, especially as workers and the public alike increasingly expect more digital access.

“We’re never going back to pre-COVID,” Hannah said. “The world has forever changed, and you want to be able to respond, whether it’s a natural disaster, whether you have a future pandemic – no matter what, you always want to be in a situation where government [can] continue business because people look to government, especially in times of need.”

Editor's note: This article was changed Dec. 2 to correct Dux Raymond Sy's title.

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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