How Vivek Kundra Fought Government Waste One Google App At a Time

The Washington D.C. government is migrating its 38,000 employees over to Gmail and Google Apps, which it plans to use for document sharing, spreadsheets and as a wiki. Here's a look at how and why, from cost to continuity.

By C.G. Lynch
Mon, September 22, 2008

CIOVivek Kundra, CTO of the District of Columbia, says he found two compelling reasons to switch the D.C. government over to Gmail and Google Apps: first, its cheap cost would save the taxpayer money by avoiding bloated software contracts. Second, he believes Google technology will help ensure business continuity and the safety of data in the event of a disaster or disruption.

Washington D.C. hasn't been Kundra's first tenure in governmental IT. On September 11, 2001, he took a job as director of infrastructure for technology for Arlington, Virginia. The terrorist attacks at the time made him think how storing all information on premise had its pitfalls.

"That was my introduction to public service," he says. "In Arlington, what we realized after those attacks, was that if we had our one main data center shut down, we wouldn't be able to support government."

Vivek Kundra, chief technology officer of the D.C. government
Vivek Kundra, chief technology officer of the D.C. government.

So when he took over as the district's CTO in 2007, he decided that "moving to the cloud" would have its merits, because a company such as Google has so many data centers that it would ensure better business continuity and security.

"Their data centers are geographically dispersed," he says. "That was attractive to me from a security perspective."

The enterprise version of Google Apps, a software suite that includes e-mail (Gmail), calendar, documents & spreadsheets, wikis (known as Google Sites) and instant messaging costs a mere $50 per user per year. When Kundra thought of deploying it across the 38,000 employees and 86 agencies his department supported for technology, he saw immense cost savings.

"The average cost of [enterprise] email is 8 dollars per month [per user]," he says. "For half that, we can get more value beyond just e-mail. We're getting Google apps and video for the enterprise. We're getting the ability to share spreadsheets and documents."

The extra value, he says, comes in the Apps. One piece of the Google Apps software that people have been using has been Google Docs & Spreadsheets. As an example, Kundra recently had been working on a performance plan with his deputies. Instead of e-mailing around a document for them to see the objectives that he wanted included, he sent around a Google Doc, which allows his deputies to make suggestions in real time while maintaining a document with one version of the truth.

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