Google, Microsoft in '2-Horse Race' for Government Cloud Contracts

As tech behemoths Google and Microsoft try to win over public-sector CIOs with their cloud-based productivity suites, government agencies eye cost savings and an increase in productivity and collaboration.

By Kenneth Corbin
Wed, September 04, 2013

CIO — When Flint Waters began work as Wyoming's CIO in April 2011, the IT apparatus that he inherited was in bad shape.

Agencies throughout the state government were running their own email systems, underused servers had piled up in Cheyenne and around satellite offices, and rigid rules for accessing the VPN limited the options for mobile workers, nearly all of whom carried BlackBerries.

"We had siloed IT at each of the agencies. Most of the agencies ran their own Active Directories, their own email systems," Waters recalls. "There really wasn't an enterprise approach to collaboration at all."

Google Apps for Government

But that was all about to change. By the time Waters arrived, Wyoming had already made the decision to convert its suite of productivity tools to Google Apps for Government. In June of that year, Wyoming finished its transition, making it the first state in the country to complete the switchover to the cloud.

Today, the IT operation that Waters oversees has gone far beyond that modest first step into the cloud -- his team is now developing applications in Google's App Engine, shifting enterprise storage into the cloud and has dramatically reduced its server count, with the state's core IT operations currently running on two clouds, one on-site and the other hosted remotely. In what is now a highly mobile workforce with a liberal BYOD policy, BlackBerries are all but extinct.

And all that started from an application suite that Google was marketing primarily as an email and calendaring play.

"We turned that upside down," Waters says. "Far more significant than any of that was it created a collaborative environment."

Cloud Computing is the Gateway for Collaboration

Google, Microsoft, Government, Cloud

Wyoming may have been ahead of the curve when it began its move to the cloud two years ago, but public-sector CIOs at all levels increasingly have been adopting or at least considering cloud computing for a variety of purposes, ranging from improving productivity and collaboration in the workforce to cutting costs and improving services for citizens.

In the federal government, 94 percent of agency CIOs polled in a recent survey by TechAmerica said that they have already begun shifting operations to a public or private cloud, or that they have plans to do so.

Office applications such as email and spreadsheets can be seen as something like a gateway drug to cloud computing. The collaboration benefits of synched documents and calendars are readily apparent, and it can be a much easier sell to move those lightweight apps to the cloud in the course of the IT refresh cycle than larger, more complex legacy systems like payroll or human resources.

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