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Columbia plans to use Google applications to communicate

Tuesday, January 31, 2012 | 4:53 p.m. CST; updated 9:50 p.m. CST, Tuesday, January 31, 2012

COLUMBIA — A switch to Google’s “cloud technology” should help city officials communicate with each other and with the public more efficiently while also giving them uninterrupted access to city data, those who advocate the conversion say.

According to an inter-office memo that City Manager Mike Matthes sent to city employees on Friday, Google’s cloud technology will allow the city to “instantly share information when, where and how it’s needed.”

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Bob Simms, information technology director for the city, will have a big role in making the conversion happen.

"People will be able to get information from anywhere without having to log into the city network," Simms said.

Columbia was facing an uncertain future with Novell GroupWise, the software it has used for the past 13 to 14 years, Simms said. Since GroupWise was sold, its customer service has declined, according to a list of frequently asked questions distributed by the city.

"We had difficulty getting GroupWise to work for mobile phones and tablets efficiently," Simms said. "There were long-term stability concerns."

Using Google will be more effective than GroupWise, and city officials hope to save money, Simms said.

"The switch won't save money right away because we'll be using both (Google and GroupWise) in transition," Simms said, adding that he's uncertain how much the use of Google software will cost. "It's hard to say how much we will save, but we will be saving time and money in the long run."

Gmail and Google Calendar will help manage schedules and make communication easier, Matthes said. Google Docs, video and chat will allow the employees to work together from any location from any device that's connected to the Internet, anywhere in the world.

However, government data will be stored on servers in the United States only and will fall under U.S. law, Simms said.

"Everything is password protected and encrypted," Simms said. 

Phases to completion 

The transition will consist of four phases. The pilot phase, which has already begun and will continue through mid-February, involves training on the use of the new applications as well as testing which applications to put into place.

The "Mock Go Live Phase" will happen from early March through early April. That's when 10 percent of city employees will begin using the system and provide feedback to the Information Technology Department and to Google partners.

The official "Go Live Phase" will take place in mid-April, when all staff members make the transition to Gmail and the Google Calendar. Other Google applications will be available as well.

The plan calls for the final transition to happen in June and July. Complete migration of information will occur at this time. The contract with GroupWise ends in late July, so the transition must be complete before then.

Cities such as Los Angeles, Boston, Orlando, Fla., and Des Moines, Iowa, as well as the entire state of Wyoming, have made the switch to Google software, according to the Google Apps for Government website.

Deputy City Manager Tony St. Romaine, who could not be reached for comment, will be the point person on the conversion.


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