NSW Fire and Rescue moved some 7000 critical emergency services and support staff from an ageing GroupWise system onto Microsoft Office 365 at the end of 2013, without even breaking a sweat.
“It wasn’t a huge project,” CIO Richard Host told iTnews nonchalantly. “It wasn’t hugely costly.”
The hardest part of a cloud email migration, he explained, is to face up to the skeletons in the closet - those bad habits and ingrained business processes clogging up email systems.
Host and his team were ready with pens poised to sign with a reseller and establish project timelines for the migration when it became clear - not a moment too soon - that agency's baggage was going to seriously hamper their best laid plans.
“Inside Fire and Rescue, like in in most organisations, email is used as a de facto records management system. Some of our staff have 20Gb mailboxes that go back 20 years,” Host explained.
“It became apparent that we had to make decisions about how much email we would be moving to the cloud, because that determines how long the migration would take.”
FRNSW is not the first agency to come up against this issue. Yesterday NSW Businesslink told iTnews how they were forced to abort an Office 365 deployment because the service provider’s own particular business conditions meant it couldn’t address document management issues in time.
Host chose to halt the Fire and Rescue project momentarily to put in place a change management framework that would prepare the organisation for the move to the cloud.
The agency uses a TRIM records management system - the only problem was convincing staff to use in the way originally intended, he explained.
“So what we have done as part of this project is move people away from thinking about email as [a document] system and getting them to use TRIM.
“We are limiting staff to two years of email into the cloud. Every day another day’s worth of emails peels off. We want the email system to be viewed as a temporal messaging system similar to texting, instant messaging or voicemail. It is not to be viewed as a permanent store of information.”
So far, Host’s email cap has been a success.
“It took a huge amount of effort to get the organisation to embrace TRIM, and we still have some way to go.
“But yes, people are using TRIM a lot more,” he said.
Is Microsoft 365 the only option for government?
Host isn’t a CIO who does things by halves.
After making the decision to move onto a cloud email platform to replace FRNSW’s end-of-life version of the Novell GroupWise solution, he got the lawyers in to write up an exhaustive checklist of all the information obligations that they faced as a NSW government agency.
(For those that are interested, Host is open to sharing the list with his CIO peers.)
“It is very important for us to absolutely adhere to all legislative requirements around record keeping and privacy, so we did a very large piece of work around putting together a comprehensive compliance register of all legislation and guidelines, federal and state.
This work concluded that "the only product that we could move forward with, that complied fully, was the Microsoft product,” he said.
Host wouldn’t specify to iTnews the specific criteria that other cloud collaboration products, like Google Apps, couldn’t meet.
“Suffice to say that after extremely careful consideration, we felt that we could only move forward with a system that adhered to absolutely everything - and with an organisation that was willing to alter their contractual agreement with us to make it 100 percent satisfactory,” he explained.
Despite this apprehension, however, the equivalent sized NSW Department of Trade and Investment, Regional Infrastructure and Services has migrated to the Google Apps platform - successfully by all reports.
New doors open
As FRNSW plans for a move to a new premises, Host is looking towards the newfound BYOD capabilities that the Office 365 migration has opened up for the organisation.
“When we had the old Groupwise system, BYOD was all too hard. What sort of modern mobile phone talks to a Groupwise system? You have to have a special app and it was clunky and horrible,” Host explained.
“Now what we are on 365, every single device manufactured will work perfectly with that.”
The CIO has big ideas for equipping his already mobile workforce.
“I think anybody should be allowed to use their personal phone or device if it is convenient for them to do so.
“We are moving to the new head office soonish and by the time of the move we want to have fully embraced BYOD.”
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