GPO’s jump into the cloud for email is just the beginning

The Government Printing Office is the first legislative agency to move its email system to the cloud. And for GPO, that’s just the first step of many into the cloud.

Chuck Riddle, the chief information officer at the GPO, said he expects the migration of the agency’s mail to the cloud should be completed later this fall.

“We’ll also be able to do instant messaging for collaboration, something we have not been able to do in the past, voice and video desktop conferencing directly from that client,” he said. “Things that in the past would have taken us a lot longer to deploy, so doing it through [Microsoft] Office 365 is going to help us get there much quicker. There’s a lot to do that will open up a gateway to things further down the road and help us leverage cloud more.”

While GPO only is moving about 1,800 employees to email-as-a-service, a fairly small amount compared to other agencies, Riddle said it’s really a “paradigm shift” for the employees who have supported email over the years.

“No longer do we have complete control over that environment and we are ceding some of that control in return for being able to stretch our resources even further and not have to worry about the blinking lights for the infrastructure, and freeing up that staff to do other things that otherwise they would have been engaged in continuing to deliver email,” Riddle said. “It’s more of a paradigm shift on how we deliver these things and changing our approach, than a numbers aspect of it because, at the end of the day, 1,800 migrations isn’t huge, but it’s a big deal in how we get our work done and how we deliver our IT services.”

Riddle was at the Agriculture Department when that agency became one of the first to move to email in the cloud. He said he applied those lessons learned specifically around culture change to make sure GPO’s move to the cloud went more smoothly.

One reason for moving the email into the cloud is to free up money for mission critical needs. Riddle said GPO receives its funding mostly from fees it collects for things like passport printing or other digital services.

“If we can free up a resource that used to support technology X to now support technology Y and Z, all the better for us because it helps us stretch those people and get more with what we’ve got,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of just adding resources to a problem, we really have to make what we have works to support what we are delivering.”

Riddle said once GPO gets email set up, then they can more easily authenticate employees and then add more services to the cloud such as test and development.

Along with moving email into the cloud, GPO is modernizing and consolidating data centers. Riddle said the agency typically has had three data centers, but it plans to reduce down to two through the use of blade servers and virtualizing as many servers and apps as they can.

“Whether we continue to host things ourselves or move it to the cloud, once we’ve virtualized it first, it makes it a lot more flexible for us to take it elsewhere if we choose that down the road,” he said. “So that data center modernization effort is again, sort of an internal ‘Let’s get ready’ to be able to do a lot of other things down the road whenever we choose to do that.”

Another top priority for GPO is modernizing the FDSys platform. Riddle said GPO will release the next generation FDSys in the coming year that will include a simpler interface and an updated search engine. He said he’s also trying to figure out how cloud and virtualization fits in with the platform.

“We’re standing up a brand new system alongside the current system, brand new hardware platform and brand new components of the system,” he said. “It will be a seamless interface. It’ll be one day it’s the old FDSys and the next day it will be the updated FDSys.”

Riddle said GPO worked closely with the library community on the changes needed for the next generation platform. He said it also will be more mobile friendly, letting users search for documents no matter what type of device with which they log on to FDSys.

Mobility is becoming a bigger part of how GPO meets its mission with certain users receiving Apple iPads and iPhones. Riddle said GPO also enabled a cloud platform to manage its mobile devices through mobile device management software.

“In terms of looking at software applications, we are trying to go with a more mobile first strategy like most government agencies, and make sure the things we deliver new technologywise are mobile friendly,” he said. “We’ve actually upgraded all of our mobile devices over the last 12 months whether it’s BlackBerrys that we’ve always had or iPhones that we recently introduced about a year or so ago. We’ve upgraded everything to make them more modern. It’s moved past the pilot stage and in to a production state for a certain group of users that iPhones or iPads makes sense to help them do their work.”

Riddle said the MDM in the cloud has worked very well so far. He said it’s an interface that lets GPO control things without having the host the app internally.

“We looked at bring-your-own-device and decided it wasn’t a great fit for GPO, so these are all government furnished devices,” he said. “For mobile devices, we’ve taken it off the table. It didn’t make sense for our employees here. It’s not because of the technology, it’s more because of the policy aspect of it. We do allow users to connect to GPO if they are doing telework from their home computers as long as they authenticate in.”


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