City of Edmonton goes Google Apps – (Part 1/2) Financial, Technological Impacts

Chris Moore, City of Edmonton Chief Information Officer, interview

Update: Part 2/2 Privacy Issues, USA Patriot Act, FOIP Act has now been posted.

Yesterday, City of Edmonton announced it “will become the first major municipal government in Canada to use Google email and other office technology apps for all City employees“. Google Enterprise stated, “While Edmonton may be the first city in Canada to go Google, it’s in great company with other city governments in North America ─ like PittsburghOrlando and Zapopan, Mexico ─ that have already made the move.” It is only natural for people in Calgary, Toronto, and other cities to ask and find out if there are anything we can learn from Edmonton?

In a video interview with Chris Moore, Chief Information Officer of City of Edmonton, Moore said all 6 departments, 31 branches, 10,000+ people, will move to use Google Apps for Government. The press release states, “The change will be phased in over the next few years with Google email and calendar put in place in late 2012, into 2013 and the other apps available for employees to use late next year.

In fact, Moore told me a few hundred employees are already in pilot projects using Google Apps. (note: While the police services will stay on their separate system, the city’s fire services, parks & recreations, waste management/day-to-day garbage pickup, tax department, etc are part of this move.) In a phone interview with Dr. Jonathan Schaeffer, University of Alberta Vice Provost and Associate Vice President (Information Technology) responsible for moving the university to Google Apps for Education, he said U of A has successfully transition 125,000 people and have 3,000 people to go in a phased migration. The U of A project started in March 2011 and is expected to be completed in early fall 2012.

According to city of Edmonton manager Simon Farbrother, “This move supports our City Vision, The Way Ahead, to use the most innovative technologies available. We will now have a more inclusive work environment where all employees will have access and be able to share and collaborate in real time on the same document whenever they want, in any location, and on any device such as smartphones and laptops.

By going to a cloud-based solution, Moore explained the city is moving away from the old model of software licenses installed on desktops and laptops, with upgrades every year or every other year, to the concept of iterative changes which people have already experiencing in their use of technologies at home.

According to Moore, 3.2 million dollars is the estimated up front cost for moving to Google Apps (e.g. implementation, training, documentation, etc). The cost savings over five years is about 9.2 million dollars, subtracting the two numbers result in a cost savings of $6 million. The return on investment will be in the 24-27 months range. (note: to be more precise, Moore clarifies it may be more precise to say “cost avoidance”, avoiding paying the cost in the future, instead of “cost savings”.)

By the way, I asked Moore about the per user cost, and was told it is proprietary information between the city and Google (I did try twice to get this information for you, my readers). Moore did say, “Its a really good deal“.

As a business reporter with a technology background (comp sci degree and 10 years of software engineering experiences), I can imagine the strength of the various arguments even I haven’t seen the city’s detailed analysis and business/technical cases for going with Google Apps. The problems for me is the uncertainty, risks, concerns surrounding privacy.

In Part 2/2 of this series, I will share with you my findings in discussions with experts from the University of Alberta, the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Alberta, and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. I will try to shine some light on why I am concern of privacy of Edmontonians’ (Canadians’) private and personal data and how my concerns may be addressed. You see, with Google Apps, Canadian citizens’ private personal data will now be stored in Google’s data center in US which is governed by US Patriot Act.

In the following video interview with Chris Moore, you will hear the City of Edmonton’s perspective. Stay tune for Part 2/2 of this series where you will see what I’ve found from my research and what other experts have said. (Note: (Part 2/2) Privacy Issues, USA Patriot Act, FOIP Act has now been posted.)

While I disagree with some of the views expressed (re privacy issues) in the Edmonton Journal article, “City opts for Gmail savingsMove will shave $6 million from IT budget by end of 2018“, you may want to have a read before I finish and post part 2/2 of this series. (Update: (Part 2/2) Privacy Issues, USA Patriot Act, FOIP Act has now been posted.)

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