Los Angeles Bureaucrats Question The Transition To Google Apps

In December, Google touted a big win for Google’s cloud-based communication and collaboration suite, Google Apps: the City of Los Angeles planned to equip its 34,000 employees with Google Apps. This would replace Novell’s GroupWise system, the e-mail technology provider that LA had previously been using. LA had evaluated 14 e-mail technology providers for a revamp of the city government’s communication and collaboration platform, and ended up picking Google Apps. The deal was reported to be worth $7.2 million. But it hasn’t been a smooth transition for LA to move over from GroupWise to Google Apps; and it appears that the City administrators are questioning the move thanks to productivity, security and slowness issues with Google Apps.

In an inter-departmental correspondence sent from LA City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana to the Chair of the Information Technology and Government Affairs Committee in mid-April, Santana wrote that current pilot users of Google Apps were experiencing “issues and problems that have negatively affected their productivity and department operations,” which could cause the delay of the Citywide implementation of the “Google system.”

According to the letter:

In February, selected staff from several City departments began to use the Google system on a pilot basis. Currently, 2,405 participants in 32 departments and nine elected officials’ offices are in the pilot. On March 23, 2010, the working group invited all pilot participants to discuss their experiences with the Google system. At the meeting many of the departments expressed concerns about both the performance and the functionality of the new system. Performance concerns focused on the slowness with which e-mails were sent, received, and accessed in the new system. Functionality concerns focused on features currently available in GroupWise that are unavailable, or significantly different, in Google’s system. Further, the Los Angeles Police Department indicated that several security issues have yet to be resolved, and that a pilot of its technical support staff must be successfully completed before it can be expanded to the rest of the LAPD. Some pilot participants also identified new capabilities that were not available to City staff using GroupWise, including collaboration tools, chat, and compatibility with a wider range of mobile devices.

The new Google Apps system is reportedly operating more slowly than GroupWise did. LA’s Information Technology Agency added that the City’s data networks may have contributed partially to the slowness issues and that the City’s requirement to keep both GroupWise and Google operational concurrently could have effected performance. Another cited issue is that Google Apps works best with Chrome, but most City staff currently Microsoft’s Internet Explorer or Firefox.

LA has extended the pilot program in order to determine “whether Google’s system will adequately serve the City’s e-mail needs.” Also addressed in the memo was the fact that a delay of the full implementation of Google Apps will result in significant expenses that could reach nearly $1 million. This not good news for the financially troubled LA city government.

Clearly, the fault doesn’t solely lie with Google on the performance of its Apps product. But the predicament does highlight one of the ongoing bureaucratic issues that Google may have in trying to transition local governments with outdated systems and data connectivity problems to their modern product. Los Angeles isn’t the first government to bring their e-mail, calendaring, document sharing and chat applications to the cloud with Google Apps. Washington D.C. and Orlando, FL had earlier made the same move.

UPDATE: LA IT Authority, the entity in charge of the transition, has responded to the LA city government’s concerns, saying that these are normal issues that take place in any Pilot Program of Google Apps. The project is still on track to be implemented fully this year and Google is working on fixing the issues laid out in the letter.