Editor's note: Following up on our recent announcement of Google Apps for Government, a new edition of Google Apps for our government customers, we invited Jim Dodd, Information Systems Manager for the City of Wooster, Ohio, to share Wooster’s story. Jim is a Northeast Ohio native who joined the city’s Information Technology Division in 2006 and has been an active I.T. professional since 1995.

Wooster, Ohio is a cozy community of approximately 26,000 people nestled in the center of Wayne County, home to some of the finest farmland in the state. If you draw a line from Columbus to Cleveland, Wooster is located close to the middle. “Multi-faceted” is an apt description of Wooster. It's a small town where people know their neighbors, and still greet strangers passing by on the sidewalk. The presence of The College of Wooster brings cultural opportunities -- like the Ohio Light Opera and Wooster Symphony Orchestra -- that a town of Wooster's size might not ordinarily possess. Wooster is blessed with a diverse economy that features notable manufacturing, education, transportation, technology, and healthcare companies.

The current administration of the city government stresses the imperative of maintaining the high level of services our citizens enjoy, while using current resource levels more effectively. Google Apps has provided us with the rare opportunity to expand the communications tools available to city government personnel without requiring major new funding and infrastructure.

Scalability, reliability, and usability are the reasons the City of Wooster switched to Google Apps. Google has built a dispersed, secure infrastructure that offers a level of availability and a scale of resources that we could never begin to match internally. For example, offering 25 gigabytes of email storage per user was never a realistic option for us. Integration of Google's search technology into Google Apps creates great efficiencies in data retrieval. And to top it all off, all of this is accessible from any device with a web browser, wherever city employees' jobs may take them.

Wooster switched to Google Apps from Microsoft Exchange in September 2009. We started with a ten-user pilot in June 2009, and then made the switch for all 207 city employees. For the first six months, we focused on acclimating our staff to using the web browser as their primary tool for messaging and calendar, as well as raising awareness of the different features available in those two components. Reactions to the changes ran the gamut: some enthusiastically embraced the new platform and immediately began exploring its potential; others didn't have a strong opinion as long as they could read their email; and some preferred the old messaging system. Recently, we introduced the option of using Microsoft Outlook (with Google Apps Sync) instead of a web browser for those few people who absolutely prefer Outlook. Chat was a new addition to our communication tools and was instantly embraced by our personnel as a means of communication.

Starting in January 2010, we began a concerted effort to expose our staff to the features of Google Docs, Groups, and Sites. For instance, our Parks and Recreation department uses Google Docs to share rosters and schedules with coaches and players involved in city sports leagues, providing for streamlined updates and easy access for both staff and participants. Our training coordinator offers on-site as well as classroom sessions exploring the features of Google Apps. We've also been sending out short "Didja Know" communications several times a month to highlight new or particularly useful features.

Several city departments have begun experimenting with Google Sites to create websites that will be linked to as part of our intranet. The Police Department created an extensive website that even features various training videos, which will be shared and included in the city's official website. The Information Technology Department uses a Google Site as a technical reference wiki, compiling How-Tos, troubleshooting, notes, and other relevant information on the City's computing systems.

Earlier this year, Wooster became a trusted tester for Google Apps for Government. Having an edition for the use of only government customers provides us with added assurance that the data used in serving our citizens is well-protected. Google Apps receiving FISMA certification demonstrates Google's commitment to maintaining top-of-the-line data safeguards. For the City of Wooster, Google Apps for Government is a welcome enhancement to an already compelling product that adds increased value to our efforts to serve the citizens of our fair city.

Posted by Dan Israel, Google Apps for Government team