Editor’s note: Today’s guest blogger is Sherry Swackhamer, CIO of Multnomah County, Oregon. Multnomah County is located in northwest Oregon; it’s county seat is the city of Portland. More than 4,500 Multnomah County employees provide over 715,000 residents a wide range of health and human services, public safety services and other government services.

This morning, Multnomah County completed the transition of most county employees to Google Apps for Government. In Oregon, local governments like Multnomah County have faced difficult budget circumstances and diminishing resources for many years, while experiencing growing demand for services. In order to effectively continue providing needed services in our community, it’s critical that we seek ways to become ever more innovative and efficient.

Switching to Google Apps plays an important role in achieving these goals. This new environment increases government transparency by allowing employees complete access to email and information on demand, vastly improving employee efficiency and collaboration while saving taxpayers approximately $100,000 each year in licensing and related costs and up to $500,000 in staff time and staff costs.

This transition was informed by a careful analysis to evaluate our technology needs and options. Multnomah County considered two cloud-based options for replacing our old system for email, calendar and contacts. We selected Google Apps due to its low cost, ease of use, and innovative capabilities that will allow county employees to be more collaborative and productive in their jobs.

With 250 times the email storage of our prior email system, Google Apps will save employees considerable time previously spent deleting or archiving old emails, while allowing each department to follow specified email retention policies. The web based technology means employees can access their information from any internet-connected device.

New collaborative tools like searchable instant messaging and real-time collaboration in word processing and spreadsheets provide Multnomah employees with useful and innovative tools to help them do their jobs. In fact, the independent analysis found that the document sharing capabilities of Google Docs meet the needs of the vast majority of county employees.

Currently, every county employee is licensed to use the complete suite of Microsoft Office applications, but many staff members only use a small portion of those features. Google Apps provides Multnomah County with equivalent capabilities for no additional cost. Many employees will be able able to do their jobs without those costly software packages in the future.

As an added benefit, all county employees now have a shorter email address. That makes our email addresses easier to remember and much simpler to share with members of the public and those with whom we conduct business.

We began testing Google Apps with a small group of IT users and expanded that to a pilot of 150 and later 500 county employees. These employees came from a variety of county agencies and allowed us to identify and work through any issues with the migration. Our workforce has shown a high degree of interest and engagement in the project and have demonstrated that we’re ready to learn, explore and collaborate. We’ve gone Google.

by Sherry Swackhamer, CIO, Multnomah County