Minn. executive branch picks Microsoft to improve email, collaboration

The state's executive branch uses Microsoft's cloud-based email and collaboration suite Office 365

Microsoft's big upgrade year

The Executive Branch of the Minnesota state government had its 40,000 end users on a mishmash of email systems when in 2008 its IT group, the Office of Enterprise Technology (OET), decided to tackle the problem.

Initially, the OET consolidated the users, from about 70 state agencies and on about 40 disparate email systems, onto a single email platform of on-premise Exchange 2007 servers.

In 2010, the OET embarked on yet another migration, this time to cloud-hosted Microsoft email and collaboration software, first as part of BPOS (Business Productivity Online), and later to its upgrade, Office 365, which includes online versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Lync and Office.

"We've seen many benefits that, while we expected them, they've materialized much faster," said Ed Valencia, CTO at the OET, citing as an example improved collaboration among employees through the use of SharePoint.

Today, with email and collaboration greatly improved for its users, the OET has also been winning other Minnesota public sector clients that aren't technically part of the Executive Branch but are free to choose the OET as their IT provider.

"We were looking to gain certain benefits of cloud elasticity," he said. "Part of the reason to go cloud was being able to provide these services to external clients."

The scenario at the Executive Branch of the Minnesota state government represents a "best case" for Microsoft, which finds itself battling Google and other rivals tooth-and-nail in the market for cloud-based email and collaboration suites.

While Microsoft has been historically a leader with its on-premise Exchange/Outlook, SharePoint and Lync software, it has been faulted for being late with a competitor to the cloud-based Google Apps suite, which includes office productivity applications, email and collaboration software.

Office 365 became generally available in the summer of 2011, while Google Apps was launched in 2006. Office 365's predecessor, BPOS, lacked, for example, online versions of the Office applications, like Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Its online versions of those products were based on their 2007 editions, while Office 365's are based on the 2010 editions.

Although Google has been able to steal enterprise email and collaboration customers away, including some large organizations with more than 100,000 users, in this particular case the script unfolded perfectly for Microsoft, which was able to successfully pitch on-premise Exchange, and then convince them to move to BPOS and eventually to Office 365.

Next: Microsoft's upgrade avalanche a challenge for IT pros

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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