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At Interior Dept., Google Apps to co-exist with Outlook, Office -- for now

While the agency chose Gmail for backend e-mail, it will give employees the option of continuing to use Outlook and Office on the desktop

By Juan Carlos Perez
May 3, 2012 01:30 PM ET

IDG News Service - Although the U.S. Interior Department plans to replace its on-premise email servers with Google Apps' cloud-based Gmail, the agency will retain Microsoft Outlook and Office as its standard e-mail client and desktop office productivity software for end users.

The Interior Department's 70,000 full-time employees and 20,000 seasonal workers will have the option to use the Gmail Web interface and Apps' Docs productivity applications, but most people will likely continue to use Office and Outlook as their primary options, at least for the near future. The Interior Department has an enterprise license to use Office and Windows agency-wide.

"We set the standard for the department more than 10 years ago of Outlook for email client software and Microsoft Office for office productivity apps. I don't necessarily see us moving off of that," said Andrew Jackson, deputy assistant secretary for technology, information and business services at the Interior Department.

The reasons behind this decision are varied. There are employees who simply prefer Outlook and Office over the Gmail Web interface and Docs. Others work in remote locations and get on the Internet using slow dial-up and satellite connections, so they find Outlook and Office are better for working under those conditions or when they're offline.

"I'm sure we'll continue to evaluate the process. If we get to a point where we feel comfortable that we can rely on a product like Google Docs, we may choose to go in that direction, but that's further down the road," Jackson said.

What's clear is the Interior Department's intention to move from seven different on-premise Microsoft Exchange and IBM Lotus Domino email systems to a single Gmail system on the backend.

Several other vendors bid for the contract, including Microsoft, which pitched Office 365, its cloud-based email and collaboration suite. Office 365 competes with Google Apps and includes Web-based versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Office and Lync.

However, the combination of Google Apps and reseller Onix Networking got the nod, edging out Microsoft and the others in requirements like software functionality and cloud security.

The Google Apps-Onix Networking tandem, however, still needs to pass a 60-day evaluation process before getting the green light to do the actual implementation. According to Jackson, the evaluation process will not be a formality.

"It's definitely not guaranteed. We are serious about evaluating their capabilities," he said. "We have the opportunity at this checkpoint to say: 'Ok, are they really cutting the mustard?' And if they're not, we'll have to consider alternatives."

Having said that, the Interior Department feels comfortable with its choice of Apps-Onix. The agency will use the Apps for Government edition of Google Apps, which offers special safeguards and compliance with government regulations about data security in cloud-based software.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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