D.C. municipal employees get choice between Google Apps, Microsoft Office

CTO seeks ways that business users can benefit from consumer-oriented innovations

For Vivek Kundra, a personal experience on one of America's most harrowing days has been a driving force around his philosophy to embrace Google Apps to power the District of Columbia's intranet and to offer its employees an alternative to Microsoft Office.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Kundra, who is now the chief technology officer for the D.C. government, was interviewing for a job as IT director for the city of Arlington, Va., when the news spread that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Kundra was hired on the spot and began working to help with first responders' technology needs. But the thought of the city's many IT assets being located in one data center stayed with him, he said today in an interview.

"If something happened to that data center, that building, then we had a single point of failure," he said. This realization -- along with several other factors -- prompted Kundra to mirror the fierce market competition between Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. around their respective office productivity applications by offering the District's 38,000 employees the option of using Google applications, such as Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets, for their work processes, or using applications from Microsoft Office.

"We've created a platform where those two companies can compete," Kundra said. "The one that brings about the greatest value for the user is going to attract the most users and win out. More and more workflow is moving to the Google Apps platform. For certain types of work, Google Apps is far superior versus Microsoft."

Kundra first turned to Google Apps in February to power an intranet for the district. The alternative would have been to use portal software from another vendor he didn't name that would have run behind the firewall at a price tag of $4 million. Using Google Apps has cost $500,000, he said.

In addition to seeking to move away from a centralized data center model, Kundra said he wanted government employees to benefit from the innovation that has occurred within the consumer-focused Web 2.0 world.

"Innovation in the consumer space has outpaced innovation in the enterprise space," he said. "If you look at all the social networking Web sites out there, they are fundamentally changing the way productivity is going to happen. It used to be people went to work to have access to the greatest technology. Now people go home to have access to the greatest technology."

Google also has an appeal that Microsoft has yet to offer: an infrastructure to support corporate video in Google-owned YouTube. Kundra said that as part of the move to exploit the benefits from technology developed for consumers, the district is using YouTube for training, employee performance reviews and budget planning.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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