D.C. Gives Google Apps a Spot at Desktop Table

For Vivek Kundra, an experience on one of the most harrowing days in U.S. history turned out to be a driving force behind his decision -- seven years later -- to embrace Google Apps as a possible alternative to Office for municipal workers in the District of Columbia.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Kundra was interviewing for a job as IT director for the city of Arlington, Va., when news came of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Kundra was hired that same day. His immediate concern about Arlington's lone data center being a potential single point of failure left a lasting impression on him, he said last week.

That, along with other factors, is prompting Kundra -- who is now the District of Columbia's chief technology officer -- to adopt Google's cloud computing approach for at least some applications. For example, he turned to Google Apps for an intranet that went live in February. And he is giving the district's 38,000 municipal workers the option of using the Google technology instead of Office.

"For certain types of work, Google Apps is far superior," Kundra said. Employees are using Google's YouTube technology for training and other purposes, such as recording videos for performance reviews. Budget planning and procurement also are being done with Google's software.

In addition to seeking to move away from a centralized data center model via the cloud approach, Kundra said he wants District of Columbia employees to benefit from the consumer-focused technical advances that are taking place in the Web 2.0 world.

"It used to be that people went to work to have access to the greatest technology," he said. "Now people go home to have access to the greatest technology."

Kundra isn't turning his back on Microsoft Office. The district's municipal workers are still heavy PowerPoint users, he said. He added that giving users a choice between Google Apps and Office has created a competitive environment in which the technology "that brings about the greatest value for the user is going to attract the most users and win out."

A spokesman for Microsoft Corp. said via e-mail that the software vendor "maintains a strong relationship" with the District of Columbia. Plans are in place for Microsoft to work with "several agencies" on new projects, he added.

This version of this story originally appeared in Computerworld's print edition.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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