In a scenario illustrative of Microsoft's tectonic shift to the cloud, Los Angeles County halted an on-premises Exchange upgrade to instead roll out Office 365 and its Exchange Online service.
The county had already migrated about 12 of its more than 30 departments to the new on-premises email system when it decided to evaluate Office 365.
It hadn't considered the cloud suite to be mature enough when it was planning its email platform unification project about three years ago, but a steady stream of subsequent Office 365 enhancements hit a tipping point for CIO Richard Sanchez and his team.
They were impressed not only with the suite's broad functionality, but also with its security and regulatory compliance features, which were a must for county agencies involved with areas like health care and law enforcement.
"Office 365 has evolved into a very attractive product," Sanchez said.
While the cloud suite became a viable alternative for the needs of L.A. County, the on premises email project was proving expensive and complicated.
"There were considerable costs we were incurring on for migration services, as well as for storage, computing facilities and the like," Sanchez said.
And he realized that the county government was going to get less functionality. While the original project was focused solely on upgrading and consolidating the on-premises email system on Exchange, Office 365 offered them a lot more.
Through the Office 365 for Government edition it chose, L.A. County is not only getting Exchange Online, but also SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and the full-featured Office productivity suite with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote and other apps.
L.A. County also liked Office 365's mobile capabilities, an important element in an organization where many employees do work away from their desks, like sheriff deputies, food inspectors and social workers.
"We saw Office 365 as an opportunity to leverage the additional technology and also relieve us from the burden of having to manage email and continue to acquire hardware for storage and software licenses," he said.
Some departments had SharePoint and Lync, but now the collaboration server and the unified communications tool will be available to all county employees, which total more than 100,000. This is expected to improve productivity and collaboration across the county government.
The move to Office 365 is also allowing L.A. County to simplify its Microsoft software licensing and make sure it is maximizing its product rights.
About a third of the departments had volume licensing agreements with Microsoft that had been negotiated independently. Now, there is a single county-wide Enterprise Agreement.
Sanchez doesn't see the partial upgrade to Exchange on-premises as a wasted effort. Since those agencies are already on a unified email platform, it will be easier to shift them over to Office 365, he said.
Because L.A. County's IT infrastructure was primarily made up of Microsoft products, Sanchez and his team didn't seriously consider other cloud suites like Google Apps, because it would have meant significant effort in retraining a staff already familiar with Outlook and Office.
L.A. County, the largest in the U.S. in terms of population, plans to begin its 42-week rollout of Office 365 in August, aided by Microsoft Consulting Services and partner En Pointe Technologies.
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.
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.