Washington Uses Google Apps to Power New Intranet

When it came time for Washington, D.C., to create a new intranet for city employees, spending US$4 million on a site based on proprietary portal software just didn't seem like a good idea to CTO Vivek Kundra. But using Google Apps did, he said in an interview Tuesday.

With its Web-based Google Apps suite, Google is currently trying to fashion itself into a worthy competitor to Microsoft Office in enterprise accounts. Washington, D.C., is an example of where the company is making some inroads, thanks to the thinking of 34-year-old Kundra, who believes technology that is open source or based on open standards -- or both -- is the future for the enterprise.

Google Apps is not replacing Microsoft Office entirely for the 38,000 municipal employees in Washington D.C., as some published reports have implied. However, Kundra said he is seeing more and more government employees "migrating to using Google Docs instead of Microsoft Office," and Google's online applications have advantages as far as ease of use and the ability to build new sites for the city's intranet quickly and easily.

The use of Google Apps to power the city's new intranet has its roots in a decision Kundra made soon after he took his job in March 2007. He looked at current IT projects and decided to eliminate one to build an intranet for millions of dollars based on proprietary portal software from Plumtree.

Washington, D.C., has been piloting the intranet with employees since June 2007. The application, which uses Gmail as its e-mail service and Google Apps for documents and spreadsheets, went live earlier this year and is currently in regular use, Kundra said.

Kundra decided to go with Google Apps as the basis for the new intranet not only because it was less expensive -- the city is paying Google about $475,000 a year in licensing fees -- but because new applications and interfaces can be assembled quickly on Google's platform because of its open nature.

"When we looked at integration and deployment costs, what we decided to do [was use Google because] it was at a lower cost and was a faster way of achieving the same goal," he said.

Take for example a new site the city created for its Fall 2008 Job Fair. On it, Kundra has his managers outlining in YouTube videos the positions for which they're hiring, an example of how easy it is on Google Apps to allow for "voice, video and data integration," he said.

Though Google Apps is not entirely replacing Office, it is eliminating the use of Microsoft's suite for certain jobs, Kundra said.

The city's budget planning and procurement process, the way it conducts internal surveys and, as shown by the Job Fair example, the way it goes about posting jobs and hiring employees are now done via Google Apps, he said. Previously, these tasks were largely based on a paper trail of Microsoft Word documents, Kundra said.

Google isn't the only company gunning for Microsoft, which still has the lion's share of the business market for productivity applications. IBM also has a free office productivity suite, Symphony, that it has built into its Lotus collaboration suite. There also is OpenOffice.org, the freely available, open-source productivity suite, the third version of which was released to the Web Monday.

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