King County, Washington: Empower productivity and achieve leaner government with Office 365

Today’s post was written by William Kehoe, Chief Information Officer for King County, Washington.

King County Washington Information TechnologyKing County includes the city of Seattle and is home to more than 1.9 million people. We have a strategic plan, “Working Together for One King County,” which is a key part of our efforts to reform how we govern. Our plan focuses on customer service and ways to increase efficiency in government, no small feat considering this is the fourteenth most populous county in the United States. Although our 13,000 employees work in different lines of business, we share a common goal: to provide excellent service at minimal cost to our citizens. As the CIO, my responsibility is to ensure that IT is doing everything it can to enable this goal.

When I joined King County Department of Information Technology (KCIT) in August of 2010, it was a decentralized organization with IT staff spread among more than 200 offices and facilities. We didn’t have enterprise IT tools to work together as a unified organization that serves such a large population. My vision was to turn IT into a service organization to better support the county’s lines of business—health clinics, public parks, court houses, transit stations, recycling depots, water facilities—and to ultimately improve services for the people living in this community. I knew this objective was important for many reasons. First, it was difficult to ensure that we were serving citizens to the best of our abilities when we didn’t have standardized business productivity tools, which made it a challenge to efficiently collaborate with each other. Second, we needed automated and streamlined online service offerings so citizens could conveniently access county services without traveling to our offices and waiting in line. Third, it was expensive and time consuming to maintain more than 1,600 IT solutions for different departments. Think about the number of staff hours necessary to support hundreds of unique applications and the different programming languages and skill-sets needed to maintain these apps. With a cost-conscious mindset in KCIT, we wanted to provide staff with business productivity tools to enable consistent and improved services to our constituents and save money.

After consolidating staff and creating a central IT department, which became official in July of 2011, and after defining our lines of services, we looked toward leveraging our infrastructure and doing more by harnessing the cloud environment. Today, we subscribe to Microsoft Office 365 to take advantage of the economies of scale and efficiencies that cloud computing offers. I’m proud of the contribution our IT department is making to the county’s service goals, while doing things like reducing the cost of server upgrades by utilizing virtualization, getting discounts for volume software licensing, and reducing data storage costs. Office 365, combined with our recent deployment of a Microsoft-based private cloud solution, is saving the county US$700,000 annually. These savings can be reallocated to support other business and technology goals in the areas of modernization, mobility, service maturity, and eGov solutions.

Meanwhile, the move to Office 365 is providing more than 10,000 King County employees with up-to-date business productivity tools that help them communicate and collaborate across departments, in the office, and in the field. Many processes are becoming more efficient for our staff and for citizens. For example, the simple ability to conduct meetings online and share desktops and recordings for meeting notes has revolutionized the way many county employees look at business meetings.

Mobile employees such as park attendants, property assessors, and animal welfare investigators can retrieve and share maps or building plans using their mobile devices instead of connecting to the network using our VPN or returning to the office. Project managers are viewing vendors’ demos from the privacy of their own desks and sharing their feedback with members of their proposal review teams to strengthen our scoring protocol and ensure that scores are consistent and fair among vendors.

We are collaborating more efficiently in virtual and cross-departmental teams using online team sites and real-time coauthoring on documents. One of our countywide goals is ‘”hiring well” and we are saving time and travel expenses by using videoconferencing to interview candidates for county positions. During interviews, we can take digital notes and share them with colleagues in other offices to help with candidate evaluations.

There are so many ways that we use Office 365 to erase the boundaries of location and department to create a more cohesive county government. When I see the large volume of  (a monthly average of more than 112,000 peer-to-peer messages) that staff are sending and the number of minutes that people are using videoconferencing, I am reassured that we are taking advantage of the technology to work better together to provide efficient services. Today, Office 365 is a key part of KCIT’s strategy to maintain a lean government and help make King County a great place to live.