Located in Washington County, Oregon, the Tualatin Valley Water District (TVWD) provides drinking water to a population of approximately 200,000 near the city of Portland. The district’s service area covers more than 44 square miles and includes
portions of unincorporated Washington County. In late 2011, TVWD deployed a new cloud-based email system running on Microsoft Office 365 and Exchange Online. By moving its email operations into the cloud, TVWD was able to reduce infrastructure ownership burdens
and avoid future costs resulting from on-premise systems while extending email access to employees in the field.
As the second largest water provider in Oregon, TVWD employs nearly 120 workers across an enterprise that includes administrative groups as well as engineering and field staff. Approximately half of the district’s email users work in offices at its central
facility, while the other half of the workforce consists of mobile or crew-based employees who primarily work in the field. An IT group of eight employees supports the entire organization.
In December 2011, TVWD completed its transition to a fully hosted email solution based on Microsoft Office 365 and Exchange Online. By selecting a cloud-based service model for email, the district hopes to reduce the administrative burden on its IT group.
Using Microsoft Exchange Online also means that the district’s users will have greater access to email away from the office and in the field.
“We are live with Office 365 for email. We migrated from an on-premise email server that we’ve completely uninstalled from our network. We had a choice. We could either upgrade our on-premise environment or we could outsource the function in some way.”
After exploring multiple options, TVWD IT staff decided that the key deciding factor for pursuing a new strategy revolved around doing a better job of managing complexity.
“The complexity of running and maintaining an on-premise email – developing all the infrastructure and software expertise created demands on our financial and human resources. This became clear when we compared it to managing email services through a cloud-based
“Another factor behind our decision was the cloud’s ability to access email from anywhere given our plans for supporting our mobile workers.”
The district’s new Office 365 installation includes 100 client seats and 30 kiosk accounts.
“The kiosks are for our crews, people who do not work in the office,” says Ure. “They don’t have dedicated desktop computers so we’ve set up a several kiosk computers for them to have access to email. Beyond this, we have a mobile computing initiative that
is picking up steam. Over time we’re going to offer our mobile workers more capability to get their email from mobile computing devices.”
Since most of TVWD’s employees were already accustomed to using Microsoft Outlook as their email client, the District’s IT group preferred a solution that would permit them to keep using the same interface.
“This was important because we have around 20 percent of our user base that are sophisticated and are advanced users of Outlook, so being able to continue using Outlook and having confidence that this application would continue to be a supported platform
with Office 365 really made a huge difference.”
He adds that since the price- points across different cloud-based email providers were roughly the same, support of and integration with premise-based Outlook applications became an important deciding factor.
The district also evaluated the privacy and security implications of moving its email communications to a cloud-based environment, Ure recalls.
“We are a public agency. This means almost all of our records are available through public records requests,” he says.
This created two important requirements. The District must produce public records on demand; it must also protect sensitive information.
“This meant that people wanted to know how we were going to protect things. We went through a security analysis on our internal premise, and we concluded that the hosted solution had comparable security.”
With cost, security and operational support issues addressed, the District pursued a two-pronged implementation and deployment strategy.
TVWD’s IT group focused on the technical aspects of transitioning its infrastructure. At the same time, the district formed a team of representatives from each of its groups and departments to help coordinate the migrations of their respective organizations.
This team of “super-users” was instrumental in keeping the district’s workforce informed about the transition process, Ure points out.
“That really helped to make it seamless,” he says. “By having a team of representatives from every department, those super-users would go back to their departments and communicate with them. That way the burden of handling everybody’s questions wasn’t entirely
upon IT. We were able to plan out a migration strategy that was staged, where we went one group of users at a time. Involving the super-users on the front end of the process prepared each department for what was coming.”
During the transition process, Ure emphasizes the importance of contracting support services from an experienced technology partner.
“As our implementation evolved, we decided to supplement our support and assistance team with external resources,” he says. “Our Microsoft sales rep gave us some references for companies that had a strong client base of Office 365 migrations. That turned
out to be one of the most important decisions that we made and really got us over the hump.”
During implementation, TVWD worked with MessageOps, a Charlotte, NC-based Microsoft technology partner that specializes in supporting migrations to Office 365.
“When we had specific issues, they were able to provide us with expertise and recommend best practices,” notes Ure. “The Microsoft documentation was extensive, but it was sometimes overwhelming trying to sort through all of that. So the MessageOps team was
able to point out the areas in the documentation that applied to us. We did a lot ourselves, but having an expert guide made a huge difference for us.”
According to Ure, the most significant benefit of having completed its migration to Office 365 is the elimination of on-premise email infrastructure and the maintenance burdens that came with it.
“We were able to completely decommission our on-premise systems. This is a huge win for us because before this move to the cloud, we had multiple email servers, an archive server, an OWA server, and more. Moving to the cloud has taken that burden off of
Another key enhancement is the ability to extend email access to mobile field staff who did not have it before. “The second win is that we have all of our users up on Exchange Online now,” says Ure. “Before, our crew employees did not have email accounts,
and now they all have email accounts. And the availability of email has greatly increased because it’s available anytime, anywhere on the Internet. So that’s an important outcome.”
The ability to retain Microsoft Outlook as its desktop email client also provided continuity and consistency for the majority of employees who were already proficient on Outlook.
However, Ure explains that the main source of the District’s economic return on investment from the move to the Office 365 environment comes from the avoidance of future costs and maintenance burdens that a new on-premise email system would have generated.
“We saved money by not having to buy new servers, new licenses, and so forth,” he explains.
Additionally, basing email operations in the cloud provides TVWD with higher assurance that service will remain available even during catastrophes.
“The cloud is a big factor in our disaster recovery and emergency preparedness plans,” Ure explains. “As a water utility we have to be prepared for earthquakes, and still be able to respond. Having a cloud-based – off-premise – solution increases our emergency
preparedness. It’s one aspect of disaster recovery that’s off our plate. We don’t have to significantly worry about it. If we have an event, our email communications will still be intact.”
Using Microsoft Office 365 and Exchange Online also supports the district’s plans to implement mobile devices for employees in the field.
“We have work crews in the field and in the next one or two years, we’re going to be doing mobile computing for workforce management,” says Ure. “We’re going to deploy mobile laptops with wireless cards or handheld devices, smart-phones or tablets that have
Internet built in.”
“With any of those devices, we’ll be able to connect Office 365 and use email. Active Synch capability for the devices and Outlook Web Access for the laptops expands our reach of email communications,” Ure adds. “Our crews don’t currently use email a lot,
but we’re expecting with this initiative that they’ll use email more to communicate. Office 365 definitely helps us.”
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For more information about Tualatin Valley Water District, call (503) 642-1511 or visit the Web site at: www.tvwd.org
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