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Montgomery County, PA—How government can become more dynamic, responsive, and cost-effective through Office 365

Today’s post was written by Anthony Olivieri, Chief Technology Officer at Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Picture of Anthony OlivieriOne of the best things about working in technology is that there’s always something new, some way to “build a better mousetrap.” But mousetraps are only worthwhile if they truly address the business needs that you’ve identified within your organization.

Montgomery County is considered a leader when it comes to effective use of technology in the public sector. We feel it’s our obligation to harness technology to empower employees to work smarter and be more productive, while reducing costs. When we increase productivity, we can serve the public more quickly and comprehensively—which is ultimately our mission.

When I consider my vision for the County, I think first of mobile productivity. One of my top priorities is to enable County employees to do their jobs from anywhere by giving them tools that work on a range of mobile device platforms. I don’t mean just making it easier to work from home or when on business trips; I’m talking about everyday efficiencies.

For example, we’re piloting a solution for our health inspectors who evaluate restaurant compliance. Instead of manually filling out paperwork back at the office, inspectors walk through their site visits with a tablet in hand, completing an electronic checklist and inspection form on the spot. That kicks off an automated workflow and emails the appropriate certificate directly to the restaurant owner—all without leaving the restaurant. Rather than visiting one or two sites each day, our inspectors can visit up to five, which is a huge productivity improvement. To develop this solution, we took advantage of a variety of on-premises and cloud-based Microsoft technologies.

The County vision also includes providing our citizens with more consistent, connected services, regardless of which department they’re dealing with. To support that goal, we’re testing a turnkey case management portal that we built with the Microsoft .NET platform, Microsoft Dynamics software, and Microsoft SharePoint Online, which is part of the Microsoft Office 365 cloud services suite. The portal will be used by all Human Services departments, from child welfare to senior services. The idea is to remove the silos that often divide county governments and provide a single source of information that’s easily accessible by all appropriate parties. For example, when a citizen comes into one of our Community Connections Centers for assistance, anyone throughout Human Services can go straight to the portal to see what services that citizen is already benefitting from and can reach out right away to get the necessary additional services delivered quickly. We can still protect our citizens’ privacy and maintain our HIPAA compliance with this move to the portal because Office 365 gives us plenty of control and supports compliance with all sorts of regulations. As IT professionals, we are charged with keeping up with and ensuring our data meets today’s ever-changing security standards and regulations. Office 365 makes it possible for Montgomery County to use our existing Active Directory infrastructure through Active Directory integration, Active Directory Federation Services, and encryption. Additionally, within SharePoint Online, we can use existing Group Policy objects and security groups to further protect our data while at the same time making it easier to access, manage, and maintain by our employees and IT staff.

Another way that we’re breaking down silos is by making it easier for employees to work with each other across County departments. They absolutely love using Microsoft Lync Online to see at a glance which colleagues are available, and it’s easy to chat via instant message or to right-click to start a call or video session. I even launch multipoint videoconferences, right from my desk. IT staff members such as our developers—along with many employees in the County’s other agencies—use Yammer, an enterprise social network, to communicate better across bureaucratic boundaries. For example, when departments are involved in upcoming IT projects, employees from those areas use Yammer to give developers feedback on features and monitor project status. We also use it to keep our outside development consultants apprised of what we’re doing.

The County considered multiple cloud services providers before choosing Office 365. I had security concerns about how Google handled its data and mined for data, and its cost, infrastructure, and ease of administration were not as favorable as what we’d get with Office 365. But IT shouldn’t make decisions in a vacuum, so we reached out to every department in the County to participate in a one-week evaluation of the two cloud offerings. An overwhelming 75 percent of our user focus group preferred Office 365 over Google, citing its familiar interface, ease of use, lack of connection issues, and built-in security as the main reasons for their decision.

In my experience, there are no true one-size-fits-all technologies. But I’m seeing that Office 365 gives us powerful building blocks to tailor solutions that meet agencies’ unique needs throughout the County. It’s been more than we hoped for in terms of helping us overcome limitations and better serve our 800,000-plus citizens.

Technical Summary

Montgomery County takes advantage of Microsoft Office 365 to streamline internal communications and responsiveness to citizens. Employees use Microsoft Exchange Online and Lync Online to connect with each other from anywhere, and departments will use workflow automation in SharePoint Online to work more seamlessly on intra- and cross-departmental levels. They also store a range of documents using Microsoft OneDrive for Business so that they can access reports, spreadsheets, and other information from the office, field locations, and home. County employees keep up-to-date with events, best practices, and agency news through their Yammer enterprise social network, and Montgomery County expects to expand the use of both Yammer and SharePoint Online to operate as an even more cohesive entity.

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