Anne Arundel County government officials say the days of delays are gone for employees opening and responding to email messages. More than 6,000 county government email addresses were switched this month from an old system called GroupWise to a Google-based system.
The old system was slow and problematic, county officials say. It was shut down for a weekend in June so information technology workers could fix problems after employees endured a week of receiving delayed messages — or no messages at all.
"It was definitely on its last legs," said Rick Durkee, the county's chief information officer.
Durkee said it was difficult to get tech support for the system, which he believes dates to before 2000 and might have been the first email system for county employees.
"It was at its peak capacity," he said. "It was at such a state that trying to work with the system to improve its performance often resulted in the opposite."
The problems were often compounded when county employees accessed work email on smartphones. Even County Executive Laura Neuman — who is known to keep her iPhone close at hand — complained about the time it took to open and read each message. Over the scores of messages she receives, it was a lot of time, she said.
"It's amazingly different," Neuman said of the new system, called Google for Government.
The decision to switch to the Google-based system was made before Durkee was appointed chief information officer by Neuman in February.
Durkee said the switch had stalled, so one of his jobs was to get it back on track. He couldn't say how much it cost the county to buy Google for Government, but said the operating costs to run and maintain the system is about the same as GroupWise. And with the new system, "we get so much more," he said.
He said Google for Government includes multiple Web-based applications, including calendar functions and the capability to store and share files.
Because GroupWise was used for so long, Durkee's team developed training help employees with the switch. Jack Martin, deputy chief information officer, organized sessions and sent experts to various offices on the first day Google email was used.
Initial training has focused on how to use the email functions, Durkee said. Future efforts will focus on using the whole suite of applications, Durkee said.
Google for Government was launched in 2010 and has been adopted by local and state governments in 46 states and Washington, D.C., said Shannon Newberry, a Google spokeswoman. Google for Government costs $50 per user per year, Newberry said.
It's taking some time for employees to get used to the new system, said Tim Kingston, president of AFSCME Local 2563, which represents professional, clerical and technical employees. Kingston already uses Gmail for the union and is a fan of the system.
"It's been a change that's been long needed," said Kingston, who is a zoning inspector. "Like anything new, there are some bugs that we're trying to work out. It's more user error and just not knowing."