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Archive for July, 2010

7 Reasons Why The City of Los Angeles’ Move to Gmail Scares Me

July 27, 2010 5 comments

In October 2009, The City of Los Angeles made a monumental business decision to switch its email (Outlook) and basic productivity products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) to Gmail and Google Apps by June 2010. They cited cost savings as the main driver and I applaud them for such a gutsy move.

Despite unanimous approval from City Council, this move wasn’t without critics. Moving to Google means moving its emails out of City managed data centers and into a private cloud under Google’s surveillance. Issues concerning security and privacy naturally ensued, and both Google and the City published articles and webinars addressing these fears and articulating the additional benefits.

I have no qualms about moving to the cloud. My fear is around IMPLEMENTATION because we’re not just talking about going from chocolate to vanilla…

…we’re talking about ripping away a system that the majority of 30,000 employees have been using for many years, and forcing them to embrace a completely redesigned system that’s been turned on its ear.

I know training is stressed in their plan, but teaching what might be a large number of new users to learn Gmail is no small feat. Below are 7 aspects of Gmail that I hope gets extra attention in their training sessions.

1. There are only two places: “inbox” and “not-inbox”

This is probably the most difficult aspect to grasp for new users. When you want to move something out of the inbox, you don’t drag it into a folder, you tag it with however many labels that apply and then archive it. Gmail never uses the word “folder”. It’s either in your inbox or not. Expect to allow a lot of time for non-gmail regulars to adopt this concept.

2. Speaking of no folders, how do you get any structure?

I have some coworkers who are VERY proud of their well-architected hierarchical folder system. In Gmail, no hierarchy. New users better get used to the Search feature as the main way of retrieving archived mail.

3. Speaking of archived mail… why does it not mean archived mail?

In Outlook, archiving is for transferring the gargantuan weight of antiquated emails that you’ll probably never look at again. You don’t mess with it and just wait for it to automagically do its thing every few months. In Gmail, archive means scooting emails out of your inbox. That’s all. No big deal.

4. What about threaded conversations? That seems pretty intuitive

This is one of the low hanging fruits that make people fall in love with Gmail right away. Especially in government, we enjoy ridiculously long email trails. With threaded conversations, all that back and forth shrinks to one email in your inbox. But it does get tricky when the conversation branches. Sometimes you don’t want to reply all and it could get complicated. Expect a few oops from new users.

5. What about printing my emails?

Something else that government employees love to do… print emails. I don’t know why, but you’ll always find printed emails in the forgotten pile around print areas. With threaded conversations, some folks might not want to bother fishing through threaded conversations and just hit the “print all” button on the side. Or some will forget that if you just want to print one message, you’ll have to select from the drop down menu. Either way…printing could get tricky.

And two features that Google is touting that scares me

6. I can chat from my inbox? How awesome!

Many agencies already have instant messaging, but the reason it’s not ubiquitous is because agencies don’t want to deal with the policies. Now that it’s in Gmail, you’re instant message is automatically saved and searchable. Imagine what this does for e-discovery. Now when someone demands all records related a project, you can include all the chat conversations with it. And you know how professional people sound when they’re instant messaging… (that was sarcastic).

7. Google is proud of its storage space blowing away the competition

I’m not sure this is a good thing. Yes, it’s annoying to get the “Your mailbox is over capacity” email, but that forces employees to archive and delete deadweight. Now without that restriction, watch email management of attachments go even more crazily out of control.

Overall, I’ll be cheering the City of Los Angeles onwards in their endeavor, because I believe Gmail is superior to Outlook. But it’s so tremendously different that it will take a long time for the majority of new users to figure it out. Hopefully, with their extensive training plan, they can emerge as a pattern for other agencies to follow.

The Craigslist Effect on Government Transactions

July 13, 2010 2 comments

Over the past decade, government has become very good at putting applications and services online. Visit any state web site and you’ll find hundreds available at your fingertips. However, if you look at the statistics of many applications, such as vehicle registration and driver’s license renewals, adoption rates are still incredibly low.

There really is no point comparing the advantages of going online versus going into a brick and mortar building.  We’ve heard them for so long they’re now clichés:

  • Open 24/7/365!
  • No more waiting in lines!
  • Do business in your pajamas!

Government has every incentive to drive usage to their online applications because it’s stupendously cheaper and more efficient than staffing physical offices. Citizens have every incentive to go online because, well, you can do it in your pajamas. To keep the clichés rolling, sounds like a match made in heaven.

So, the million dollar question that every program manager asks is:

Why aren’t more people going online to conduct government transactions?

Traditional explanations include:

  • Can’t trust the internet: security is always a risk, especially when personally identifiable information is involved
  • Don’t like extra fees: people don’t like paying extra for convenience
  • Digital divide: many people still don’t have access

Yes, these are factors, but they haven’t stopped people from going online to do other kinds of business in the private sector. I’d like to offer another important factor I call the Craigslist effect.

Craigslist continues to be the dominant online community marketplace, despite keeping the same boring 1.0 interface they’ve had since the mid-nineties…. despite adding few functionalities relative to the rest of the online community… despite competition from two of the internet’s biggest players in Facebook and Amazon… Despite it all, Craigslist is still the default service for buying and selling goods and services in your community.

I believe a big reason is because it takes a lot of effort for people to change the way they do things once they’ve been doing it comfortably for a period of time, no matter how attractive a replacement may be. Many people know about going online to renew a driver’s license, but they don’t know exactly how it works or what happens to their information, whereas they know EXACTLY what to expect when they go into an office. In addition, there’s always a learning curve when trying something new, regardless of how intuitive and usable the new system is.

So, once you couple the comfortability of the old with an inexperience of the new, you get another cliché: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

I’m not a professional researcher and I don’t have tons of empirical evidence to support this idea. And I understand drawing parallels between government and Craigslist is stretching it a bit. But I have talked to a good number of folks and it seems that a common denominator is that they’re fine doing it the way they’ve been doing it, thank you very much.

Even though adoption rates are relatively low now, the numbers will climb steadily as generational habits change. But in the mean time, there will still be plenty of folks lining up at the local government office, just like how there are plenty of folks that continue to use a plain and undecorated marketplace like Craigslist.

What do you think? Are there other significant factors that keep people from doing government business in their pajamas?