Customer Story

Multnomah County: Keeping its employees connected using G Suite—on site or on the road

Mt. Hood in the background of Portland

Since deploying G Suite a decade ago, Multnomah County’s operational efficiency has flourished due to a grassroots employee movement to collaborate in the cloud.

Google Cloud results

Meet video meetings have gone from 35 to 1,200 per day during the COVID-19 pandemic

• Using G Suite to adjust to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic
• Created a collaborative culture and reduced user dependence on IT
• Empowered employees to become “champions” of new cloud technologies
• 95% of employees said G Suite training was immediately applicable to their jobs

“All paths led to Google. Google was selected for its winning features and as the most cost-effective platform for the future.” —Tracey Massey, Deputy CIO, Multnomah County

Prior to 2010, Multnomah County was committed to one vendor for its back-office tools and collaboration and suffered from severe infrastructure challenges with the systems in place. Employees were constantly running out of storage, having to delete email messages and documents to make space for new ones. Maintenance was time intensive and costly. Collaboration was inefficient, and employee productivity suffered from version-control issues. Multnomah County needed a new way to manage collaboration and productivity at scale.

In order to accomodate the county’s needs, forward-thinking then-CIO Sherry Swackhamer was determined to move the county to the cloud. Her goal was to support an increasingly mobile workforce with access to email, calendars, and work documents from wherever they were—not just when they were connected to the county network.

The county evaluated two cloud platforms and G Suite was the standout choice. “All paths led to Google,” recalls Tracey Massey, Deputy CIO of Multnomah County. “Google was selected for its winning features and as the most cost-effective platform for the future.”

The county moved on a “fast and furious schedule to get it done,” according to Dan Cole, the IT project manager who managed the initiative back in 2010. The county switched to a “big bang” deployment, migrating more than 4,000 accounts in just two days.

Evolving from just email to true collaboration

“The successful implementation of G Suite gave Multnomah County the confidence to be innovative and early adopters of the cloud. We were ready and able to embrace the cloud to solve a variety of technical and business issues.” —Sherry Swackhamer, former CIO, Multnomah County

Fast-forward to today. Although Google Cloud apps like Gmail and Calendar were the primary tools initially promoted by the county’s IT department, a groundswell of employee enthusiasm drove interest beyond email and calendar apps to using cloud apps and services to power more complex workflows.

For example, an administrator within the county health department wanted to understand the quality of care that patients were receiving from county clinics. The administrator’s team used Forms to create a survey—in nine languages—that enabled patients to fill it out online. Then, the team sent the data back to a centralized location, translated it, and synced it with a patient database using application programming interfaces (APIs)—all in a HIPAA-compliant way. This automated process now provides timely feedback to clinical staff that previously would have been too difficult or costly to collect and analyze.

Today, the attitude of employees is, “I have a problem. What can Google do to solve it?” says Kris Santoro, a technology trainer for the county. “Google has permeated the business practices of pretty much every level of our organization at this stage,” agrees Tim Kurilo, one of the county’s IT managers.

When attending county meetings today, it’s routine to have employees sharing a file in G Suite and viewing it on their devices rather than using the whiteboard. They talk, share the file, edit it, and brainstorm in real time. Entire teams can attend meetings and fully participate using enterprise-grade video conferencing with Google Meet. “This represents a huge change and is delivering tremendous benefits, even though we didn’t have our sights on collaboration when we began the project,” says Chris Clancy, one of the county’s IT managers.

Former CIO Swackhamer agrees. “Transitioning to G Suite accomplished most of our original goals—access to email and information anywhere, anytime, as well as cost savings,” says Swackhamer. “The successful implementation of G Suite gave Multnomah County the confidence to be innovative and early adopters of the cloud. We were ready and able to embrace the cloud to solve a variety of technical and business issues.”

Wider adoption solves more complex business challenges

Because the initial project was only focused on Gmail and Calendar, the shift to Docs has been transformational for the county. Just five years ago, only 20% of county employees used Google apps outside of Gmail and Calendar. Adoption has steadily grown, however, and as more employees embraced Docs, the training department added courses and support.

“And then we got to the tipping point where people started understanding the value of G Suite for collaboration—even though that wasn’t part of the original project—and suddenly nearly everyone was on board,” says Clancy.

Today, county employees routinely use all the tools available in G Suite to help them solve more complex business problems.

For example, case managers in the county’s Aging and Disability Services division and Veterans Services division use G Suite to send alerts when clients under their supervision engage in risky behavior. Previously, they had to copy and fill out a document template, then download and email it to a distribution list. It was a slow, cumbersome process. And the after-hours emergency support team would still need to manually search a database for notes on the client. Now, with Forms, case managers simply fill out and submit a form that automatically sends an alert to a Google group and populates a spreadsheet in Sheets for the teams providing 24-hour support. In Sheets, the spreadsheet also has a filtered view of daily reports, which provides a quick view of alerts that require special attention.

The county is also discovering new ways to use G Suite when interacting with external entities. For example, when building a new headquarters for its health department, the county needed a way to communicate with the numerous contractors involved. G Suite proved to be the answer. The county set up a folder in Drive as a cloud repository for shared documents, established workflows using Forms, trained the contractors, and “everything went very smoothly,” says Manuel Cuevas, IT project manager. The county took the same route when building a new courthouse. “Our project partners were big companies and were standardized on another platform, but we had no issues connecting and collaborating through G Suite,” says Cuevas.

Volunteer IT “champions” streamline adoption and mainstream modernization

“Forms, Docs, Sheets, and Slides allowed our teams to continue providing services to our constituents. The ease of rolling out updates, especially the most requested feature—tiled layout in Meet—means that we can keep improving the tools everyone uses.” —Bob Leek, former CIO, Multnomah County

As IT leaders know all too well, the greatest barrier to modernization is adoption. That’s why the Multnomah County IT department was pleasantly surprised to have the help of a group of self-selected support staff they’ve come to call their “champions.”

Three years ago, they noticed that an internal culture was building around G Suite and that early adopters from around the organization were spontaneously volunteering to train and support their coworkers. “As a culture, the county’s gotten much more comfortable with all the elements of G Suite,” says technology trainer Kris Santoro. “We’ve had an upward trend of growing enthusiasm.”

Although not officially part of the IT training effort, these employees were interested individuals who liked to learn things and share with others. When employees had a specific workflow problem, they went to these champions to solve it together using G Suite tools.

The unanticipated benefit? More rapid modernization, increased adoption, and higher user satisfaction, according to Santoro. “We now have these self-selecting champions on G Suite on almost every team in the county,” he says. “And although they started because they were curious about the functionality of G Suite, they actually became cheerleaders for all new cloud adoption.”

Keeping the county connected and working—from anywhere

The fact that the G Suite deployment went so smoothly was a big win for the IT staff. Five years prior to the G Suite deployment, IT had attempted to deploy a major new system—and users had rejected it. The successful deployment of G Suite changed the attitudes of employees toward IT, according to IT project manager Dan Cole. “And that it continues to go well is a strong point of pride for us,” he says.

Deputy CIO Tracey Massey was recently on a business trip and was able to remain productive during her flight by using G Suite apps, even while 37,000 feet in the air. “I worked on a multifactor spreadsheet in Sheets and on a presentation deck in Slides, it all worked seamlessly, and it was just great,” she says. Another added benefit? Because its cloud apps and services automatically update, her team will never face an IT upgrade for Google Cloud products. To sum up, Massey says, “At this point in time, I can’t imagine ever going back to anything else.”

G Suite also played an important role in helping Multnomah County adjust to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We knew that while many organizations would face a daunting challenge at the prospect of transitioning hundreds of employees to remote work, we were ready,” said Bob Leek, former CIO of Multnomah County.

Google Meet allowed county employees to see each other and collaborate in real time during meetings, despite no longer being in the same room. Multnomah County's Meet video meetings increased from 35 per day to 1,200 per day when employees began working from home.

In terms of the county maintaining continuity of services to the public, G Suite proved essential. “Forms, Docs, Sheets, and Slides allowed our teams to continue providing services to our constituents,” said Leek. And the simplicity with which G Suite updates are pushed out weren’t lost on Leek either. “The ease of rolling out updates, especially the most requested feature—tiled layout in Meet—means that we can keep improving the tools everyone uses.”