This case study is from TJ Keitt's and my social business playbook report, “The Road To Social Business Starts With A Burning Platform.” A social business uses technology to work efficiently using a common collaboration platform — without being constrained by server availability or storage capacity. Here’s the story.

If you've already consolidated dozens of email systems from every vendor and era onto a single managed instance of Exchange 2007, made the shift to support 70 or more state agencies by operating as an ISP, and crunched 20 SharePoint instances down to a single scalable data center, what else is there to do? After all, you've already achieved a high state of IT operational efficiency and process optimization.

If you are Ed Valencia, CTO and Deputy Commissioner, and Tarek Tomes, Customer and Service Management, Assistant Commissioner, the State of Minnesota’s IT department (MN.IT), you step back and ask, “Has what we’ve done really helped the business communicate and collaborate efficiently and effectively?” They knew they could do more by moving their collaboration workloads into the cloud.

So they took a gamble that Microsoft's Office 365 Dedicated offering was ready for the State of Minnesota. Office 365 Dedicated has opened new doors for people throughout the State of Minnesota government. Agencies can collaborate with one another because the common collaboration platform integrates the disparate directories of the different government entities. For example, the Governor can send a message to every agency in the executive branch through this common platform.

The cloud makes it simpler for these government workers to access their email and workspaces when not plugged into the network. Large mailboxes mean that employees can spend time collaborating instead of cleaning out mailboxes. This flexibility took them "out of the rationing business and into the provisioning business." Is there a better position for an IT services group to be in?

The impact of Office 365 Dedicated on the IT organization is that MN.IT’s best and brightest aren’t spending their time maintaining servers and applying software patches. Instead, these valuable employees apply their skills and experience to solving tougher problems: helping people collaborate, bringing new groups on board, and being part of the business process improvement activities. And nobody lost their position as a result of this change, despite initial fears and skepticism in the staff.

So what went into this success?

First, when MN.IT decided to move into the cloud, they launched two projects: 1) Understanding the actual legal requirements (e.g. what does HIPPA actually say); and 2) what the risk is with using third-party solutions. Through this process, they found one version of cloud offering – at the time, Office 365’s predecessor, BPOS-D – met their legal and security needs. So, when the EUCC team brought Microsoft’s cloud collaboration platform before the state’s security officers, they were able to demonstrate how the solution adhered the letter of the law and minimized the exposure associated with a third party hosting their email and SharePoint servers. The lesson? When examining the legal and compliance issues don't ask the IT teams at the agencies; instead go "straight to the source," to the lawyers and compliance experts and to the law.

Second, the EUCC team spent 9 months planning and 1.5 months doing the migration. MN.IT anticipated and prepared for the migration not going smoothly, so the minor hiccups that did occur were not jarring for the group. They also had to ensure that the IT staff was bought-in: Many were skeptical about Microsoft’s ability to manage a large-scale collaboration software deployment and were worried about what hosted technology meant for their jobs. Since the deployment, IT staffers are impressed with the capabilities of Office 365 and embrace the new roles they are able to undertake now that they’re not managing email and SharePoint servers.