Digital Version of November/December 2014 Print Edition
State of Texas to use Microsoft’s Office 365 to house communication and collaboration capabilities in the Cloud
Microsoft's data center
More than one-third of the public employees who work for the State of Texas -- about 110,000 employees out of a total of 300,000 -- will participate in a statewide IT modernization strategy that will migrate the state’s communication and collaboration capabilities to the Cloud, with the help of Microsoft’s Office 365.
According to Todd Kimbriel, the director of E-Government for the Texas Department of Information Resources who spoke with Government Security News on Feb. 18, the Cloud services will be housed in a Microsoft-owned data center located in San Antonio, TX, which simultaneously houses data from other enterprise and federal government tenants. Kimbriel said security at the San Antonio data center is exceedingly tight. “Every person who touches the infrastructure must go through a background check by the FBI,” he noted.
Kimbriel recalled to GSN that the migration to the Cloud began within his own department, and began as a cost-saving initiative, with relatively little regard for the security aspects of the program. However, as other Texas state agencies -- such as the Department of Criminal Justice -- took an interest in the new Cloud services model, the state government and Microsoft began to work together to address some of the most-pressing security issues. At the top of that list was ensuring that end-users who work for the Department of Criminal Justice, as well as other law enforcement agencies, would be allowed to gain access to key criminal justice databases.
The state government has insisted that Microsoft build into its software platform the flexibility necessary to allow different Texas agencies to determine the authentication level that they will require of their employees and visitors to gain access to their networks and applications, explained Kimbriel.
A press release issued by Microsoft describes the Texas project as being “the largest statewide deployment of email and collaboration services in the U.S.”
Office 365 has already been deployed across multiple state agencies, including the Health and Human Services System, Department of Transportation, Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Information Resources, and Department of Insurance, with the Department of Criminal Justice and Alcoholic Beverage Commission coming on board soon. Kimbriel told GSN that there are about 175 agencies and educational institutions in Texas that could be eligible to participate in this new initiative. The move to Office 365 offers the state significant savings in IT spending because of greater efficiencies and increased capacity.
“No other solution provides the rich capabilities of Office 365, including webconferencing, real-time collaboration, and document and calendar sharing,” said Kimbriel, in a prepared statement. “Office 365 will increase efficiency and help our agencies better serve the needs of citizens without compromising on security or privacy.”
Compliance was an important factor in the state’s selection of Office 365. Several agencies, including Texas’ Department of Criminal Justice, Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Department of Insurance, and Health and Human Services System, require access to data that is subject to complex security and privacy regulations.
Texas Department of Information Resources and Microsoft Corp. worked together to support the state’s requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Criminal Justice Information Systems (CJIS), in order to maintain the state’s compliance posture and high standards for security and privacy. Microsoft has made a contractual commitment to the Texas Department of Information Resources by signing the CJIS Addendum in addition to a HIPAA Business Associate Agreement. As a result of this partnership, jurisdictions at all levels within the State of Texas, including cities and counties, will be able to take advantage of Office 365. Kimbriel told GSN that Travis County (in which the state capital of Austin is located) has expressed interest in migrating to the Cloud.
“Microsoft has been a long-standing strategic partner with a commitment to understanding and addressing the unique requirements law enforcement and health care practitioners must meet,” said Karen Robinson, Department of Information Resources executive director and State of Texas chief information officer. “The enterprise-class capabilities of Office 365 and Microsoft’s proven track record gave us the confidence we needed to move to the cloud.”
“We’ve worked hard to provide security and privacy solutions the State of Texas can trust,” said Michael Donlan, vice president for Microsoft’s State and Local Government business. “The familiarity of Office backed by deep investments in cloud security, privacy and compliance play an important role in how Microsoft is enabling city, state and federal agencies to move to the cloud.”