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Did Google oversell itself to the City of LA?

Has the endless optimism and sunny disposition of the Google crew finally led them to bite off more than they could chew?

Reported trouble meeting security standards has stalled a high profile deal between Google and the City of LA to implement email and office software in the cloud, replacing on premise Novell GroupWise software. While 10,000 users have moved onto Gmail already, according to city CTO Randi Levin, and 6,000 more will move by mid-August, 13,000 police personnel will not be ready to switch from in-house to out in the cloud until fall.

Google and CSC have reimbursed the city a reported $145,000 dollars to help cover the costs of the delay. There was already a sense that Google was giving Los Angeles a sweetheart deal to prove that Google Apps was ready for big deployments; when we first reported this last year, it was noted that Google could give the city more than a million dollars in kickbacks if other public California agencies joined the deal, and that Google was flying-in teams of specialists to pitch and plan the move, something most customers don’t get.

Also in our original coverage, critics raised precisely these concerns; that the technology was an unknown, that there would be unexpected headaches, and that overall, choosing a technology system because Google wanted to prove something might not be the smartest way to set policy.

“Google justified its pitch by saying that the use of Google Apps will save a ton of money based on productivity gains, when everyone knows that when you put in something new, you never know if it will integrate [well] or not with existing technology,” said Kevin McDonald, who runs an outsourced IT systems management firm. That’s not prescient; that’s common sense. MarketWatch also reports that users are dissatisfied with speed and delivery of email and that’s a primary concern for the LAPD.

There was no word today on the fate of the “Government Cloud” that Google said it was building to support public sector users who had a regulatory need to have their data segregated and accounted for. Google originally said that the Government Cloud would be able to meet any and all concerns over privacy and security by the City of LA. Why that hasn’t happened ten months after the promises were made remains to seen.

Google was happy to gloss over potential roadblocks when the deal was announced, like the fact that the LAPD relies on its messaging system; email, mobile devices etc for police duties and maybe it’s right in claiming, as it often has, that Google can do security better, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that when the LAPD’s email goes out, the Chief of Police probably does not want to call Google Support and get placed on hold. He probably wants to be able to literally stand next to the server and scream at someone in IT until it’s back.

Maybe that’s an out of date attitude, but it’s one that is hard to shake, especially in the public sector. These people have been doing their jobs (well, showing up at the office, at least) for a very long time without Google; they are not prone to enjoy experimentation or innovation, and Google needs to recognize that and get its ducks in a row if it wants to become a serious contender for the public sector. The “perpetual beta” attitude that the company seems to revel in simply isn’t going to fly.

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