‘Workplace Road Map’ Helped State Parks Department Navigate Shift to Remote

Originally published on Techwire: ‘Workplace Road Map’ Helped State Parks Department Navigate Shift to Remote

Sometimes you get lucky.

That’s what happened to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which had successfully moved its Microsoft Office 365 systems into the cloud shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020. By having employees’ personal and department drives in the cloud, state workers had access to all their files when state offices shut down last March, said Clarence Mitchell, the project manager for the migration.

“It’s worked out really well. A lot of our employees like working from home, and they were surprised they were able to access everything from home that they could in the office,” he said. “Virtual Desktop allows employees to remotely connect with a desktop that provides all the functionality of being in the office. And having servers in the cloud allowed us to put out more remote desktops to service more employees.

“We also rolled out Teams, which allows for collaboration and communication. We rolled out Intune, which protects mobile phones, and also SharePoint online.”

The migration took place in partnership with Planet Technologies, a Germantown, Md., company which bills itself as the premier Microsoft services and cloud consulting firm for government. Jen Dodd, the company’s director for the Western region, said the migration project grew out of an earlier project the company had undertaken.

“Our first projects with State Parks were in early 2018, when the state was migrating out of the California Department of Technology’s supported and hosted email system and going to Office 365,” Dodd said.

“That laid the foundation. Now their emails were up in the cloud, but Parks also own all these other products, and we suggested they should probably get the most use out of these tools as they could. So we did a modern workplace road map with them, an assessment of where they were and how they could take their technology to the cloud,” she said.

Dodd said the company’s cornerstone principle is working closely with its government clients – 80 percent of the company’s business is with federal, state and local government agencies – to mentor them during any transition.

“When you put data in the cloud, you’re doing things that users may be nervous about. So we start with organized change management – training them for all the things we’re moving to the cloud (in this case, Microsoft’s Azure platform.) We took their personal files and moved them onto OneDrive for Business, making them more accessible. Before, you had to be in the office to access them or else use a clunky VPN.

“We also took the shared department files to SharePoint and replicated the file system so they could access those documents with the rest of their department and not have to be on-prem. And we had to make sure there was no data leakage,” she added.

Mitchell said the process took about six months and was handled in rolling phases. Planet would upload a server’s contents to the cloud and then it would be tested over a weekend by department staff to make sure everything was working properly. And the firm’s technical experts used the migration as hands-on training, while keeping a close eye on how department staff was doing.

Dodd said the mentoring approach works well.

“We rarely do projects where we’re not working with the client hand-in-hand and taking a mentoring approach,” she said. “Once we’re through the design phase, we’ll do a couple of test runs and then turn the keys over to them and let them do most of the driving. Parks has a large team of capable tech folks who were willing to do the test drives, provided they had someone behind them who could step on the brakes before they crashed into any barriers.”

Going forward, Mitchell said State Parks is planning to add Azure Information Protection, which adds artificial intelligence to detect possible threats based on pattern recognition.