With 35,000 employees spread across more than 70 agencies, Minnesota's executive branch has complex collaboration requirements. Until recently, most state organizations managed separate IT systems supported by their own personnel, making communication across groups sometimes difficult. Sharing documents was challenging and information silos often led to duplicative work.

The state was looking for a communications and collaboration platform that was cost-effective, reliable and, most importantly, secure. The sensitivity of state data, including public safety and child welfare information, required a solution with the highest levels of enterprise security. After researching its options, the state found that a cloud-based solution best met the state's needs.

In September 2010, Minnesota announced it would become the first state to move its entire workforce to a cloud-based e-mail and collaboration environment, implementing Microsoft Office 365 for e-mail, video conferencing, online chat, document sharing and more. In a matter of six weeks during fall 2011, the agency migrated 39,000 mailboxes, 4 terabytes of data, and 66.5 million items to the new system.

Minnesota also has moved employees to an online collaboration platform that lets users work together on documents in real time. Managers use the social networking-style discussion board tools in Microsoft SharePoint to improve collaboration among geographically dispersed teams.

As a result of the move, Minnesota improved information-sharing across agencies; reduced costs of IT administration, hardware refresh, maintenance and deployment; and now has enterprise-class reliability and data security. Since the platform is enterprise-hosted, staff can shift their time from system maintenance to using the tools in innovative ways and helping others communicate and collaborate more effectively. For example, the state previously experienced challenges when sharing information with other agencies during a disaster or crisis. Now the governor can quickly communicate with all employees using one e-mail, simplifying the process.

"We now have what we consider one of the most advanced communication and collaboration ecosystems in the public sector," says Carolyn Parnell, Minnesota's chief information officer.