How Microsoft Is Taking Over The World (Or At Least The Enterprise)

A Q&A With The State Of Nebraska’s CIO

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Steven Lerner

It is often said that too much of a good thing can be bad, but try telling that to enterprises that are leveraging all of its tools from one service provider.

Today, state governments are under intense pressure to provide adequate services to citizens while reducing costs. That means state government IT departments need to make some changes. Chief Information Officer Ed Toner of the State of Nebraska has found an interesting way to cut costs and modernize: by moving solutions away from almost all other vendors and only using Microsoft’s solutions.

Like other organizations, the State of Nebraska previously had an enterprise agreement with Microsoft that includes a bundle for all of its solutions. In addition to popular solutions such as Office 365, Exchange, and Azure, Toner and his team looked at all of the products in the enterprise agreement. The goal was to use as many as those tools as possible in order to replace tools from other providers that are being paid separately.

By switching everything to Microsoft, Toner hopes to lower the total cost of ownership across the state and increase interoperability.

“Whether you use them or not, you’re already paying for them,” said Toner.

A 2018 study from Synergy Research Group found that Microsoft controlled 17% of the enterprise SaaS market — far ahead of any other provider. Is Microsoft really taking over the enterprise? What are the benefits of switching all tools to a single provider? Enterprise Digitalization interviewed Toner to see what progress has been made.

Enterprise Digitalization: Could you give some examples of services that you are now leveraging through Microsoft?

Ed Toner: Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) tools. These are the tools that you use at your service desk. We use Microsoft Service Manager and it has all of the functionality and interfaces very well with our Microsoft toolset. We went with Service Manager because we're paying for it with our enterprise agreement. Essentially, it was no additional cost. We let go of other ITSM tools that we were using across the state. We just use the one tool for all 71 agencies.

ED: What about for managing devices?

ET: There’s Intune, our mobile device management (MDM) tool. There are many good MDM products out there, but Intune came with our Microsoft enterprise license. We deployed that. I'll admit, it's harder to deploy than some of the others, but there's certainly a payback, because the other products are going to cost you anywhere from $2 to $4 a month per device. Intune licenses for all devices that we own, and we don't pay any monthly fee. With the thousands of devices that we have, you can imagine how much that would add up. We've saving tens of thousands of dollars over a course of a year.

ED: What about for a directory service?

ET: We're having all of our products authenticate against Active Directory, Microsoft's identity management product. When you log in to our domain, it's all going to Active Directory. All of our products are moving towards using that same sign-on. We've reduced calls to the service desk by 80% for password resets. We did that because we're trying to eliminate all those multiple passwords, and we utilize Microsoft's self service password reset tool.

ED: What about a customer relationship management (CRM) tool?

ET: We are looking at that right now. Dynamics 365 is a low code application, and we're looking for it as a business-to-customer front end portal. We're doing that because we can eliminate some of our authentication tools that we have in place. We could go in there and use Dynamics 365 and have the same look and feel like with private companies. Our citizens can go in and sign up and it is very much like any other type tool where you could go ahead and use the same credentials as social media. When you're doing business with the state, it's like you're doing business with anyone else.

ED: What other Microsoft tools are you leveraging?

ET: Another tool that saved us money was Multi-Factor Authentication. We use Microsoft's tool. We also use Power BI, their business intelligence tool. We started cautious about putting everything in the cloud. We actually have Active Directory in the cloud and on-prem. We're going to save some money because we're going to move off-prem now, and just leave it in the cloud, because it's really proven to be a very viable product and we don't have any concerns with it. That'll save is on hardware. The next year we're committed to getting at least 75% of our users in the cloud with Exchange. All the email accounts will be up there. Again, we'll save on hardware costs and storage costs.

ED: What future Microsoft migrations are you planning?

ET: We're going to pilot Microsoft's OneDrive, and make that the standard across the state. We're going to move away from other collaboration services. We're going to go to Microsoft Teams and again, that will cut costs. We're piloting it right now to see if there's anything that we're missing, but we think it's a good replacement. This year, we're committed to doing one more project, and that is Advanced Threat Protection, which is offered by Microsoft right now. If Advanced Threat Protection can, as advertised, provide is the same protection as other services, we could see several hundred thousand dollars worth of savings there.

ED: How much do you estimate that you're saving by migrating all of these services to Microsoft?

ET: Right now with the replacement of choosing Microsoft over other services, we can conservatively say we're saving at least $500,000 a year when compared to low-end tools. Those are the things that are in place today. We'll save more when we get our on-prem to the cloud because we'll end up saving storage costs, and we'll save on hardware.

ED: In addition to the cost savings, are there other benefits?

ET: Absolutely. The seamless interface of using the same vendor products because they built these to work with each other. We actually know that when we go to the cloud, it will be even better. There is some additional security functionality once we go to the cloud.

ED: Are you concerned that you might be losing out on any capabilities by switching everything to Microsoft's solutions instead of the advanced solutions from other companies?

ET: Absolutely not. In my opinion, a good tool can be mismanaged poorly and you will really not get the use that you need out of it. I can name off the number of times that I've seen that. It's really what are the processes, what are the procedures, how are you using the tool? We put a lot of work into making sure that we put the processes and procedures in place before we ever put the tool in, to make sure that we got every single bit of functionality out of that tool. There is not a dime's worth of difference really between the Intune product and its competitors. There's absolutely no difference between Multi-factor Authentication through Microsoft and other products. We really feel like we're losing nothing and we are gaining interoperability that we would not have had with tool from other vendors.

ED: Do you find that other states are also moving everything to Microsoft?

ET: We're helping out with that. Minnesota called us, and they want to start using Intune. We're giving them advice on it. I heard that Montana was taking a look at some of the products that we're using to see if maybe they can replace some tools and lower costs.

ED: There are other organizations that are also moving everything to Microsoft. Are you concerned that Microsoft is taking over the world, or at least taking over the enterprise?

ET: The way that it's bundled in the enterprise licensing, you're paying for things that if you don't use them, you're leaving money on the table. I believe Microsoft is clearly taking over and expanding, but until a viable competitor comes in and can present itself, they're the only game in town. Microsoft is taking over the world, but there's no one else. There is no competition really that can match what they're doing.