A Cold Front is Coming for Google Apps

Carrie Schmelkin : Gossip from the Hallways
Carrie Schmelkin
Web Editor, TMC

A Cold Front is Coming for Google Apps

Is Google on Santa’s “Naughty” list this year?

It may appear so as the search engine King is not on the receiving end of holiday cheer lately.

Today, Consumer Watchdog – a nonprofit consumer advocate group – cautioned the third largest school district in the nation, Chicago Public Schools, against implementing an email system from Google as it searches for a new system. It’s chief rationale? That Google was not able to successfully implement an email system for the City of Los Angeles, despite its reports to the contrary.

In a letter to the Chicago Board of Education, Jamie Court, Consumer Watchdog president, and John M. Simpson, the group’s Privacy Project Director, warned: “On its Google Apps For Government website the Internet giant cites Los Angeles as a success story. It is not. Rather it has been a saga of a series of missed deadlines, broken promises and an inability to deliver a system that meets security needs two years after the project was started.”

“In Los Angeles Google has been unable after two years to meet the security requirements of the Los Angeles Police Department,” wrote Court and Simpson. “This should not be surprising; the fact is that Google is an advertising company. This is where 96% of its revenue came from in 2010. It's not a computer services company, so the resources it devotes to serving governments and school districts are small and the errors Google will continue to make will be huge.”

Chicago Public Schools has asked for proposals to implement an enterprise email, collaboration and archiving system for 45,000 employees and 430,000 students by next summer. The request for proposals asked for a solution capable of meeting the needs of 500,000 users with the possibility of increasing to one million in the future. Google Apps is one of the solutions being proposed by seven bidders. 

The proposals are expected to be considered at the board’s Dec. 14 meeting.

And, according to Consumer Watchdog, Chicago Public Schools might want to pay extra close attention to its RFP from Google.

As the consumer advocate group contends, although Google was supposed to provide email service to about 30,000 Los Angeles city employees with help from CSC, Google managed to put only 17,000 city employees on the system. Even though the company assured the city two years ago when the project was launched that it could meet this demand, Google still cannot meet the security requirements of the Los Angeles Police Department and other city employees involved in law enforcement, according to reports.

And if the word of Consumer Watchdog is not enough, included in the letter is a statement Randi Levin, City of Los Angeles ITA general manager and chief technology officer, wrote Google last year about the problem.

She said, “These failures are wholly unacceptable to the City of Los Angeles. CSC and Google have repeatedly committed to meet particular deliverables on specific dates, only to reveal, at the last minute, that the set deliverables/dates will not be met. CSC and Google’s behavior goes beyond a mere failure to communicate in a timely manner, and instead, on several occasions, has risen to the level of misrepresentation.”

In today’s teaching environment, virtually everything is handled via email. Sure teachers might convene once a week for faculty meetings and have in-person conferences with parents, but these gatherings are almost always followed up with by emails – emails that delineate exactly what was discussed and in some instances students.

Crucial information is being sent via email every day – from a student’s test score to students’ IEPs (individualized educational plans) to information on students’ financial backgrounds (when you are talking about private schools and admissions). Imagine the travesty that can strike if the email system is hacked and this information is sent to the wrong school community member.

But don’t take my word for it. I asked my co-worker Rich Steeves, who was a teacher before heading over to TMC, to weigh in on the recent Google Apps issue and school security.

“Email is an increasingly important tool for educators. It allows them another avenue of contact for busy parents. A teacher can send an email right away in class, as soon as a child does something wrong (or right), instead of waiting for after school or a planning period to call home,” Steeves said. “In districts where students have email, too, that allows them another way to contact teachers. They can’t call us, but if they have email, they can drop us a line.”

“But if Google cannot provide security, this is an issue,” he added. “It would be a disaster if email, which oftentimes contains confidential information, is hacked. I think any district would value email security over most other concerns when selecting a vendor.”

Guess Santa’s helpers will have to check back in on Dec. 14 to see if Santa has changed his mind about bringing a lump of coal to Google Apps for the holidays.



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