City speeds police, fire, and other services and controls spending with a modern computing experience

The City of Corona, California, had an aging IT infrastructure that didn’t adequately serve the government’s or the public’s needs. To address the issue, Corona deployed Microsoft 365.

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“With virtualization and Microsoft solutions for automated maintenance and deployment … what used to be a four-day turnaround to resolve a computer problem may now take 10 to 20 minutes.”

- Chris McMasters, Chief Information Officer, City of Corona

Just 50 miles from Los Angeles, Corona offers its more than 160,000 residents sunny skies, warm hospitality, and a high quality of life. The city government’s IT department powers the software solutions that provide critical services ranging from police and fire fighting to libraries and street sweeping. As part of a mission to upgrade and better manage its IT environment, the City of Corona recently began migrating to the Windows 10 operating system and cloud-based Microsoft tools. Innovation is at the heart of the city’s initiative.

Investing in the present to prepare for the future

Adopting cloud technology is one part of the city’s steps toward modernization. Kyle Edgeworth, Deputy Chief Information Officer at the City of Corona, describes what drove the change, “Our IT infrastructure had traditionally been focused on an on-premises design for the past 20 years. Many solutions were homegrown rather than off-the-shelf solutions, so we weren’t realizing the economy-of-scale benefits of standardized Microsoft services.”

The city chose Microsoft 365 Enterprise E3 and turned to Microsoft FastTrack to lead the migration. “We participated in the FastTrack program to begin more efficiently moving our on-premises software assets to the cloud,” says Chris McMasters, Chief Information Officer at the City of Corona. FastTrack is a complementary service with some subscriptions that helps organizations like the City of Corona smoothly migrate to Windows 10 and Microsoft cloud services.

All these actions are part of the city’s plans to implement the modern experience that’s powered by Windows 10 and Office 365 ProPlus, with automatic updates and strong security delivered by the cloud. It aims to provide Corona with a rich user experience and help IT better manage devices and data, all with lower costs.

McMasters illustrates the immediate benefits the city gains, saying, “When you look at some large government organizations, they’re spending roughly $100,000 per user because they’re trying to maintain legacy systems. They spend so much money keeping the old stuff running that they don’t have the resources to implement innovative practices. Our city government was determined not to fall into that trap.“

Speeding innovation to speed service

Government bodies have a reputation for being slow to change and slow to innovate, but thanks to the support of the city’s leadership officials, Corona was determined to move forward. “When you’re pioneering new ways of working, you sometimes get pushback, especially because we answer to the public,” says McMasters. “Unlike the private sector, government isn’t motivated by fast ROI, so a risk-averse philosophy understandably dominates.” He notes that all too often, IT departments are seen purely as a cost center. “I think that some people look at IT as a group that just makes sure internet connections and email work. But it’s great to see tech-savvy officials recognize IT as a strategic resource for better citizen service.”

And that recognition has led to rapid upgrading. “In two years—just two years—our entire architecture has changed, and the change is still accelerating,” says McMasters. ”We moved from Windows XP to Windows 10, we’ve carefully completed a cloud migration that includes Office 365 ProPlus and other Office 365 tools for employees’ day-to-day work, and we’re adopting more efficient IT maintenance procedures.”

Updating made simple to boost IT productivity

Part of the efficient IT maintenance that McMasters refers to results from the upgrade to Windows 10. “A lot of our motivation to modernize our Windows environment was to create efficiencies that allow IT staff to use their minds instead of doing mundane tasks like racking and setting up servers,” he says. For example, with Windows Update for Business, Corona can deploy updates received through the cloud. Also, Windows Upgrade Readiness (formerly Upgrade Analytics) automatically identifies compatibility issues for Corona when an upgrade takes place and can suggest fixes. Thanks to these tools and to the city’s participation in the Windows Insider Program for Business, Corona is ready to deploy updates of Windows 10 (including prerelease versions) as soon as Microsoft makes them available.

Additionally, Corona has freed up IT staff time with Windows as a service, which delivers relatively small feature updates twice a year versus major revisions every few years. It automatically preserves all applications, data, settings, and configurations. Corona also takes a co-management approach to managing device and application workloads across Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager and Microsoft Intune, as the city prepares for a greater transition to the cloud. That is, co-management helps the city concurrently manage its Windows 10 devices by using both Configuration Manager and Intune as a cloud-attach from traditional to modern management while using a phased deployment.

Says Edgeworth, “We now have a way to see in advance which of our devices we can upgrade. We also save effort by letting Microsoft automatically push the updates for our devices through Intune.” And, he adds, “With Intune, it’s easy for me to verify that everyone has the latest versions and updates. This is a much easier upgrade model than anything we’ve used before.”

Tuning in to gain efficiency

Intune plays an important role in how Corona monitors and updates the city’s key IT software. By automating IT deployment procedures, Corona can reduce time spent on routine tasks. “We were able to immediately change from doing all our updates on-premises to doing them remotely through Intune. It was literally just flipping a switch,” says Edgeworth. “Intune now monitors all the city’s connected Windows devices. Our rings are solid. Always. It’s been a 100 percent success. That’s unheard of in our business.”

As an example of efficiency that extends beyond IT, Edgeworth further notes that police and firefighters need their devices for extended periods before they can bring them in physically. For instance, fighting a wildfire might take several days. “I need to maintain devices in the field to make sure they’re safeguarded and up to date,” he says. “That’s where Intune is an ideal solution. I’ve been quite surprised by how easy the process is. The ability to keep devices in the field longer while not affecting security or performance prompted our Fire Chief to tell us how great it is to have an IT department that’s delivering real value to his crews.”

McMasters adds, “It’s rewarding for us to hear that our IT modernization efforts translate into better service from city employees as they serve the public.”

Saving through virtualization and automation

The city is currently testing Citrix virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) software based in the cloud to power Windows devices. (With VDI, a desktop operating system is hosted on a central server.) A pilot project is underway to outfit the city’s police cars with such devices. Corona expects to eventually expand the solution to include fire, water, and other departments that rely on employees who are mobile. A primary motivation is to provide continuity of service during emergencies. “We sit near the San Andreas fault, so any modernization effort has to take natural disasters into account,” says Edgeworth. “VDI gives us additional capability in that area.”

McMasters adds, “How will we continue police and fire operations if we have physical structures that are destroyed or unable to be occupied? A VDI approach is helpful for dealing with that. We have a mobile command center that the police can roll out, and as long as we have cellular access, we’re good.”

Beyond continuity of service, VDI offers the City of Corona lasting value in terms of IT service. Says McMasters, “With virtualization and Microsoft solutions for automated maintenance and deployment, we’re saving money, reducing IT response time, and accelerating ROI. What used to be a four-day turnaround to resolve a computer problem may now take 10 to 20 minutes.”

The modernization efforts are already paying off. In addition to VDI specifically, much of the TCO savings comes from running applications in the cloud in general. And even for the remaining on-premises solutions, server virtualization offers savings as well. “Too often, when evaluating cost, people don’t take into account the labor resources to maintain a physical server or to cool it, power it, repair it, and provide space for it,” says McMasters. “Compared to how much the City of Corona used to spend on energy and cooling of servers, we’re now saving 19 percent and expect that number to continue to rise as more servers continue move to Microsoft Azure.”

Developing a close corporate relationship

McMasters notes that working closely with Microsoft and taking advantage of FastTrack during this project has made it an ongoing success. “Microsoft has been instrumental in helping us achieve our goals. And it’s more than just talk,” he says. “The truth reveals itself in what the relationship produces. Our modernization project is giving us an IT environment that serves the city and its citizens with efficiency, safety, and value. To me that’s a real success story.”

Find out more about the City of Corona on Twitter and Facebook.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.