As state emergency managers keep an eye on an approaching Tropical Storm Isaac they'll be communicating, at least for a few hours overnight, without email.
The state recently cancelled a contract with Xerox to upgrade all of state government's email systems to one unified platform. But the cancellation, due mainly to disagreements over the cost and timeline for completing the project, happened after several agencies had already switched over to the new system.
Now that the contract has been cancelled, those agencies that had already made the move must change back to their old state email programs. The switch time, beginning Wednesday evening, was set before officials knew that a growing storm would be heading into the Caribbean just as Republican convention-goers are preparing to head to Tampa this weekend.
State Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon said top state officials believe that the return of basic email functions to a state server can be done quickly and without major problems.
"Hopefully that goes smoothly, we've got a lot of folks working on that," Koon said Wednesday. "It should go quickly and smoothly, it's just going to be in the overnight hours."
While acknowledging that the timing was "unfortunate," in light of the approaching storm, Koon said it's better to switch the email now, rather than over the weekend when Isaac is expected to be nearing Florida.
"If we've got to do it, (Wednesday) is the time," he said.
Emails going out from workers at the Division of Emergency Management on Wednesday noted the outage, telling recipients that employees were expecting to not have access to emails from 5 p.m. Wednesday until "mid-morning" on Thursday.
Overall across state government, about 5,400 workers will see their new emails go down this week for a switch back to a state system.
Besides, DEM, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Economic Opportunity, the Department of Revenue and several smaller agencies, are also losing email for a period this week to switch back to old email systems. The DOT is the largest agency that has to make the switch, with 2,800 email addresses that have to be migrated.
John Wade, director of the Southwood Shared Resources Center, which supports state email systems, said moving the basic send-and-receive capabilities of users' emails would be done by Thursday, but that wouldn't fully complete the process.
"This move is just the first part," Wade said. "Next, we have to return all the history and archive data, which takes a little longer." That means employees in those agencies may not have complete access to old emails or even contact lists.
The new statewide email system was supposed to be implemented this year. but legislators --in particular Rep. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring --became concerned about the timeline and the cost. Grimsley has said she had become skeptical that the system would be completed on time, and concerned that ultimately not only would the contractor not meet savings projections, but that the project could actually end up costing the state money. Lawmakers de-funded it this year and cancelled the contract.
Xerox has denied that there were any serious problems, saying it was on track to move 115,000 total mailbox accounts from 33 individual email systems over to one and would have completed it by October, two months ahead of the contractual deadline.
While the company has declined to say what steps it may take now, it has hinted that it may sue over the issue.