The migration of Parliamentary mailboxes to Office 365 has left some ministers in a muddle, and caused others to question why the Houses did not decide to use the "free" alternative from Google.
The Office 365 migration began in January but was delayed due to an unrelated network upgrade cockup that led to web outages and capacity woes. Some 1,800 mailboxes have now been moved over.
In a House of Commons debate, John Thurso, Lib Dem MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said was aware of complaints about Microsoft's online productivity suite.
"The most common cause of a call to the service desk after the mailbox migration has been to request help to follow the process for logging into the new mail box for the first time," he said.
The second most prevalent concern related to mobile devices, with email not working on the devices until they are reconfigured to point to the new server. Funny that.
"Blackberry devices need to be physically reconfigured by PICT (Parliamentary ICT), and this process can take over an hour … in addition, new security features have made it difficult to synchronise some Android devices with mailboxes," Thurso added.
A report has been commissioned to look at the service quality of Office 365 and findings are expected back this month.
Helen Goodman, Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, said that she and "many other members" are having "considerable difficulties" with IT services in the house.
"For example, Office 365 seems to require people to have 20:20 vision, and the average age of a member of this House is 55. It is proving extremely difficult," she said.
Thurso said "very considerable benefits will accrue" from moving to the cloudy suite, and a pending revamp in organisational and management structures, "will help get us to the place we all want to be more quickly".
He didn't expand on this, and was interrupted by Robert Halfon, a Conservative MP for Harlow, questioning why PICT did not migrate to Gmail "which is completely free" and Google Docs.
"Then we do not need to spend thousands of pounds on things such as Microsoft 365," the MP added.
Thurso said he was "grateful" for the "suggestion", and digressed to talk generally about the benefits of cloud to employees with multiple devices, and of the savings compared to on-premise wares.
The migration to Offce 365 cost the taxpayer £355,667 in fiscal '14 and is expected to cost £144k in fiscal '15, it was revealed. The estimated savings are expected to be £423k in fiscal '15, ramping to £2.5m by fiscal '20.
Labour MP for Huddersfield Barry Sheerman pitched in close to the end of the PICT debate by asking why there were so few female techies working in the ICT department.
"Why is it that so many men are employed in PICT? There are hardly any women at all. What's going on in recruitment here? Surely we believe that women can do this kind of task in a way that is equal to, if not better than, men," said the leftist firebrand.
Thurso talked about the House Service being committed to diversity but would need to look into the matter. We expect it will be a matter of case closed …
As for Office 365, the remainder of migrations are due to take place by the end of this month, much earlier than sources had predicted following the network calamity earlier this year. ®