HMRC Picks Google Apps Over Office 365 For Collaboration

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Internal HMRC documents will be stored on Google’s offshore servers under the new cloud contract

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) has confirmed it plans to deploy Google Apps to an undisclosed number of staff following six months of trials, choosing it over competitors including Microsoft’s Office 365.

The department said it will use Google’s cloud-based services including Google Drive, Google Hangouts and Google Docs, meaning that the documents involved will be stored on Google’s servers outside the UK.

Security concerns

SAPThe move, which HMRC called “ambitious”, could cause concern over the security of the sensitive documents handled by the department, which employs about 70,000 staff and collects £505 billion in tax and delivers £43bn in benefits annually.

HMRC said, however, that data protection was its “highest priority”.

“This contract will make it easier for staff to collaborate on internal documents, providing greater flexibility and efficiency, while reducing costs,” HMRC said in a statement.

“Following a successful pilot, we are planning to roll out Google collaboration tools to more people throughout HMRC later this year. We have carefully considered the protection of customer information and this remains our highest priority.”

The contract was initially reported after it was disclosed in a LinkedIn blog post by Google UK’s head of public sector sales David Fitton. In the post, which has since been removed, Fitton confirmed HMRC documents would be stored in servers outside the UK.

“The acceptance by HMRC that they can store official information offshore in Google data centres represents a major change and endorsement of Google’s approach to managing sensitive information,” Fitton wrote.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

Government rollout

The government has also chosen Google Apps for Work for document collaboration as part of the common technology services of the Cabinet Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), with Cabinet Office chief technology officer Tom Read saying in March that “careful legal and security assessments” of the service had been carried out.

“Detailed user research and lab testing showed that the Google Apps productivity suite best met user needs for the Cabinet Office and DCMS,” he said in a blog post at the time. “Other solutions (e.g. Microsoft’s 365 suite) also scored highly but the advanced collaboration and flexible working features of Google Apps were the best fit for our needs.”

HMRC launched a digital headquarters in Newcastle last year with the aim of assessing digital technologies.

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