In a recent article published on CNNMoney.com called "The Hidden Cost of Google Apps," Jonathan Blum discusses an 12-person experiment his company undertook with Google Apps. In the article, he outlines both the collaborative benefits of apps as well as some of the shortcomings. The premise of the article is that "throwing out" your current messaging and calendar solutions and replacing them with Google Apps is a potentially disastrous thing for a company to do.
Google Apps Disastrous? Certainly possible. But the potential for disaster DOES NOT lie in the product itself, but rather in how an organization introduces change. In the article Blum describe his users as "struggling", flat-out refusing to use the application, and floundering with login issues (which in his defense can be confusing...I'll clarify and offer some hints on that later). Appirio, on the other hand, has executed successful Google Apps migrations for extremely large companies. The cost savings have been in the millions. The most recent was a large biotech company which migrated their entire corporation from Oracle calendar to GCal. The migration was hugely successful, with 9,800 users successfully logged in on the first morning to do their work.
So the question really is "what's different?" How did a company of thousands migrate users successfully while Blum had near rebellion with 12?
The answer: a carefully planned rollout and an understanding that you are changing the game for your workers. Our customer took the time to identify champions and put forth a thoughtful communications and training campaign. They made change exciting and fun for their community. The results spoke for themselves. The support war room that had been planned to be open for several weeks after the deployment was closed because of lack of issues within 2 days.
Our tough message for Jonathan Blum? You are asking your users to step away from the very tools that make them productive on a daily basis. You have to plan and train people for that change. You can't just "throw out" their tools and expect them to maintain their current work load, while learning new tools, and remember a long URL string! Over the last decade, employees have invested time and energy in becoming proficient and productive with MS Office. These type of communication and collaboration solutions are truly core to our productivity as knowledge workers. Change is never fun-- investing in the training and development of your staff is necessary to keep them innovating and productive.
Google Apps represents a shift in mindset as much as it is a replacement of a tool. Instead of rolling out Apps with "tough love," you should encourage the adoption and foster the creativity that this tool set promises to deliver. Recognize that employees want to do good work and be productive, and give them tools like Google Apps that millions of consumers love to use.
But back to the login issue that Blum highlights in his article: No doubt at first glance the login situation with Google is confusing. You have the concept of personal Google Accounts and your Enterprise Apps accounts, and the two things can and often do have the same account name and password. A personal Google Account is similar to MS Passport, simply a means of verifying your identity. To add to the confusion you often do have many different logins for different services Google offers. It is clearly an area that has caused frustration for users and something that Google will have to address eventually.
Much of the confusion can be eliminated however during the provisioning of your Apps instance. Setting up any messaging infrastructure takes planning and consideration. Google has included some great tools to help including Single Sign On support and the ability to restrict access to a certain IP range. Many partners including Appirio, have created tools to bulk provision large numbers of accounts and provide synchronization with Identity Management systems such as Active Directory. Apps is a sophisticated solution and one that can and does meet the needs of many organizations. All it takes is a planning!
Here is some tactical advice to help Blumsday (free of charge!)
- Create a Cname record, and train users to go to "mail.blumsday.com" for email. It is much more intuitive than "www.google.com/a/blumsday.com/
- Spend some time and train your users. If all of your employees are spending 30 mins a day, it won't take much effort to improve their efficiency and your ROI by delivering a training class or two. Poll your users on what their issues are and address them...stop making them frustrated and unproductive!
- Create help desk procedures. Treat Google Apps support just as seriously as you would any installed software support issues.
At the end of the day, Google Apps is not complicated-- the feature set is actually far simpler than the MS Office counterparts. This simplicity of user experience, however, supports collaboration features that will change how your people work. Video chat, corporate video sharing, online presentation capabilities, having multiple people work on a single version of a document at the same time... all in a package which gets better and better automatically every quarter. Throw in the ability to shut off the Exchange servers and stop sending back up tapes to offsite storage, and the story becomes simply amazing for $50/year.
The business case for Google Apps is fool proof - unless you approach the change and migration foolishly.