Nine Months With Google Apps

Google apps

Why We Moved to Google Apps

A big reason why we moved is that we felt it was time for the whole company to move to the cloud for basic documents. Google Drive (also called Google Docs) offers real-time, multiple user collaboration without the versioning and file location problems that most companies with a simple on-site file server will run into. Sharepoint does a decent job of hitting some of these problems but we weren’t Microsoft-centric enough for that to make sense. We needed business-class control over Google Docs.

Many of our staff are on Macs and Microsoft apps like Office and Outlook are just awful on Mac. The other thing we were seeing was a lot more staff expecting email and calendar access from mobile phones and tablets. On our hosted Exchange server, supporting all the various iPhones and Android devices was a bit painful, the webmail wasn’t fantastic, and there were always extra charges for extra access.

The Migration

We migrated email and calendar data over a weekend. Migration could be quicker for smaller companies but for us, the weekend was fine. We chose to phase in email/calendar separately from files to reduce the amount of support and change that we’d need to handle. We worked with Accurate Networks, a local IT company, to help perform the migration and after-launch support.

It took time to move the data from our hosted Exchange instance to Google Apps but critical information was available for Monday and all the old, archived data was moved within the week. After launch, some people struggled with which way to access email and calendars. Some hardcore Outlook users continue to use Outlook but most switched straight to the GMail interface. On Macs, some users tried using Mac Mail but ended up going to GMail after some time as well. The GMail interface offers awesome email search built-in and is snappy enough to use all the time. The Google Calendar interface has been a big upgrade as well. Our previous calendaring system was really slow when opening calendars that had a lot of entries, where Google Calendar is fast. It also has a smarter meeting room booking system and integrates well with both GMail and Google Docs.

Google Hangouts has emerged as our inter-office chat platform of choice and since they’re attached to our Google Apps accounts, it makes it easy for new people coming on. Where we used other chat clients in the past and had to have new people add dozens of “friends” to be able to use IM, they can now instantly message anyone within the Topdraw.com domain. Because Google Hangouts works on both desktop as well as iPhones and Android phones, it has been a great way to get in contact with co-workers to ask them a quick question that might not really need another email.

Getting new mobile phones on the system was super easy, since both Android and iPhone have excellent support for Google Apps.

2 months after migrating email and calendar, we migrated most files to Google Drive. We chose not to migrate all files, since some files (video, working graphics images) were very large and would take too long to work with in the cloud.

How Are Things Now?

It has been 9 months, what have we seen from the move?

  • Faster to add/remove/manage employee access.
  • Less spam gets through
  • Easier computer setup for new employees.
  • Fewer issues with clients not receiving emails.
  • Much faster to find files. The search functionality on Google Drive is excellent, as expected of anything from Google.
  • Much easier collaboration on documents. When we checklist a website prior to launch, we can have a designer, developer, SEO, project manager, and content strategist all working on a common checklist at once. We also get that collaboration on functional specs and other multi-department documents.
  • We cut costs for hosted email/calendar in half.
  • Training time for recent grads is essentially nil. MacEwan and University of Alberta both use Google Apps so grads know how to collaborate using Google Docs and manage email with GMail.

Should You Use Google Apps for Work?

I don’t think that Google Apps is for everyone. If your company runs on complex Microsoft Word, Exchange, or Excel customization or integration with other business processes, that can be costly to replace. It can also be difficult to train some entrenched users to use something new. But for new companies, companies with younger staff, or companies with a high level of technical aptitude, Google Apps makes a lot more sense.