Dec 2, 2007

Energize Your Business The Google Apps Way

You're running a business with 5 to 200 employees, bought and maintained linux servers to run a host of different open source applications like: email server, instant messaging, document management system, project management, trouble ticket and etcetera etcetera. Then you suddenly end up in a maze of disjointed pieces of softwares worrying about maintenance for each and confusing users on remembering to log-in everytime they use a specific application.

See how Google integrated our company's communications into a single, efficient, and highly collaborative yet cost effective solution. Learn from our experience and make it work for you.

Yes, I have heard and seen about this seemingly ubiquitous name all over the internet and all I know at first about this company is advertising until very recently, I run into Google Apps and blurted out loudy – eureka! Much to my fascination I found what my users need for business collaboration and productivity at no extra cost. The concept of software as a service (SaaS) seem to appeal to companies our size. It is scalable, and need not maintain technical personnel to mange our communication requirements.

As an overview of our company setup prior to Google Apps, we have emails hosted from our primary webhost which are accessed from a variety of ways. Some users use Outlook, Thunderbird, GroupOffice (a web-based groupware), and the email host's online email interface. To support instant messaging requirements, we have installed jabber server in our in-house linux box and Knowledge Tree Document Management System software for document management. All of these softwares work pretty well on their own right but the complexity of maintaining different software applications becomes tedious and confusing to most end users. The most common problems of having many , non-integrated softwares are as follows:

  1. Too many databases to maintain.

    Many if not all softwares stores some form of data and these are kept in the developer's database of choice. We used to have only PostgreSQL database but after installing several applications, I ended up having atleast three(3) database types with four to five (4-5) different databases. Maintainance like user management become too tedious whenever we have new employees.

  2. Too many logins.

    One of the common complaints we encounter in our department is the end users' disappointment on logging in to many different sites whenever they want to use a service. Say for example a user who access email and document management system need to login twice to two different URLs. Another problem about this setup is when a user has different passwords for each service and forgets it.

  3. Inconsistent Look and Feel.

    Since these software are developed by several communities or companies, they designed their interfaces differently. Because of this, making our users learn the ropes of using these softwares becomes a very challenging tasks. Normally, they end up being frustrated and stopped using the softwares all together.

  4. Software and hardware upgrades.

    Each installed software requires different libraries that must be installed before it can run. Documenting and knowing all these seem to be very unnecessary. As the number of softwares grow, hardware requirement increases as well.

Google Apps is a collaboration platform service that manages emails, calendar, instant messaging and documents all in a single application. The highlight of this service is its collaboration where employees can literally work on the same page. In terms IT spending, we need not worry about hardware maintenance since these are all managed in Google's data centres. Here's a quick snapshot of what Google Apps is about:

  • Never lose an mail ever.

    Google's Gmail provides several ways to filter and search your mail. You don't even need to delete mails since they constantly increase their storage size daily. At the time of this writing, Gmail now has a whopping 5.3 GB of storage. More than any email providers you can find on the internet today which would only give you 2GB.

  • Share calendars.

    This time I can share my schedules on projects to my office staff. I can see all my staff's schedules as well. I can have my schedule remind me in a variety of ways, including through my cellphone SMS service.

  • Instant messaging.

    Instant messaging is integrated into Gmail. The best part of this is chat messages can be stored and searched just like your email. You can also call online or leave voice mails on your recipient's mailbox.

  • Share and collaborate documents.

    Intead of sending documents as an attachment, send documents as link and store them in a diferent repository. This way, you provide a central repository of document where users can access. This will prevent you from searching through heaps of emails just to look for a single attachment for a specific subject. You can even do real-time document collaboration with multiple users concurrently.

Google Apps and the Future

What's in store in the fute for Google Apps? Based on some reports Google (as it has always been) will provide more services and functionalities for its current set of applications. Here are some of the list:

  • Google Docs and spreadsheets' user interface will improve dramatically in the next coming months. It will have more formatting and editing functionalities much like of MS Office 2007. It will mostly like support additional file types or uploads such as pdf and image files.
  • Some reports also start to spread that Google will be adding a new service for remote online data storage. This will also translate to being added up into Google Apps service.
  • Since Google has acquried JotSpot, it is currently being redesigned to fit in to Google Apps. Anytime probably next year, you can add more services to your Google Apps other that ist current set. Wike applications like, trouble ticket, CRM, project management etc.
  • Google Phone will surely include Google Talk. This means you can talk to any online employees as long as you have internet connection.

Google Apps has provided an easy step-by-step migration from your old email system. I followed every single piece of instructions and advices until we had everything fully running. This is just our second week of Google Apps and will make a log of its development on my blog every now and then.

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