Companies are finding the move to cloud software is easier and faster than the tortured process of shifting between server-based software. Witness the experience of Australian wireless telco Big Air.
“I think we’re unique in adopting Google Apps overnight,” CEO Jason Ashton says. “You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you” how long it took.
BigAir, a licensed telecommunications carrier since 2002, owns Australia’s largest wireless microwave network. It covers the eight largest metropolitan cities, or 75 percent of the addressable business market, Ashton claims.
The company’s CFO trialled Google Apps for two weeks, then expanded the trial to Ashton and four others for another couple of weeks.
“We literally just made a decision that we were going to do it and then we cut the whole organisation over. The whole process from go to whoa probably took two months. The migration was so quick, you just open up the doc and save it as a Google version,” Ashton says.
Ashton says there were no complaints from any of the 50 staff, although he admits that the company is unusual in that almost all are technically savvy and young.
“I’m 39 and I’m one of the oldest people here. The majority of our staff are early to mid-20s, they are pretty quick to adapting to these things,” Ashton says.
Big Air’s IT literate employees quickly discovered a number of ways to improve the way the business functioned.
Cloud email versus desktop email
Ashton says he has changed how he manages his emails since moving to Google Apps’ Gmail. He used to create “thousands” of folders in Microsoft Outlook on his PC. As a result Outlook’s PST data file was enormous and quite complex, he says.
“The problem with that is that once it reaches a certain size things start getting a bit slow and then if something breaks you have to go through the whole “scan PST” palaver and it’s a nightmare.”
He imported the most recent 50,000 emails using the Outlook Exporter plugin which uploaded the emails to Google’s servers overnight. Ashton immediately noticed that Gmail doesn’t need to store emails locally which removes the clunkiness and delay he experienced with his large Outlook file.
Another change was that Gmail uses labels instead of folders. One advantage is that a single email can carry several labels, and there is no need to duplicate an email by copying it to multiple folders. However, Ashton only creates labels for a few critical topics.
“I don’t bother putting things in folders any more because I find the search function in Google is so quick. I find that process versus (creating folders in) Outlook is just a little bit smoother and less likely that things are going to break or go wrong.”
Big Air has also created team calendars which are shared with management. Ashton can log into the calendar for the service delivery, network operations or engineering teams and see the projects they are working on that week.
Saving time with multi-user editing
One of the greatest improvements to office productivity is the ability for mutliple users to edit the same document simultaneously. This has brought several benefits.
Co-editing has slashed the time it took to create documents such as internal presentations for the monthly staff meeting which is held in three offices over a video-conferencing link.
Ashton used to draft a presentation in PowerPoint and email it as an attachment to several line managers who had to add their own slides. This process needed to begin several days before the meeting because there would be several rounds of emailing the draft presentation between colleagues.
“Some people only get time to do that stuff at night so you have got to get the timing right,” Ashton says.
Now with Google Apps Ashton can create a new presentation, email invitations to share it with the line managers who can add their slides at exactly the same time.
“I can see everyone editing their slide while I’m editing my slide, I can make comments or edit something on their slide I’m not happy with and vice versa. You can have five or six people all editing the same presentation in real time.
“It tends to happen quicker because people know that they’re watched as well!” he says.
Next page: Cost savings and the end of versioning
The simplicity of a single version
Another benefit is that Big Air staff create documents for the smallest things because they know it will exist online permanently and be added to over time.
“You just create the document and share it immediately because it’s a living document now and you can see that it’s actually going to be used. Whereas when it’s an attachment you can send it off once and people say, ‘Oh that’s great’ but no-one bothers to update it, and then who’s got the latest version, and (two people edit) at the same time” and create multiple versions.
Versioning was a problem in particular with the budget. Ashton frequently asks his finance team for the budget and had to check whether he had the latest version or a draft.
“Now there is only one copy of the budget or the monthly accounts so I can open that up at any time and I can be editing or viewing it at the exact same time as they are editing it.”
Big Air tested out Google Spreadsheet by using it for their full 2012 budget, a 25-sheet monster with links to other spreadsheets.
Ashton says the end result “worked fine” although it wasn’t as slick in some areas such as graphs. Excel-only features such as left-hand and right-hand side graphs and the ability to format different lines and sets of data were judged to be not essential compared to the benefits of online collaboration and having a single version of each document.
“I can’t tell you how enlightening that was, that I don’t have to ask for the latest version. If there’s something I’m unhappy about, like the format of the monthly board report, I can edit it myself knowing full well that that’s locked in. Rather than passing the message on hoping it gets to the right person with the final version of the document and (the edit) gets included,” Ashton says.
Ashton says the cost savings in moving to Google Apps are “enormous”, although not immediate.
Big Air already has Microsoft Office software licences but in future won’t spend money updating them which Ashton estimates will save the company hundreds of dollars per desktop over several years.
Big Air continues to use Microsoft Office on the desktop for documents which don’t translate well to Google Docs, such as diagram-drawing application Visio. Ashton says Google Apps is sufficient for the vast majority of day-to-day tasks.
Another bonus is information security. No data is saved to devices themselves so if an employee loses a laptop or smartphone “it’s no big deal”, Ashton says.
“You just log back into your Google account and bang you have got it all there. Nothing is stored locally that’s critical any more.”
Hardware savings will be just as substantial. “We won’t be refreshing PC hardware so readily. We won’t be buying servers or upgrade them,” Ashton says.
The three-person IT department will no longer need to spend time troubleshooting problems with desktop software or managing the four Exchange and SharePoint servers.
Instead the IT technicians are creating better interfaces on customer-facing applications to encourage greater interaction, and improving the monitoring of the network.
“For $4 a month it’s incredible value. I’m worried that if we keep telling Google that they might put the price up,” Ashton says.