Monday, July 9, 2012

How to make 'going Google' easier.

Over the past 12 months I've been working with a number of companies who have 'gone Google' and implemented Google Apps for their business email, calendar and document collaboration. So, what lessons have I learned so far?

Lesson 1: Don't run a pilot study!

Pilot studies are very much suited to products in active development as they allow your users to influence the next release and have it customised to suit. With all the will in the world this is not going to happen with Google Apps, any more than it would happen with Exchange or MS Office (rarely piloted products).

Like any standard software product, the judgement of its suitability is unlikely to come from a pilot study which will just inform you about what users prefer (and most people prefer to stick with what they know). A better approach is to conduct a full change impact analysis and consider the needs of the business over individual preferences.

Lesson 2: Change the way you work.  

The whole point of Google Apps is that you can work on email, calendar and docs from any location on any device. This is often a bigger challenge for the IT department and senior management than it is  end-users! If you don't like the idea of your users being able to easily collaborate and use their own devices, then stick with Microsoft!

Lesson 3: You can do this in less than 4 weeks. 

Once you've decided to use Google Apps, you can bring about the implementation (including the migration of calendar, contacts and recent emails from Exchange) in less than four weeks.  Agree a realistic amount of emails to migrate. One month is usually enough if users can still access the pst archives from Outlook when required (you can always migrate archives after go-live). Remember to plan for shared / public calendars and start your communication plan as early as possible.

Lesson 4: You can continue to use Outlook (if you must). 

A significant number of users will have an Outlook dependency, for example if their CRM product is MS Office integrated. This is easily worked around using Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook. It's still important to train your users how to use gmail though, particularly if they would like to work on other devices from other locations.

Lesson 5: Stop panicking, and just do it. 

If you've planned the migration and kept users informed, the transition will be much less of a nightmare than you ever thought it would be. If you are brave and decide to move the whole company over on the same day, you will probably make life easier for yourself. Users will adapt much quicker than you think and it's always better if you don't have to make your legacy and new system co-exist.  Finally, and of course I would say this, but if you can afford to get a specialist with experience, it will always help!

Ray Allen is a Google Apps Certified Deployment Specialist at Third Way IT.


  1. Very good article, thank you!

    May I ask (I am from South Africa), how much do you charge to consult a company, eyeing a 4 week implementation time?

    1. This will depend mostly on the number of users you are planning to migrate. There's an instant quote tool on the website which should help with this question. See:

  2. Ray - good tips. Most of the users we have implemented say they regret using Outlook and introducing a "mixed client" atmosphere. The web interface is very business-ready and efficient and solves a lot of issues.

    One other thing I would mention is to prepare a document for users to give them a view of "Life with Google Apps," especially Gmail and shared calendars. People have spent years generating hundreds of Outlook folders in some cases, and it is important to tell them that they won't need to waste time with this "file system" approach anymore - they just need to have a few Labels and then rely on Google Search. One of our large customers wrote an article for Google in which they said they save 30 minutes per day, per employee, by eliminating the hierarchical storage of email, and letting Google do what it does best; manage and search.

    Last - when we starting helping folks back in 2008, we used to use a Google Form to collect information on users' personal web-mail stats, and only about 50% used some sort of Internet-based email account. Today, it's about 96%. So the hurdles companies faced 4 years ago with user adoption and training don't exist as much today; their user community is accustomed to web interfaces, and many more users are familiar with Gmail and the Google Apps portfolio. The adoption curve is much smoother, and the Google tools to migrate existing "stuff" over to Google are much better.

    Tom Cooper

  3. Thanks for sharing Ray.

    Totally agree with you about only using Outlook where its an absolute necessity.

    In 2009, our Google Apps clients regularly had to keep using Outlook because a legacy application that would only integrate with Outlook.

    Fast forward 3 years, now we're seeing businesses moving to Google Apps for the exact opposite reason - because they have, or are about to adopt, a new line of business app that actually integrates better with Google Apps than Outlook. Fills their hearts with API-ness.

  4. Hi Ray,

    One of the problems I still find is - Calendar and being able to fix meetings with people who are not in the same domain - i.e they are clients or prospective clients.

    In many cases they have Outlook to handle their calendar, in others they have paper based diaries.

    In my experience so far, arranging a meeting and particularly re-scheduling the same when I am using Google Apps while the other is not using Google Apps is a painful experience.

    I would have thought that for small businesses who struggle with their calendars and unable to manage meetings with external parties, Google Apps Calendar would solve their problem. But it does not seem to be the case.

    What has been your experience in this regard when you have deployed Google Apps for Business for your clients. Is the interaction between Outlook and Google Calendar a pleasant experience?

  5. Hi Vivek,

    I've seen Google calendar evolve a fair bit (for the better) since starting, but I recognise the issue you describe for those users who aren't using Google Calendar. Often the issue is that they get two responses for an invite (the 'yes' requested by google, and the 'accepted' option provided by Outlook. But I haven't had an issue rescheduling with Outlook users, once they accept it does update their calendar. Google Calendar and Exchange are different systems but they do both use ICS so I've been mostly happy with the interaction. The real difficulty is when you try to combine use of both in the same domain (e.g. in a pilot study)! Google calendar connector helps, but it's not an easy option.


    1. Hi Ray,

      The problem I faced was a complicated one because the person I had sent an invite had a secretary who handled his calendar and she rescheduled the meeting - so on her boss's calendar the time was modified but I didn't get any notification at all. And then there was another issue which seemed to do with BST and GMT time zones. The sad part is the meeting was not fruitful in the end and in a way I blame this 'incompatibility' since it seems to have created a wrong first impression and there was no way for me to recover from that.

    2. Useful to hear about these gotchas. I did try to emulate your issue, but when trying to reschedule a Google invite on Outlook, I was helpfully told the calendar entry could only be updated by the meeting organizer which sounds like a good thing. Maybe this has been recently introduced?

    3. Version of Outlook in use?

      I am just wondering if the version of Outlook itself may have something to do with this - because the scenario you are describing is what your Outlook software told you - I very much doubt if it had anything to do with updates by Google - though I might be wrong.

      Outlook that I used to use a couple of years ago - was so painful to use to fix meetings with anyone who is not within the same Microsoft Exchange domain - so I am more inclined to say that depending on Service Packs and whatever else Microsoft calls them; your mileage may vary?

      I would be very glad if it is indeed an improvement done by Google but I think it is to do with Microsoft and their attitude of introducing 'competitive advantages' into their own products. In other words deliberately introducing incompatibilities with older version of software to coax people to upgrade their software so that Microsoft can make more money.

    4. I tried this with OWA on Exchange 2010 so it could well be a fix from Microsoft that stopped me changing the meeting invite.

      Calendars can be difficult to co-ordinate, particularly shared ones, but this is where I think Google has the edge on Microsoft.

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