Ensuring a Successful Migration to Google Apps

Ann All
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10 Hot Google Apps for Productivity

Over the past few years, I've written about organizations that opted for Google Apps over productivity software from Microsoft, IBM and other companies. I interviewed small businesses using the same free edition of Apps available to consumers and later wrote about larger companies and government agencies using the paid enterprise version of Apps.


Companies aren't exactly adopting Google Apps in droves. It's unusual enough that those that do attract a fair amount of attention. Supermarket chain BI-LO's deployment of Google Apps was featured in an InformationWeek article in March and in a CIO.com article last week. BI-LO's decision was made easier because its installation of Lotus Notes was so old that IBM was withdrawing support for it.


Though his hand wasn't forced in quite as dramatic a way, former City of Orlando CIO Conrad Cross also wanted to avoid the escalating costs of maintaining a legacy system when he migrated to Google Apps in late 2009. Cross, who now heads up his own consulting company, told me he was facing cost increases for support and maintenance with Lotus Notes licenses coming up for renewal. Not only that, but he had lost two email administrators in a round of layoffs and was running Notes on aging IBM AS/400 gear.


Cross achieved cost savings of more than $80 a year per user on email alone, pretty significant given the city's 3,000 users. And, Cross said, some city employees had begun using Google Docs, Spreadsheets and other products in addition to Gmail, which he hoped would allow him to reduce purchases of some Microsoft Office products. BI-LO CIO Carol Dewitt similarly told InformationWeek she now plans to upgrade only "a small group of people" from Office 2003 to a later version of Office.


Dewitt discusses some other benefits of moving to Google Apps in the CIO.com article. Chief among them is the enhanced ability to handle e-discovery or other compliance requests. BI-LO also considered Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Standard Suite (BPOS) but Dewitt opted for Google Apps because in her opinion Apps offered fewer management hassles, better standalone functionality and better e-discovery capabilities than BPOS.


The CIO.com article on BI-LO and a separate article on a Google Apps deployment at Journal Communications offer what I think are some great tips on ensuring a successful migration to Google Apps:

  • Gauge users' appetite for the cloud. BI-LO surveyed employees and found 30 percent of them used Gmail at home and more than 50 percent of them used some form of Web-based email for personal use.
  • Don't get too technical in presenting cloud concepts. When preparing to meet with company attorneys, members of Journal Communications' IT team worked with Google to create graphics to illustrate technical topics such as data center security in easily understandable ways. No IT jargon allowed.
  • Come up with real-life examples to illustrate Apps' benefits. Journal Communications experienced a problem with its on-premise email servers in which information was lost and couldn't be recovered. Most IT organizations can probably come up with (hopefully less dramatic) examples of how Apps offers improvements over existing systems.
  • Enlist a partner to help. BI-LO contracted with Google consultant Cloud Sherpas to help with specific migration issues not covered in Google documentation.
  • Let the IT organization try Apps first. Journal Communications had its IT organization vet Apps, with some using just the browser component, others using only the Google toolset and some using the entire suite. During this 60-day period, IT staff got together weekly to discuss Google Apps.
  • Revise user policies when necessary. BI-LO users were eager to access work mail from personal devices, so the company created a "bring your own device" policy that gives it the right to remotely wipe devices if it suspects a security risk.
  • Get users excited and boost adoption. BI-LO made the Google Sites collaboration portal the go-to page for information related to Apps. It also offered prizes to users who found and reported any bugs. As I've written before, never underestimate the power of swag to "market" technology initiatives.

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