Yesterday evening I was on a webex presented by the Google Apps product team, and it really brought home to me how the transition to Cloud Computing is going to change the way that businesses use technology. For those of you that have read “Who moved my cheese?” you will know that there are a number of ways of dealing with change – and my experience of Cloud shows me a common reaction is to dig in the heels, decide not to understand the full capabilities of the new technology and create a number of reasons as to why it “would never be right for our business.”
However, when you start look at the issue from the other side, and think “how could my business work better by leveraging these technologies” then I think the positives outweigh any concerns pretty quickly. Accept change, and work out how you can benefit before Mr. Competitor does. It’s very rare that your IT Budget actually differentiates you from the competition – and this is one of those times.
The presentation was called Innovation in Review, and ran through highlights of new releases over the past 12 months. You have to put this in context with the traditional way of buying business software – spend a long time deciding, take the leap, spend a lot of money, customise and install, sweat the asset, look at new version, spend a long time deciding etc etc. How many businesses are on the latest version of Exchange? How many users are on the latest version of Office?
The new paradigm is Constant Innovation. Every day new cloud products are released, and all your users need to do to get them is refresh their browser.
Google have made over 100 such improvements over the past year, and that means the clients that signed up to Google Apps didn’t have to spend a long time deciding when to take a ‘snapshot’ and make their purchase. As long as they believed in the Cloud concept they could make their purchase and await a long line of constant innovation helping their business to work better.
A great example from the consumer world would be the iPad. I’ve leapt straight in because I think the evolution of this form factor is going to define the next ten years of personal computing. As I type this post on my iMac I look down at the keypad and think – in a few years we’ll laugh about the “Key Pad”
But many of my work colleagues are saying “I’ll wait until the next version – it’s bound to be better.” Imagine buying an iPad now and when they release the next version in 6 months they send you a new one via UPS. Welcome to Cloud Computing!
The presentation will be available online shortly and I will post the link when I get it. Just to give you an idea of some of the changes that have arrived over the past few months:
Drag and Drop attachments – you can now drag an attachment from your Windows Explorer or Mac Finder into your Gmail window and automatically attach it – saving time.
Drag and Drop photos – you can drag an image from your desktop or folder and drop it right into your email, much easier than copying and pasting.
Inserting Invitations into an email – instead of having to send a separate Calendar invite, you can open up an invite within your existing email chain in Gmail.
Gmail search has been improved – if you don’t have Gmail it is hard to explain how easy it is to find an email that was sent a while back. What is a .pst file again?!
Forgotten Attachment Detector – how many times have you received an email back “Nothing attached?” Now Gmail spots this and warns you. Little touches that save time and make you more professional.
2 Way Calendar Sync for Blackberry – keeping you on top of things on the road.
Upload any file to Docs - The mythical G-Drive, you can now upload any doc format and share them with your contacts – photos, PDF’s, CAD files. Docs now becomes your storage and DR tool. You can use a range of third party apps to sync with your local folders if you need.
Character by Character collaboration – you can now have up to 50 concurrent editors on a single document. Imagine a multi national team putting together your annual budget. No more sending around “Budget_Kathy_Version2″ and trying to get everything into one final document. Let everyone work together on the same document at the same time.
IM and Presence within Docs – You can now communicate with your collaborators in real time “John, why not change cell C6 to include the new equipment we’re buying?” Your teams are now working together and improving productivity.
Improved Sharing Settings – Admins and Users now have much greater control over sharing. The default is private, but you can punch holes through this – you could make your new Product Datasheet public within your domain, so that users could search within their Google Docs interface and up it pops at the speed of lightning. This is file sharing for the future.
Google Apps Scripts – These enable businesses to create simple scripts for running repetitive tasks saving them time. Perhaps it is approving holidays, perhaps it is approving purchases of new equipment. Apps Scripts hives you simple tools to trigger them from any website and can now link into MySQL databases.
Google Wave - Whilst this is still in Labs (Beta), Wave is now available in Google Apps if you wish. It works really well for small teams collaborating on tasks – perhaps putting a meeting agenda together.
Reset Sign-In Cookies – One of the favourite objections to Cloud is “What about the security of my data?” Yes, tell me about that laptop you left on the train with all your documents on the hard drive? The Cloud gives you security you could never get with local storage. And now Google have a Reset Sign-In Cookie feature so if Bob has lost his laptop, a quick reset and the thief cannot get into the Google Apps account.
Mobile Security – Admins can now enforce security policies on mobile devices, in terms of the complexity of the password and the length. Google have many more features coming here apparently – secure mobile access is a big focus. I’m not sure how Blackberry’s and BES features in all this if you can securely access Google Apps from any smart phone.
Migration Tools – Google have migrated over 2 billion emails into Gmail. Some clients prefer to start afresh, but if you want to transfer your legacy data in then there are migration tools for Outlook, Lotus Notes and Exchange. They make it extremely simple to migrate and users can be ready to go on Monday morning with all their existing email (which they can now search properly for the first time).
All Google Apps coming to Google Apps – that might not appear to make sense, but all the consumer Google Apps that you love, like Reader, Blogger, YouTube are shortly coming to your Business Google Apps account, so you can access them in one place. A great result for those who have had issues logging in and out.
Those innovations wrapped up the call. I’m confident that as businesses start to look at change in a positive light and weigh up this rate of innovation, versus the static Exchange 2003 investment they made, that this has to be the right business decision moving forward. Yes you might lose your watermark’s in Word, yes you might lose an obscure formula in Excel – but this is a new way of working and I for one am excited to be on the journey with them.
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