Google For Work: Confessions of an Early Adopter

I volunteered to be an early adopter for our Google for work pilot in August of 2016. I was already familiar with the Google Suite, storing my personal documents on Google Drive; hangouts with friends, creating blog posts on docs and planning my dinner parties on sheets. As a technology and social media geek, I was eager to participate in this new initiative.

For those of you who may be wondering how Google could be a contender to replace the Microsoft Office suite, well the truth is, they have a very interesting business model that is more attuned to how we use mobile.

Microsoft offers a basic suite of applications; typically (Outlook, Calendar, Word, Excel and PowerPoint). This is the foundation for how the vast majority of us work.  For those who need other applications like MS Project or MS Visio, etc. programs must be bought through a licensing fee and added to the suite through an IT professional. Alternatively enterprise licenses can be purchased and charged to the company based on the number of employees. Microsoft created a fantastic mini-monopoly for business using their applications.

Google at work is a significant departure from the traditional Microsoft model. In a nutshell, it provides users the same experience as using it for personal use. Taking head on the notion that people have better technology at home than they do at work.  Along with the basic processing functionalities, G Suite leverages the cloud and provides communication and collaboration tools that truly enable virtual work.

GSuite

One of the key differences with Google Suite, is basic functionality can be supplemented through 3rd party app add-ons. This is very similar to how we use mobile. Our smart phone is a series of apps that enable us to execute key transactions. We create an app ecosystem to enable our work.  Docs and Sheets for example; require add on’s to really make them effective. This allows the user to pick the relevant apps as add-ons instead of being limited to the application. This allows competition for the right price and service.  Another key difference is mobile offerings are solid and mature.

Microsoft has responded to Google’s service offering by introducing Office 365. You get all the familiar tools of Office with the addition of partnered collaboration such as Skype and One Drive for cloud. I did briefly use this suite at a previous employer. The service offering is quite different from Google, but the change aspects are significantly lower. The mobile offering on Office 365 in my opinion is still immature.

Our Google at work pilot lasted several months and then we were officially transitioned at the end of 2016. As an early adopter it’s now been a year since I transitioned. The switch was not seamless and had a number of challenges. I will say that I love many of the features that GSuite offers, such as Google Drive, the flexibility of accessing and opening google documents on my phone, collaborating on documents without having to save multiple versions and of course, video calling my colleagues! I used MS Outlook for the majority of my professional career and I don’t miss it. I’ll be honest and say I’m still struggling with mastering Doc’s, Sheets and Slides, but I’m committed to making this work.

The underpinning for success is to get people to think differently about this new way of working. I wanted to share some suggestions/ recommendations for those contemplating or are in the process of moving to Google for work:

  • Change management is critical for success. Besides executive sponsorship, employees need to understand GSuite is a different way of working. For example, shared drives will be replaced with Google Drives which provides a different way of sharing, accessing and collaborating on documents. Time and effort need to be invested in getting people to focus on the new way of working and not trying to replicate MS Office processes/ functionality through Google. Back to my consulting days, replicating old processes on new technology will not yield any value.
  • Application Mapping is essential to increase user adoption. While Google has work processing apps such as Sheets, Docs and Slides, they very immature in the capabilities they offer compared with Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Users need to understand how they can get the same output using the GSuite tools. So if I build and run marcos in Excel, I need to know how can I replicate that same output using Sheets. This was a huge gap for many of our business segments as they felt they were losing key functionality through the move. Document and the areas of concern and work with the business areas to build assurances they can get what they need with the new products.

GoogleProducts

  • Identify add on’s and supplements as part of your general release (GA). For people who never used Outlook (I’m thinking of your Millennials and Gen Z’ers), it may be easy to transition onto Gmail for work. For the vast majority of employees, functions such as listening to voicemail via your messages or setting reminders for follow ups have become a main staple that impacts productivity. It’s worth the time to identify the “must haves” and deploy the appropriate labs or add on’s so users are minimally impacted. This goes a long way to minimize the change. Consider offering Google Sync as an initial step to move off network drives.
  • Continuously educate. Transformation is not easy. Replacing something as significant as a Microsoft office suite with a Google suite is going to have some casualties and a lot of noise! You will have a subset of users who refuse to change. Who cannot grasp something new. Who will constantly complain. On the other side, early adopters, those looking for new solutions will be willing to live with trade-offs. Tools and education need to be provided to help users bridge the gap from old to new. Forums for feedback are important in the change strategy. More important is offering continuous training on the core applications. I’m a huge proponent of self-service, but for things as big as this, I would recommend having experts deliver training using a hangout or classroom. Users will feel more confident if there is on-going training/ resources available to help them combat their day to day gaps in using new tools.
  • Ensure you have the necessary hardware: Prior to using GSuite, we didn’t have video calling capability. Most of our employees sit out in the open and may have desktops. When Google was deployed, we offered training via hangouts but didn’t give people headsets for video calls. Most people couldn’t participate and you can imagine what impression this left. It was a scramble to order hardware (headsets and cameras) for people to truly leverage the new technology. This had to be built into our on-boarding provisioning process as well. Ensure you think about the hardware logistics for maximize initial usage.
  • Promote the mobile offering. Google has a mature, sophisticated mobile platform. The GSuite works easily and seamlessly on mobile. Users on the go or work from home will love this flexibility.

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Google for Work is another example of providing an alternative business models that’s disrupting the conventional way we do business. We’ve seen this time and time again (Taxi industry and Uber; Online vs. print media; Hotels vs. Airbnb, etc.). Not only has this benefited the consumer by providing alternative solutions, but it forced Microsoft to deliver a competitive offering with Office 365.

I hope your move is successful. I would love to hear how your transition went.

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