Thursday, 8 August 2013

Google Apps for Business

I'm currently in the process of migrating our network to Google Apps in a phased project.

We've decided to make the jump from Exchange to Google Apps for Business for a number of reasons:
  • Lower infrastructure costs — All your email will be stored securely on Google's servers, so we'll no longer have to maintain email servers on-site or upgrade to a new server as has been required for a while. 
  • Ability to consolidate our platforms — We can eliminate a large portion of redundancy costs by moving all of our email and calendar platforms to Google Apps 
  • Lower support costs — Because Google hosts the email and calendar services, there's no more email client software to maintain on your computer 
  • Innovative solutions — We can leverage the ongoing creative and technical solutions of the Google Apps platform to provide employees with powerful, easy-to-use tools for getting their work done. In particular we have integration with our CRM to enable smooth and efficient management of customer communication. The connector allows for simple passing of emails, attachments, documents from Gmail to the CRM saving time, errors and easy management of customer tracking. 
  • Highly scaleable environment — With Google Apps, our email capacity will grow automatically as our organization grows, and we'll avoid the complexity of internal systems 
  • Access to services from anywhere, at anytime — A key benefit of the Google-hosted solution is that we can access email, contacts, and calendar from any computer or mobile device with an Internet connection, from anywhere in the world 
  • More collaboration features — With Google's next-generation applications, we can collaborate with colleagues, customers, and partners more easily and efficiently 
  • Instant messaging — Because Google Apps includes Google Talk, we can now implement an instant messaging system for our organization

We've created some test users and are fairly happy with the integration to the CRM and functionality of Google Apps however I've identified that the test domain we set everything up on (the company's primary division) is not the best domain as the company I work for has a number of domains/divisions that need to be used for multiple employees.

According to the structure of Google Apps I have two options which basically come down to either users having to use multiple logins or a parent/child domain relationship that involves scrapping the setup that's already been done on our primary division and redoing under the parent domain.

There's a large resource base available for Google Apps (perhaps too much for most) so I'd recommend a well planned staggered deployment for any company that's well established in any alternate environment.

Aspects Currently Lacking

While there's are a large range of Apps available either through Google or App developers there still seem to be core back end functionality required for larger businesses.

There are a number of generic Enterprise solutions that any large corporation requires that are not available unless you add a large number of paid Google Apps services and even then they are generally not clean solutions such as:
  1. Signature Management
    1. The ability to apply signature templates across users against their departments requirements
    2. The ability to apply signature templates across users against their divisions requirements
    3. The ability to apply signature templates based on their domain name
    4. Full HTML manipulation
  2. The ability to apply a Company Style guide
    1. Company fonts
    2. Generic document settings such as single line spacing with a paragraph carriage return
    3. Non Google Fonts

Management Tools


There is a management tool available called GAM (Google Apps Manager) that I've seen a few positive reviews/comments about that I'll be looking into as it apparently makes Enterprise level management aspects a lot easier than the limitations of the Google Apps Admin Console.


Another Tool I'm using is Flash Panel, it does do as it says "FlashPanel is a powerful, user-friendly cloud management tool for Google Apps administrators that helps them better control and secure their Google Apps domains, delegate granular privileges to non-IT employees, and automate common management tasks.",but it's not quite there yet in terms of easily managing larger organisations.

With things like managing multiple updates and new users it does use a simple import/export spreadsheet to allow you to manipulate multiple users but the layout/structure, functionality and details in both the web-portal and spreadsheet could be improved as I'm sure they will be over time.

It is also a one direction functionality so it locks out out of aspects in the Google Apps and the synchronisation isn't instant between the two.