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Going Google? Follow these steps, CIOs, and ante up, consultant says

“The beautiful part of the cloud is that the technical challenges are not the critical part of the effort.” That’s Jason Lee of consulting firm MavenWave Partners talking about his firm’s rationale for focusing on cloud-based computing solutions — and deciding to partner with Microsoft’s arch enemy. I spoke with him for my story this week about going Google. A cloud believer, he also realizes that the 100% Web proposition is a big change for most enterprises — and “mistakes are made.”

If your company is considering using Google enterprise apps — whether it’s a wholesale adoption or (more likely) just for certain employee groups — here is Lee’s framework for converting. Based on his experience with clients that have made the transition to Google Apps (and on a whole lot of bad Lotus Notes implementations in a past life), the framework has three main steps. And here is the clincher, CIOs: Your organization needs to fund conversion through all three steps, for multiple years. Even though going Google is cheap, it’s not free.

1. Commit. Remember why those ERP and CRM implementations went bad? In one respect, going Google is no different: There’s some heavy politics with changing big applications. Email and messaging touch everybody. The commitment to converting to Google Apps has to be top-down. “Or it won’t be adopted,” Lee said. You need a clear business case for the transition, a funding strategy that spans multiple years, and champions.

2. Enable. How you get the base Google platform out to the enterprise will vary with the scope of the implementation, of course, but converting users to the base capabilities of the system shouldn’t take longer than two to four months, Lee said. You need clear requirements for what the system is intended to do — down to the details. Google has a big leg-up on collaboration, but don’t assume users know how to use the platform.

“There should be an active and aggressive change management program that gives users every opportunity through every channel to understand how to use the new platform,” Lee said. Good project leadership and management are critical to going Google. Consider appointing a daily Google advocate.

3. Collaborate. Once you have converted people to the base platform and they are using it for everyday communications, look for pain-points in manual business processes, and use the Google platform to automate them. Start with stuff that’s easy to fix — or, as Lee put it, the “low value-adds” (for example, a travel approval process that was manual). MavenWave client Journal Communications Inc. of Milwaukee is automating its copy-approval process, as it moves its 27,000 employees to Google Apps.

The long-term aim of going Google is quantifiable improvements in productivity. “Small, new collaboration sites, incremental in nature, will have a big impact when put together,” Lee said. In the first three to six months, IT should be integrating the Google platform with core business processes and systems.

To realize those gains, the ideal situation is to have the majority of users on the platform. “Going half-in is tough,” Lee said. If the whole population is not going Google, segment the user groups that interact the most, and build solutions that will make them more productive.

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