Customers Want More from Google AppsBy Clint Boulton | Posted 12-21-2007
Customers Want More from Google Apps
Google Apps Premier Edition is not even a year old, but the enterprise flavor of the company's collaboration software suite is getting some rave reviews from customers along with a dash of constructive criticism.
More than 2,000 businesses a day are signing up for Google Apps. Customers who want the extra security and support can pay $50 per user per year for GAPE (Google Apps Premier Edition), which was launched last February.
GAPE includes typical collaboration tools, including a portal, e-mail, instant messaging and shared calendaring, among other tools.
Rick Rutherford, president and founder of booking and accounting outsourcer CPApartner, said his company began using GAPE, including the Start Page portal, Gmail, Calendar, Docs and Spreadsheets, a year ago to collaborate.
The 12-year-old company, which runs a tight ship of 25 employees, takes over accounting departments, collaborating on documents with Google Apps.
CPApartner employees also keep their 100 or so clients in the loop via GAPE's shared calendaring tools. Those clients don't have to sign up for GAPE to get this service, they need only sign up for a free account to access Calendar.
"I'm doing a spreadsheet right now and sharing it with somebodywe're collaborating," Rutherford told eWEEK during a phone briefing Dec. 18. "It works exceptionally well for the collaborative nature of our business."
Ironically, CPApartner made the switch to Google from using productivity software from another, albeit much larger companyMicrosoft.
Rutherford said he and his team were using Microsoft applications such as Outlook on servers that they had to maintain and manage. The whole process, Rutherford said, was "nowhere near as easy and efficient."
How much is Rutherford's company saving by using GAPE? He said it's hard to quantify, but estimated that the Microsoft products the hardware they ran on had cost thousands of dollars per user per year to run, license and maintain.
Of course, no application is perfect and Rutherford said there is one key ingredient missing from GAPE that he would love to see added in 2008: a task management application to support his workflow.
Shawn Faulkingham, IT director for commercial office product distributor Indoff, moved almost 500 staffers over to GAPE last February when Google launched the package.
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Faulkingham turned to Google after he realized the Microsoft Exchange 5.5 and Ipswitch Imail Server applications he had installed couldn't handle the roughly 150,000 e-mails that made their way into employees' inboxes.
"We had to look around," Faulkingham told eWEEK Dec. 19. "I was spending most of my time trying to push e-mail through."
Gmail did the trick. Not only did this solve the problem, but he was shocked at how easy migrating to Gmail was. Eventually, he said employees started using Google Docs to track projects, Spreadsheets and Google Calendar to keep everyone's schedules in sync.
However, he said Calendar is lacking a key feature he would like to see added in 2008: the ability to synchronize between Google's Calendar and other calendar applications from Microsoft, IBM and Apple, among others.
For example, he said that while he can send partners in a focus group an invitation from Calendar, they must be using Google Calendar to receive it. "Google should put some more protocols to Calendar to enable more back-and-forth synchronization," he said.
The pros and cons from Rutherford and Faulkingham were supported by Gartner analyst Tom Austin, who rattled off a number of improvements he believes Google needs to add, and eventually will add, to its GAPE suite in 2008.
Austin said Google must fill two major holes in 2008; the ability to run Google Apps offlinewithout an Internet connectionand the ability to cleanly interoperate with any and all rival calendaring systems.
Austin also expects Google to add wiki capabilities to Apps, courtesy of the company's JotSpot assets; electronic forms; lightweight, ad-hoc workflow; task management; and activity management tools to identify a check list of steps associated with hiring a new employee. Google may even figure out a way to host Outlook as a complete client in Apps, he said.
"Google sees the target of opportunity not in the IBM shops, which have a legacy of Notes and Domino applications, but in the Microsoft shops where Microsoft customers haven't built the level of applications against the infrastructure because Microsoft always said you don't really need it," Austin told eWEEK Dec. 19.
Until those needs are met, Austin said GAPE is not ready for full deployment in medium to large enterprises.
Google Enterprise Vice President and General Manager Dave Girouard would no doubt beg to differ; the executive said in an interview that Google will announce some large customer wins for GAPE in 2008.
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