Google's burgeoning suite of applications for business, Google for Work, may seem like a hodgepodge of tools designed for disparate functions, but the end goal of each is always the same: collaborative productivity.
The idea of putting all of an organization's data, communications and workflow under one umbrella is understandably worrisome for many CIOs and IT managers. Any disruptions, service changes or policy updates can wreak havoc on a company and hang IT staff out to dry. However, the concept can be just as promising as it is concerning.
The total shift to cloud-based infrastructure is still years away for many companies, if it happens at all, but those that take the plunge early often see greater employee satisfaction (particularly among younger generations) and many more potential benefits, according to companies who've embraced Google for Work.
CBS Interactive Goes All-In With Google for Work
Steve Comstock, CIO and senior vice president, CBS Interactive, says Google for Work embodies the very nature and objective of his role at the network's division for online properties, which includes well-known sites such as CNET, CBS.com and GameSpot.
Comstock's team is now a fully functioning Google for Work shop, and it uses Google infrastructure for everything from data centers to video streaming and encoding. Comstock says his IT staff is composed of the same types of people CBS Interactive targets with its online content. The CIO called this demographic the "cord-cutters" or "cord-nevers" at last week's Digital Entertainment World event in Los Angeles.
These people want and expect rapid collaboration, wherever they are, and Comstock says he does everything he can to get out of their way, while also giving them the tools they need to share information and deliver on their responsibilities. Google for Work lets him to do just that, by connecting teams on conference calls via Hangouts and making it simple to share spreadsheets in real time via Google Sheets.
When CBS Interactive teams gather for meetings there's no longer the typical lag that used to bring productivity to a standstill, while someone coordinated a roll call or waited to make sure everyone saw the right documents or data. All meeting participants see everyone who is on a call and who's viewing documents in real time.
"We can solve problems that much faster," Comstock says. "Instead of dealing with all that 'cruft' of waiting for technology to burden us, it's a blessing." And Comstock no longer has to designate a "spreadsheet czar" to manage, update and maintain constantly evolving documents.
Corporate data sources change rapidly and CIOs need to adapt as they develop new ways to coalesce all this information, Comstock says. "As we're developing our productivity tools and moving toward this we have to look at how [employees] are going to use these tools and how they're going to filter it all out."
Going Google for Work
Technology ecosystems should be a determining factor when deciding whether or not to embrace Google for Work, according to Tom Shawver, CTO, TechnologyAdvice, a technology consultancy. "By going with Google you're not only open to Google's products and services, you're also buying into Google's APIs and full integration with many of the Web's fastest growing online services."
Business tools that aren't compatible with Google as a sign-on provider, for example, are becoming the exception rather than the rule, Shawver says, and more cloud-based collaboration offerings use Google Drive as a storage solution.
"If an organization has a focus on real-time collaboration and has a culture that directs it more toward bleeding-edge cloud services and products out of the Silicon Valley startup scene, Google is a clear winner," Shawver says. "More traditional businesses that put real value on tried-and-true methodologies with a deeply ingrained Microsoft Office workflow may have a more difficult time making the transition, as it is less about the tools at hand and more about the ecosystem being tested."
Likewise, departmental workflow will largely dictate how well employees receive Google for Work tools. "Engineering and IT are more apt to celebrate the introduction of Google for Work, as integration with tech industry online tools is superb and much of the day-to-day work becomes more streamlined and automated," according to Shawver.
On the flipside, people working in data analysis or legal might cringe at the introduction of Google for Work, because Microsoft's Excel and Word platforms are "industry-standard staples … that Google's offerings can't fully replace," Shawver says.
How Google for Work Drives Collaboration
Mark Hansen, systems administrator at SolidFire, a cloud storage company, has been working with Google for Work for more than four years. The abilities to rapidly scale technology deployments and consolidate the complete office environment into one administrative console have been very helpful, he says.
Collaboration is one of Google for Work's key benefits. Employees can quickly create, upload and share documents to get critical information into the right hands, according to Hansen. Google has also provided a steady environment for his team without many surprises, he says. "Google for Work has maintained its cost for us which makes it hard to look at migrating to anything other than a cloud-hosted solution."
Many of SolidFire's employees come from a more traditional Microsoft Office environment, so the transition was a bit of a process. Hansen steadfastly believes, however, that the future of the workplace is headed to the cloud. "It is a new environment for some, but Google is attempting to make the transition and functions of Google for Work painless," he says.
Google for Work improved SolidFire's workflow and operations by enabling real-time collaboration and removing the need for a VPN to access, edit and share company data. "This helps end users, but also helps IT administrators save time by focusing on the user experience rather than the infrastructure," according to Hansen.
VIF International Education, a global provider of professional-development products and curriculum for education, transitioned to Google for Work from a "rigid on-premise solution with a cumbersome administrative process," says Arne Plum, the company's manager of strategy and innovation.
"Google for Work creates the ideal flexible and collaborative environment for an agile and technology-driven company like VIF," he says. The shift also lets his team "swiftly troubleshoot our employees' tech issues and satisfy management's need for security."
"The ease of use and the ability to quickly share documents and information allows our employees to collaborate without any hurdles," Plum says. "We have adopted Gmail as our email client, Drive as our go-to online storage solution and Hangouts as our internal instant messaging system. The simplicity and seamless integration between the various apps has greatly simplified the shift to Google for Work."
VIF also uses Google for Work products to collaborate with clients and provide information and support.
The Next Wave of Enterprise Collaboration
CBS Interactive's Comstock believes the next wave of enterprise collaboration tools will need to incorporate machine learning, smarter filtering and aggregation to surface the most relevant content.
"It should be able to associate and define for me the different types of subject matters that I need to look at, so it helps me as a consumer better see what I need to read, what's relevant to me, what I need to read now and what I can ignore," Comstock says.
As the collaboration industry evolves, corporate teams also change from a productivity perspective, according to Comstock, who admits that he and many others are still figuring out the most effective ways to use all of the available Google for Work tools. Navigating the intersection of social and business remains a struggle, he says.
Comstock is confident that as more tools become available and improvements are rolled out, companies like CBS Interactive will be able to adjust operations and develop workflows for the 21st century, versus the workflows that defined the final decades of the past century.
At CBS Interactive, Comstock says, "we're going to try a lot of things, we're going to fail quick, and we're going to recover quick. My job is to bring the technology, try to help that productivity but also to make it a blessing versus a burden. If my community finds it difficult to use, I've failed."