Google Docs – will it release Microsoft’s stranglehold on the enterprise?

Image representing Google Apps as depicted in ...

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I had the pleasure of attending a workshop conducted by Google recently that really opened my eyes to the use of Google Docs. Until recently I always thought of Google applications as a low-budget alternative to the ‘default standard’ of Microsoft. Although I am aware that large enterprises such as AT&T, NZ Post and Mortgage Choice had gone Google I had not really considered it as an option in the enterprise space.

The Google ‘Team Insights’ workshop changed my opinion on this. I was surprised by the Google suite’s ‘Microsoft-like’ functionality, which I am sure is no accident.  As Google very clearly pointed out their applications are complementary to Microsoft and not necessarily competitive. A seasoned Microsoft Office user would have absolutely no trouble in becoming productive in a short time with the Google suite of products. The cloud-based offering may be slightly deficient in total functionality but the majority of peoplewould not feel like they are missing out on anything.

But the reasons for going Google are far beyond the interface and usability. With the web browser as the common denominator, Google has effectively addressed the ‘Mac vs. PC’ argument. Both Mac and Wintel users can enjoy the same functionality and for corporates it is one less reason to be tied to a corporate standard operating environment (SOE).

Not surprisingly, the cost and simplicity of licensing is a big issue in favour of Google’s suite. As an individual you can sign up to use Google Docs for free, but you are likely to be bombarded with advertising – not really desirable for corporates. But the cost of the professional version is a simple $50 per user per annum. Any organisation that has delved into the intricacies of Microsoft licensing will breathe a sigh of relief to hear that you don’t need a full-time employee to administer your enterprise licenses.

Simplification of licensing also addresses the issue of compliance, which can also be an administrative nightmare for large-ish organisations. In many cases with staff coming and going corporates don’t really know if they are compliant – but they cannot afford not to be.

Google is changing the way we think, and the issue of storage is no exception. Gone are the days of having to indiscriminantly delete or achive documents in a hurry in response to the demands of a grumpy systems administrator. Or worse still delete all of your precious email records just because you need to reduce the size of your inbox so that you can send that important email message. For full licenses of Google Apps, Google gives you a whopping 25 gigabytes of storage (only 7GB in the free version) so all of your documents can reside in the cloud. This effectively means that you never have to delete a document or email ever again!

Where the Google suite really shines is in the area of teamwork and collaboration. The ‘killer feature’ for me is the real-time version control and ability to collaborate on a single version of a document.  Anyone who has managed a document with multiple contributors and editors would identify with the nightmare of pulling together edits and input from various people into a single document for publishing.  Just this task alone can add days to the preparation of an important proposal or tender response – time you could be spending writing the compelling content that will win you the business.  With Google docs there is ONLY one instance of the document and all contributors have access to it. You make your changes to the document online and everyone can see them immediately. Every change you make is recorded in an audit trail and you can roll back to a previous version at any time – an absolutely beautiful approach to version control that will save many organisations a lot of time and a lot of people some grief.

The one area I had my doubts was in the area of working offline, but it seems that Google has addressed this as well with the ability to synch online and offline files. This means you can still work on your document on the plane – but I believe you have to synchronise it before you take off.

So in my mind the question is not “will Google release Microsoft’s stranglehold on the enterprise?” but more like “WHEN will it be widely adopted?”. I’ve covered a few cool aspects of Google Docs but there are lots more to talk about such as workflow – I encourage you to have a look and try for yourself.

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