CIOs talk Google Apps migration

Panel discusses moving an enterprise to cloud applications

Chief information officers heard first-hand accounts from their colleagues about moving to Google Apps at a recent roundtable, with New Zealand Postal Services, AAPT and Mortage Choice all migrating to the cloud applications.

NZ Postal Services is among the organisations that has made the move to Google Apps. The organisation undertook the project to introduce innovation into the 160-year old business, said general manager for business enabling, Tracy Voice.

“We're always transforming,” she explained. “From an IT perspective, we were focussing on how to get commodity costs down and how we address consumer demands. The key thing was around achieving collaboration, productivity and some hype about the way in which we communicate. I was right up against the next release of Microsoft Exchange and Google Apps felt right for the business.”

NZ Post had about 12 months before the company had to make an upgrade decision on Microsoft Exchange. The addition of messaging which Google Apps provided was a drawcard. The integration is interesting because the organisation worked with three third party providers — an outsourcing provider, an application builder and a specialist.

“There were a number of us around the table who needed to work with Google to prove that [the concept] worked before we went to the business,” she said. The key was having the capability on the ground in New Zealand in terms of expertise, security and integration. In fact, Voice said, the work involved in building the proof of concept was fairly minimal.

The shift in technology also required a culture shift within the organisation. But it also tied in with the idea of technology enabling the business, rather than being a discrete division within the organisations.

“There's a level of trust from the business that you're able to make those decisions on their behalf,” Voice said.

For Neill Rose-Innes, chief information officer at Mortgage Choice, the pending organisational upgrade to Lotus Notes 8.5 and the subsequent hardware upgrade provided an opportunity to look at different technologies.

“We have 1000-plus users and 90 per cent of those users are remote to our office,” he said.

The organisation had evaluated Google Apps 12 months ago but deemed it too immature at the time.

“So we stopped and put in a strategy to move to web based tools. Six months later, we thought it was mature enough. We went through the pilot process and, in two weeks, we will be rolling out it to all users.”

Rose-Innes said there will always be some employees who resist change.

“I’m not sure I've managed to convince every single user that it is the right thing. But our existing platform doesn't support web apps. We need to satisfy the bulk of our users’ needs,” he said.

David Yuile, chief operating officer at AAPT, switched 1300 users over to Google Apps overnight.

“We were very surprised [at the simplicity],” he said. “We did it behind the scenes and put the launch article out next morning and people were already using the tools.”

Yuile said the interesting thing was the sense of having a business-led use of the cloud platform rather than IT that addresses issues such as collaboration and messaging throughout the organisation. AAPT is now realizing a level of interactivity that was difficult to achieve before.

”The users are driving it,” he said. “We're getting video topics being pushed out that we'd never thought about. And we’re seeing more collaborative effort across divisions. It really breaks down silos, and not forcefully.”

The traditional roadblocks to cloud computing, particularly around security, still need to be addressed. Under the US Patriot Act, for example, FBI agents can issue national security letters (NSLs) to Google demanding records without a warrant. Recipients of NSLs must comply with the FBI's demands and cannot notify the person under investigation. Google's policy to refer agencies back to the owner of the data. Google admits the situation is ‘not perfect’, although it says the such incidents are “far fetched” for legitimate businesses. Regardless, it is investigating providing servers outside of the US.

Patriot Act aside, the CIOs at the roundtable each said they were able to overcome security concerns relatively quickly. And they have been able to implement user-friendly policies, such as single sign-on, that enhance the experience.

And, although the organisations won’t realise any net gains in the budgets in the first year of implementation, they are predicting ‘significants savings’, often in the order of millions each subsequent year.

“That was a benefit, not a reason [for the switch], said NZ Post’s Voice. “The strategy was about providing the tools to generate revenue.”

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