It may be relatively painless when one or two employees embrace Google’s Gmail and related Docs applications, but transitioning an entire organisation to the online services is another thing entirely. Just ask Ben White, who has seen both highs and lows during his company’s shift from an aging Outlook and Exchange environment to the Cloud-hosted Google solutions.
As CIO of real estate giant Ray White, White has long had to cater for a range of technological skills spread across a large number of geographically distant franchises. Given the challenges of supporting email and other critical business systems – and the growing demand for mobile access by a highly itinerant employee base – shifting to Google’s hosted email environment seemed like a logical alternative.
It didn’t take long, however, before the migration team began to run into troubles. Despite the assurances of IT staff that found Gmail a doddle, many employees were complaining about the differences in the new system’s layout – for example, its threaded conversation view – and White quickly realised that changing deeply-entrenched work habits was going to be harder than he expected.
“Our initial approach was just to go ahead and do it,” he recalls. “I and others in our tech team had been using Google Apps for about two years and to me it was a natural thing, so I didn’t think about the fact that people would have a problem. We tried to sell this as simple email, but it’s so much more than email. We’re not very good at formalising these things culturally, and we made a few mistakes around how we communicate.”
This led to some confusion around what to do when the team received emails from staff complaining that they didn’t like Gmail, or others who thought it was a temporary change and didn’t bother trying to learn the new system. Add in the effect of Google regularly adding new features and changing the Gmail interface, and the new platform became a moving target – and White’s team was missing far more than it would have liked.