Google Apps: How We Convinced the C-Suite

Dominion Enterprises CIO Joe Fuller faced the challenge of converting 280 magazine brands to one collaboration suite and persuading execs that the cloud was right. He shares advice, including how he won over skeptics on privacy and compliance worries.

Joe Fuller, CIO at Dominion Enterprises, had a mess to clean up. Built through a series of 150 acquisitions, the marketing services company was burdened by inefficiencies, disparities and siloed data. As the economy continued to tank in 2010, the company started to feel the weight of hosting e-mail in 24 separate locations, which posed a multitude of support and integration issues, Fuller says.

In June 2010, Fuller bought an Android phone, which he says was his first foray into cloud. "Being able to access everything via a browser and posting e-mail in the cloud made me think that this could be the way to go [at Dominion]."

Because the majority of employees were using Microsoft Outlook, Fuller and his team examined cloud options from Microsoft as well as Google. After visiting both vendors' headquarters, he determined that the Google Apps suite was a better fit from a product and price standpoint.

"The ease of accessing all the different aspects of the collaboration suite from one Gmail interface and the simplicity of the pricing model are what stood out," Fuller says.

While a migration to Google Apps was a relatively easy sell for him and many of Dominion's employees—65 percent of whom were already familiar with Gmail—other executives at the company were not as readily convinced.

"Moving to the cloud was a kind of change that was boiling up from the rank and file employees," Fuller says. "The C-level was harder—privacy and security were their biggest concerns. Outlook had become comfortable for them, and they were hesitant about making the change."

After months of conversations focusing on privacy and security with Google Apps administrators and CIOs who had already migrated to the collaboration suite—and after many conversations with Dominion's C-level execs—Fuller gave a "final push presentation" to Dominion's execs, including the CEO, CFO and legal counsel, and ultimately won their approval.

"Their sale element was that this was a technological advancement for the company, Fuller says. "We didn't have a reputation for being on the leading edge of technology and this was an opportunity to do that, to be recognized by employees and do something that was ahead of the adoption point instead of lagging behind it."

Successfully Deploying Google Apps: 5 Tips

Fuller's deployment of 4,200 Google Apps accounts—which began with a 150-person pilot group in June 2010—is scheduled for completion next month, and its reception has been positive, he says.

"The feedback we have is between 90 and 95 percent positive. We expected people to cling to Outlook more than they did—there are only 5 people still accessing Gmail through the Outlook client," Fuller says.

Using Google Apps has improved interdepartmental collaboration and efficiencies, says Fuller. For example, Dominion's travel media group replaced its weekly reporting system, which consisted of a series of e-mailed Excel worksheets, with a shared Google Doc.

And, in Dominion's vehicles group, a marketing team used Google Sites to build out an intranet where they share updates and sales materials. Typically, Fuller says, this would have taken four months to complete, but instead they were able to do it in four hours.

While Fuller considers his deployment a success, there are a few things he'd do differently, he says. Here are his recommendations for others considering a Google Apps implementation.

1. Answer the question, "What's in it for me?" up front. With skeptics, be sure to inform them—with concrete examples—how they'll benefit from the new system.

When Fuller first started talking about the Gmail interface, he says he touted the "cool new features." As a result, he received pushback such as, "We already have those features; you're making me change and I don't want to." The conversations would then slip into a feature-by-feature comparison of the platforms, which missed the point, he says.

"Instead, I needed to say, 'You might have everything you want, but as a good corporate citizen, you need to help us as a company get to where we need to be.' Then, if I had some additional features and benefits I knew they didn't have, I could have made a more persuasive argument from the beginning," says Fuller.

2. Prepare for security- and privacy-related push-back. Knowing that privacy and security surrounding Google Apps was a concern of Dominion's C-level execs, Fuller was diligent in obtaining, and preparing for presentation, the necessary information.

For example, Fuller requested that Google host conference calls dedicated to security and privacy. In one of them, he says, they discussed specific questions from Dominion's legal counsel and IT auditor that he had provided to Google in advance. Google also provided his team with a 14-page whitepaper outlining their security approach.

In addition, Fuller says conversations with managers were candid when it came to the cloud and security. "I pointed out to the top managers that we were already using cloud-based services such as SalesForce.com and Web-based backup systems," he says. "I also said that the Google security and privacy system was, in some ways, superior to ours on our best days."

3. Allow time to discover quirky e-mail apps in use. "We discovered that one of our businesses had an e-mail parsing program that received e-mail leads, qualified them based on parsed content and forwarded them to appropriate paying customers," Fuller says. "We needed to discover all these applications prior to a migration to avoid breaking something, especially revenue-producing applications."

4. Weigh your deployment options. Fuller researched the two methods successful companies used to integrate their systems: the "big bang" method, in which you'd convert all accounts at the same time; and incrementally, in which you'd roll everything out slowly, in groups.

"There are advantages to each—if you roll out all employees over the weekend, there's an initial upset where everyone will have the same problems that day because everyone is learning, but the advantage is that everyone will have the tools and can start sharing and collaborating immediately," he says. "Or, if you roll it out incrementally—which is what we did—there's less of an upset and backup in IT, but there's not much of a benefit right away because not everyone has the system yet."

5. Sell your administrative assistants first. "If I had to do one thing differently, I would have spent more time selling the admins and less time selling the upper guys," Fuller says. "The admins' knowledge of the system, their embracing the system and ease of using the new system are critical, more so sometimes than the CFO's. Get the admins involved early and often—if they're on board, the others will be more apt to adopt."

Kristin Burnham covers Consumer Technology, SaaS, Social Networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com

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