Taylor Woodrow, a UK-based construction company, has switched its 1,800 employees' e-mail from Microsoft Outlook to enterprise Gmail.
The company is also beginning to use other components of Google Apps, the suite of Web-based applications that includes, in addition to Gmail, calendar, chat, word processing, spreadsheets and wikis.
According to Rob Ramsay, Taylor Woodrow's IT director, the company has already realized a cost savings of nearly $2 million in licensing and support costs. According to Google, Google Apps premier edition for enterprises costs $50 per user per year. In an interview with CIO, Ramsay cited four major lessons from implementing the enterprise version of Gmail and dabbling with Google Apps.
1. Easier E-mail Maintenance
Because Gmail is hosted by Google, Taylor Woodrow doesn't need to put the data on its own servers. As a result, Ramsay says IT doesn't have to spend time or money maintaining e-mail servers (which is a where some of that $2 million in savings was realized). As a result, it frees up IT to work on other applications and systems. Google also handles spam and messaging security, thus eliminating another area that Ramsay's IT group had to manage. This was especially a big deal for Taylor Woodrow, since 50 percent of the company's e-mail user base changes every year, he says.
2. Distributed Model Helps E-mail Security
With Gmail, Ramsay says that data is distributed across many machines on the back-end of Google, a fact he believes boosts e-mail security because it means his vendor is not putting all his eggs in one basket. "We were determined not to have a single point of attack," Ramsay says. "If we did this [e-mail implementation] in a traditional method [on premise], there would have been a single point of attack," he says.
3. Moving Users Out of Folders Is Hard
Gmail doesn't look like your typical enterprise e-mail system. E-mail systems such as Lotus Notes and Microsoft Outlook operate on the principles of foldering (largely an extension of paper-based filing before the technology emerged). With Gmail, the theory is different. A user "labels" — or essentially tags — an e-mail with terms that are pertinent to the subject of that e-mail. They can then click on those tags to view e-mails relevant to that term, and the search engine will also remember to make them relevant for future searches about that topic. While Google — and its Gmail users — has maintained that allowing the information to be labeled and searched for is more efficient than electronically thumbing through folders, it doesn't mean all users will want to do it right away, Ramsay says. "People like to drag things and put them in sub sub sub folders," he says. "People were finding that difficult culturally, so that was a challenge and we helped them [learn to use search to organize the information]."
4. Don't Throw Away Microsoft Office Yet
Ramsay says that Taylor Woodrow has also begun experimenting with other Google Apps (that came included with the Gmail offering). While most of his company still uses Microsoft Office on many of its employees workstations, the teams among the company have begun to use Google Docs (an online word processor in Google Apps) when they need to work on documents together in real time. In addition, Google Docs allows you to export a Google Doc to Word (or Excel from Google Spreadsheets), making integration with the existing on premise productivity suite easy. "Google Docs is not seen as a replacement," Ramsay says. "We still run Office and that suite because everyone is familiar with it."