How Motorola Solutions (and its 22,000 workers) ditched Microsoft for Google
One CIO's mission to move thousands of employees to Google for Work from Microsoft Office turned into the most significant IT training exercise of his career. Here's how he made sure the company continued to run smoothly during the transition, along with lessons learned from the project.
When Greg Meyers joined Motorola Solutions in 2014 he found himself facing some rather lackluster and underperforming technology; a 15-year-old phone with about 50 buttons sat on his desk, and the company’s fragmented solution set included InterCall for voice conferences, Microsoft Lync for screen sharing and Office 2007 for everything else.
“It was kind of hard to believe, having just become the CIO of a Fortune 500 technology company, the fragmentation and the antiquation of a lot of the tools that we had,” says Meyers, Motorola Solutions’ corporate vice president and CIO. “It was a pretty bad environment, and we had to do something.”
Meyers’ clarion call was to drag the enterprise technology giant out of the IT dark ages. Within three months, he’d signed a deal to move roughly 22,000 workers to Google for Work. When the company completed the transition last April, it represented the largest Microsoft-to-Google transition ever, according to Meyers, though some employees do still use Microsoft software.
“When we made the decision to make the change, it was bigger than just Google,” he says. “We upgraded the [local area network], and we replaced over 3,000 wireless access points. The philosophy I had was to really try to get the company into the 21st century.”
Motorola Solutions picks Google over Microsoft
A sort of “war on wires,” as Meyers puts it, came next. Motorola Solutions’ IT team disabled Ethernet ports, removed hardline phones and tried to move the company to a new framework of mobile connectivity and cloud-based infrastructure.
“It was between Microsoft and Google, obviously,” he says. “We had a long relationship with Microsoft.”
Meyers and his colleagues did research and piloted Office 365 and Google Apps, experimenting with both platforms, before making a final decision. The entire IT team of about 300 employees got Google for Work in January, and other departments received access during the proceeding months, according to Meyers. “We really wanted to live with it and learn it.”
‘G Day’ at Motorola Solutions
When the big day arrived on April 14, known internally as “G Day,” Motorola Solutions moved its entire workforce of 17,000 employees, and about 5,000 contractors and vendors, to Google for Work. The company set up drop-in training centers in the cafeteria. IT staff worked the help desk for two days. And 1,000 staffers, trained beforehand to help ease the process for others, wore bright orange shirts and tied orange balloons to their cubicles so they were easy to spot.
“We knew what a burden [the transition] was going to be,” says Meyers. “We’ve done more training for this thing than any other project I’ve ever been apart of in my career, and I think almost everybody who’s in my department would say the same.”
The word “training” is a “vast understatement” of the IT team’s efforts, Meyers says, because they empathized with Motorola staff and knew the project would be a major disruption. “IT people tend to look at the world in projects, users and technology,” he says. “It was all about getting the IT organization tuned into the human element of this.”
Chief challenges and biggest benefits
Myers and his group faced technical challenges during the transition period, but the IT staff, and the rest of the company, got through it relatively unscathed, he says. And he gives a nod to Microsoft. “This was a tough loss for them, but I thought they were really collaborative and helpful.”
The team tackled its biggest technical hurdle on the eve of the deployment, when email and calendar entries migrated slower than expected due to throttle controls Microsoft mistakenly put in place, according to Meyers. “It was really kind of fun to watch the Microsoft and Google people on conferences calls talking to each other. It was very constructive.”
More than five months have passed since Meyers shepherded the company-wide change to Google for Work, and he says the biggest transformations occurred around collaboration and meetings. The company is also seeing major changes in organizational process and workflow, but they’re still a work in progress, according to Meyers.
“It takes so much less time to have 10 people develop a Google Slide than it did … emailing around different versions of a PowerPoint,” he says. “That’s really changed the way it feels to work here, which has been great.”
Motorola Solutions has 108 office locations around the world, and its staff’s level of familiarity with Google’s services prior to the switch, and the associated amount of training required afterward, varied widely. Almost everybody at Motorola Solutions had a personal Gmail account already, according to Meyers, but few had used Google Apps such as Docs, Slides and Sheets.
The use of these latter apps is still voluntary, at least for now, because many employees still have licenses for Word, Excel and PowerPoint on their machines. Meyers says he isn’t concerned about the use of the other apps, because different workers have different needs. The company’s finance department still uses Microsoft Excel, for example, while the IT department completely shifted to Google Sheets. Excel is typically the hardest habit to break, according to Meyers, because so many businesses depend on it.
Smooth transition all about managing change
Looking back on the project, Meyers says there isn’t much he would do differently. While he admits the IT team probably overdid it with training and support, it’s far better to have too much training than too little.
Motorola Solutions’ transition from Microsoft’s suite to Google for Work was relatively smooth, but Meyers did learn an important lesson. “My advice to anybody would be just focus squarely on change management,” he says. “The technology works as advertised, but it really comes down to people changing tools that they deal with everyday, and that’s a big change.”
Matt Kapko has been writing about technology since before the dawn of the iPhone, and covering media well before it was social. Matt lives with his wife in a nearly century-old craftsman in Long Beach, Calif. He can be reached on Twitter: @mattkapko or by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.