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CLOUD COMPUTING

How to Use Google Apps to Improve Your Business

Google has generated plenty of buzz with its cloud-based office suite. Here's the rundown on its features and how you can use them to upgrade your company.
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While cloud computing isn't exactly a new concept, Google Apps has certainly refined the technology so that businesses everywhere can take advantage of its speed, accessibility and storage. The Google Apps suite, which includes such popular trademarks such as Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Docs, can make the workflow among your employees more fluid, and even provide better methods of interacting with clients and customers. The following guide will highlight the reasons and ways for you to implement Google Apps to improve the operations of your company.


How to Use Google Apps to Improve Your Business: Why Use Google Apps?

One of the immediate benefits that Google Apps for businesses has over traditional desktop software, such as Microsoft Office, is cost-effectiveness. At just $50 per year, the Google Apps suite includes an unlimited number of user accounts, access to all of Google's applications, 25 GB of e-mail storage per employee, 24/7 customer support, and a 99.9 percent network uptime guarantee. (There's also a free version with a limited amount of network security and user accounts, as well as less apps and storage.) Compared to most business and IT software, which often come with a capped number of licenses per purchase (not to mention required external servers to host the system), Google Apps might just be the key to squeezing a couple of extra dimes from your budget.

"If we were buying copies of Microsoft Office for everyone in the company, we're already saving tens of thousands of dollars," says Brian Wyrick, vice president of operations at Raidious, an Indianapolis-based content development company. Along with the cost savings, Wyrick says Raidious adopted the Google Apps suite because of the accessibility it provides to their designers and producers in different parts of the country.

"Utility is good for any start-up company," Wyrick says, "and to be able to talk to a new hire on the phone, and set them up with a Web program without an IT guy having to grant access to them is a great thing."

Another benefit of Google Apps is each application's ability to integrate with one another – a feature that Ken Hayes, owner of a Toluca Lake, California-based Internet advertising company, says he's grateful for. "What's good about Google Apps is the fact that I can set up one main account for my business – and my e-mail, calendar and website are all tied together," he says. "Sure, there's better e-mail out there, but nobody has figured out how to tie it all together like Google."

Dig Deeper: Google Apps in the Game


How to Use Google Apps to Improve Your Business: Streamlining Internal Communication with Gmail

When Gmail first arrived on the scene, the personal e-mail client was lauded for its seemingly bottomless storage capacity and lightning-fast inbox search capabilities. But with the integration of Google Apps, many of Gmail's functions work just as efficiently for businesses. Again, one of the most beneficial characteristics of Gmail is the cloud factor – since there's no cumbersome software to worry about, Gmail is accessible to your employees from anywhere, without having to download contacts or messages into devices.

"One of the great things about Gmail is that it's browser based," says Wyrick. "We connect through our phones and IMAP clients. It's that ability to not have to say, 'here's your installation of Outlook.'"

Gmail's threaded conversations also helps to simplify messages among colleagues. For example, if multiple parties are CC'd in an e-mail, or if multiple e-mails have the same subject line, all of those messages are grouped together with each new e-mail sent, sitting perfectly at the top of your inbox and eliminating the hassle of having to check previous messages.

Also, every office environment should have a method for sending quick, by-the-minute messages, and Gmail's answer is Google Chat, which is built directly into the interface of the inbox. "We've really reduced the need for our internal telephony system," says Wyrick about Raidious' use of the messenger. The chat feature also has a video conferencing component that can be useful when colleagues and employees need to correspond from remote locations.

While Gmail is a great e-mail client, Wyrick recommends assigning multiple account administrators for your shared business account. "Once you're signed up, you never want to have all your eggs in one basket," he says. "Some day you're going to need to do something when that administrator isn't available."

Dig Deeper: Don't Ever Pay for Email Hosting Again


How to Use Google Apps to Improve Your Business: Syncing Meetings and Events through Google Calendar

Depending on your type of business, scheduling appointments can be a real headache. A few employees (or, only one) are usually responsible for tracking and relaying dates and times, a method that is conducive to slip-ups and missed meetings. With Google Calendar, multiple employees can post events on a single calendar that the entire company can access and edit accordingly. Additionally, these calendars can be color-coded so that the viewer is made aware of changes to appointments. Administrators can also set permissions to calendars, so that only certain employees can see or edit items.

Greg Cross, founder of Cross Creative, a Greenfield, Indiana-based digital marketing company, says he recently encouraged one of his major clients to adopt Google Calendar to help sort and protect appointments. "[He] owns a counseling center, and he came to me and said, 'We've got four counselors and we're looking for a way that our clients can schedule appointments online and keep them private,'" says Cross. "You can set it so that it won't show that you're having a counseling session with 'John Doe' on depression."

Another useful feature of Google Calendar is the ability to create events through Gmail. When you add an employee's e-mail address to an event on the calendar, the employee is sent an invitation to confirm his or her attendance. After confirming, each employee can view and add notes to the event.

Dig Deeper: Tech Talk: Ad Agency Migrates to Web App


How to Use Google Apps to Improve Your Business: Improving Collaboration and Project Management with Google Docs

Google Docs is an application that allows multiple users to create and edit documents, presentations and spreadsheets – all on the Web. Usually, coworkers share documents by e-mailing attachments to one another, which often results in incorrect file versions and scattered, misplaced copies. With Google Docs, the file is edited in the cloud, where revisions are saved and recovered automatically.

Like most of the other Google Apps, administrators can set permissions in Google Docs so that only certain workers are allowed to view and share files. Another convenient feature is the ability to export the documents into different types of file extensions, which can be helpful in those times when a client or customer needs a PDF file ASAP.

"I use Google Docs internally," says Cross. "I have a graphic designer that works only part time, so I post estimates and client proposals there." Using Google Docs to edit other common files such as itineraries, newsletters and articles can help resolve common issues that arise among employees when collaborating on projects.

As useful as Google Docs has been to many business owners, Wyrick of Raidious says that one thing to keep in mind is the fact that the people on your staff will have varying degrees of computer skills. So, if and when you do implement Google Docs for creating and editing your most important files, Wyrick says, it maybe helpful to designate a project champion who understands the application.

"There might be some users that will be less excited about the changes," says Wyrick. He also advises newcomers to frequent the help guide on the Google Apps site.

Dig Deeper: 10 Tips for Bootstrapping Your Technology


How to Use Google Apps to Improve Your Business: Sharing Company Knowledge with Google Sites

Google Sites is a basic site-building tool that companies can use to create a private intranet hub of information for employees, or even a public domain that serves as the face of your business. Google Sites allows you to import information from other apps, such as your appointment calendar or standard client forms, and post it to your site for employees or customers to have easy access to.

"Google Sites is like a wiki system," says Hayes, who uses the application so that he and his business partner in Denmark can keep track of company projects, ideas and contractors. "I have sections set up for competitors' ideas we want to improve, and even problems we want to fix within our business."

You can designate only certain employees to have administrative capabilities, i.e. editing and posting site information, or grant access to your entire team (especially if you're operating with a tightly-knit staff).

Dig Deeper: Top 10 Free Apps and Services for Business


How to Use Google Apps to Run Your Business: Finding Additional Resources in the Google Apps Marketplace

If the applications made exclusively by Google don't fulfill all of your needs, don't forget to check out the Google Apps Marketplace, where you can find plenty of third-party apps – some for free – which serve a variety of functions and integrate with the other standard apps. Intuit Online Payroll, for example, enables you to pay employees directly from Google Calendar and provide them online access to paystubs. Zoho CRM is a customer relationship management tool that helps improve client interaction in a number of ways, such as tracking and sorting e-mail conversations.

To augment Google Calendar's capabilities, Greg Cross of Cross Creative uses Tungle.me, an app that allows members to publish public schedules, accept appointment requests and reduce double-bookings. "It really helps mainstream my workflow," says Cross. "When the person confirms the appointment, it goes on my [Google] calendar, and I'm alerted on my phone. So between the collaboration of those two features, it works great for me."

According to Cross, Google Apps for businesses is quickly becoming a necessity and less of a neat product to try. The interoperability of the apps, along with the accessibility of the cloud, he says, provide many people the opportunity to leverage office technology efficiently for the first time. "It will be interesting to see how other software companies survive going forward, because Web-based apps are more than just a fad," says Cross. "It's not the 'wave of the future' – it's right now."

Dig Deeper: 5 Great Software Packages for Bootstrappers

Last updated: Jun 10, 2010

J.J. MCCORVEY is a reporter at Inc. magazine, where he covers a wide range of topics, including technology and business research. He has covered metro news for The Detroit News, and his work has been featured in Men's Fitness.
@jmccorvey




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