In our previous installment, I discussed 3 key elements for dramatically reducing TCO by going Google. These were:

1) Move your data into a massively leveraged, secure, robust and reliable cloud
2) Reduce your end-point device footprint so that it effectively becomes maintenance free
3) Simplify your information systems so that they become simple and easy to manage and use

In 2011, Community IT Innovators wanted to give this a test run to see how well it would work. So our leadership team decided to Go Google. Well, we didn’t exactly *go* Google. We took a few sips of Google. In the interest of full disclosure, CITI has been a Microsoft Certified Partner for over a decade. We are a classic Microsoft shop. We have experimented and supported Linux and MacOS. We have our fair share of Android and iOS fans. And we are always looking at alternatives.

But, fundamentally, we are well versed in the world of Microsoft. We host our own Windows-based domain, with file services. Our email is run off of a locally installed and maintained Exchange server. We are, in many ways, as far from the Cloud as you can get as a small organization. Because we have near universal in-house technical ability and depth throughout the organization, the cost of maintaining our systems is much lower than it would be for most organizations…which gives MS an unfair advantage, in many ways.

Nevertheless, as we look to the future, we want to continue to use the most effective systems available, we want to optimize our business continuity and still find ways to reduce costs. Most importantly, we want to eat the dog food that we might be recommending for our clients. While we are not in the Cloud now, we fully expect to be there within 1-3 years, and we expect many (if not most) of our clients to be there as well.

So with this in mind, we embarked on a modest pilot of Google Apps. Unlike most organizations, we kept our email in Exchange and used two of the less-common Google Apps features, Google Docs and Google Sites. We tracked our weekly scorecard in Google Docs, we set up a Google Site for our weekly management meeting, and we started to use Google Docs for presentations and other internal work that we had previously done in MS Office and stored on our server.

I’ll spare you the week by week details and jump straight to the chase. What did we discover?

• Simple…and limited
You just can’t do as much with Google Docs as you can with MS Office. While often simple, it occasionally took longer to do the same tasks in Google Apps because you had to perform more steps. For all its faults, Microsoft has done a great job of optimizing the UX (user interface experience) with its products, especially MS Office. All of the tweaks and improvements they have made over the past 15-20 years have made it a very powerful application (once you learn how to use it). Google Docs is much more basic (and limited), by comparison.

For our weekly scorecard, Google Apps worked well (enough)…but after 3 months of trying to deliver team presentations with Google Apps, I went back to PowerPoint. I could do so much more, in so much less time.

• Sharing
With tight integration between Docs and Email, we expected to have a much easier time sharing documents and other information. We did not find this to be the case. It is probably partly due to remaining with Exchange for our email, but we also found that our current information systems work well enough for sharing.

• Less Control
One of Google’s core principle is to help users find all the information out there. It is certainly easier to search and find information in Google Apps…perhaps too easy. Before long, I started seeing company documents showing up in my personal Google Docs account. Control is perhaps a 4-letter word in some organizations, but at an IT firm like ours, it is a critical company value. Microsoft, again for all its faults, has long provided IT Administrators with a top-notch set of tools for restricting access to information on a granular level. We missed having that in Google Apps.

• Rip that bandaid!
Contemporary vernacular is filled, these days, with talk of “doubling down” and “going all in”, and such phrases apply to the Cloud. Dipping your toe in the water is not going to be as effective…at least not with Google Apps. There were many times where we felt that we could probably get used to going Google…if we actually went with it. By staying in both worlds, we probably ensured that we were never going to completely go over to the Google Way. It is just too easy to stick with the familiar.

Long story short.

Our conclusion was positive in many ways. We found that we do derive great value from the MS suite of products, especially MS Office. It was not merely that we were entrenched in a rut…but that MS has actually created a valuable set of services that have created value for us in our daily, weekly and monthly operations.

But our current Microsoft system is on-premise. If we really are going to stay with Microsoft for our daily operations…then it needs to be available in the Cloud. On-premise is not an option for us, so we are looking at Office 365, Microsoft’s direct competitor to Google Apps.

2012, then, would be the year of Office 365. Stay tuned for updates.

Google Apps for Nonprofits