May 2014
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Leverage Google Apps for Business Collaboration

One online platform for easy data collaboration across all your devices.

Manny Mandrusiak

Manny Mandrusiak
Managing Creative Consultant,
4 Bravo Marketing

Contributing Editor


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The word “collaboration” is huge on the web these days.  It seems that every new device or software platform has some sort of positioning statement that leverages the word collaboration, but what does that word really mean to those of us in business?  When I think of my own needs they are to have the ability to create and share documents and files across multiple devices and have the ability to access them from anywhere.

There is nothing worse for me than hopping between client meetings and having to search through my briefcase for the thumb drive that I put my next presentation on, and then having to fire up my laptop to make a change.  It would be fantastic if I could just access the presentation from an online storage area and have the ability to make some changes on my tablet or smartphone. 

Now anyone who owns a smartphone or tablet knows that they all have the capability to do this with basic built in apps, but the question still remains as to where to securely store my data so that I can access it via the cloud? That question leads to the discussion of which online collaboration service to use.  This article will examine one of the longest running online collaboration platforms - Google Apps.

A little history behind Google Apps?

Anyone who has read any of my previous articles knows that I am not a fan of Google + as a standalone service.  I think that it fails as a social media platform on many levels and once again proves that the company that owns “100 percent of the web” does not always do everything right.  One thing that they have done very right is the way that they have positioned Google Apps as a secure and robust online service that provides the ability to collaborate with others on both a personal and a corporate level.

Back in 2005 Google started to enter the world of providing users with the ability to access free versions of a word processor, and a spreadsheet program.  Google was one of the first to dabble in the world of web-based office tools and make the attempt to dethrone the king of all office programs – Microsoft.

I have to say that Google has done an excellent job of developing Google Apps and positioning it as a comprehensive, and affordable alternative to using Microsoft products.  According to the bettercloudblog (http://blog.bettercloud.com) since Google officially launched the Google Apps platform in 2006 there are now 50 million users worldwide using the suite; this includes organizations like the US Army, Whirlpool and the Better Business Bureau.

Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office

Much like Microsoft, Google has chosen to capitalize on the technology trend of moving data into the cloud and offering services rather than traditional software products.  Being born and raised on Microsoft products I am naturally reluctant to want to move toward anything but Microsoft Office’s big three – Word, Excel and PowerPoint.  It is what I used in College, and throughout most of my working career.  I never really stopped to consider the huge financial investment that companies have to make in Microsoft Office product licensing until I got into the world of software training.  Once I started selling Microsoft and Adobe training solutions I could easily see why corporations would find alternative solutions like Google Apps very cost effective and easy to implement on a large scale.  Google provides plans for all levels of users, and the fact that Google Apps is OS agnostic means that Apple users are not forced to install Windows on their Macs just to use Microsoft Office.

As companies continue to implement BYOD policies (Bring Your Own Device) into corporate workplaces, having a robust cloud based service that works on any device is highly desirable.

That being said there are some differences and limitations when comparing Google Apps to Microsoft Office products.  Google’s Apps are not built to be as comprehensive as Microsoft Office and that is done by design.  They are meant to be easy to use while loading and functioning quickly over a variety of devices.  If one looks at the daily collaboration needs of the average medium to large business then Google Apps plus Google Mail (a corporately branded Gmail account using a unique company domain) and Google Calendar completely cover most day-to-day tasks.

At the core is Google Drive

Continuing with our theme of collaboration, Google Apps is designed around one core feature - Google Drive. Google Drive is designed to be the center of the Google Apps platform with two specific functions: to provide users with the ability to create documents and share files. Documents can be defined as spreadsheets, presentations, office documents etc.

These documents and files are very easily uploaded to an end-users Google Drive account from either a Mac or PC.  I was able to upload documents from both my Surface tablet, and my iPad, but only after I downloaded a Google Drive App for each.  Once the App was installed uploading files was extremely easy.

I also accessed these files easily from both my smartphone and my tablets through the Google Drive App, and learned that I can download desktop apps for both the Mac and PC that will automatically synchronize files between my laptop and my Google Drive.  This provides me with access to my files on the go and using any of my devices which is exactly what I want when I am conducting business on the road. What I also discovered when I dug into Google Drive a little deeper was that it is the hub of a completely integrated system of productivity and collaboration tools.  This includes a complete office suite with mail, word processing, spreadsheets, and calendar/ project management tools. 

Reliable Controls I can also collaborate with colleagues using Google Drive to share documents so that we can work as a group.  I tried this feature out and it is very cool.  When a document is open in Google Drive by multiple people with access to the account, changes can be made in real-time.  When someone is actively using the document their profile picture is displayed in the top-right corner of the window so that all users know who is working on the document.  Version control is also no issue for Google Drive.  It tracks the history of all the changes that have been made to a document.  If I dislike the changes I can always roll back to an earlier version, or take bits of text from earlier versions and paste them seamlessly into a later version. 

Final Thoughts

As far as cloud-based services go I have to say that Google App really impressed me with its ease of use, and cross device compatibility.  I have been using Google Drive and Google Apps for over a month now and I am still amazed at just how easy everything is to do with it.  I even tried the Google Calendar tasks and appointments to see how it stacked up next to Outlook’s and Google Calendar works!  I never missed a task, or a meeting.  Reminders were exactly the same as Outlook’s and synchronized across my devices.

I can easily see why Google Apps has given Microsoft Office a run for its money when it comes to choosing a cloud service.  Robust, secure and easy to use.  Add in the cross device compatibility and there is really not much more that I can ask as an end user.  I do know that I will be exploring Google Apps more, and who knows, I might even learn to love Google + a little.

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