They're being sold as the best thing since sliced bread, but in the name of fairness it's important to point out that Google's Gmail and Docs solutions aren't for everybody. Early adopters may be crowing about their benefits now, but the likelihood of painful migrations, mismatched expectations, functional gaps and major business change may be enough to keep you on the sidelines for now. Here are five reasons you may want to hold off on jumping to Google apps for a while.
1. Document compatibility and portability
For all its redeeming qualities, Google Apps is a minefield for companies that rely heavily on Microsoft Office applications. If your needs are primarily limited to everyday document creation with standard formatting, you won't have any problem. But if your business depends on custom templates, macros, and the like, you may find Google's online tools are simply too much trouble.
The problems fall into two main categories: appearance and functionality. Appearance, for example, will see some complex documents render differently – with different fonts, for example, or different layout – in Google's apps than in the source apps. Some documents may be easily updated to suit, while other swill suffer from arcane conversion issues that could see you spending an untenable amount of time fixing mistakes.
Ditto scripting, forms and the like: Google tries its best, but many advanced features taken for granted in Office 2010 are simply unavailable in Google's environment. This creates the potential for workflow continuity problems and is likely to upset the productivity of companies that have invested heavily in automation tools. This risk may not necessarily discount Google Apps for all your employees, but it will force you to evaluate use cases to establish which employees have productivity needs and compatibility issues that prevent them from getting their job done.
2. User revolt
One of the biggest problems companies switching to Google Apps report is user unfamiliarity with the new environment. Technical staff, many of whom are well acquainted with the user interface of applications like Gmail and Google Docs, often make the mistake of assuming that their end users will find the new environment equally easy.
Users, on the other hand, are usually completely lost when first placed in front of Gmail; features like threaded conversations and different handling of file attachments can be unfamiliar and intimidating for users that grew up on the ways and mores of Microsoft Outlook's interface. Ditto the Google productivity applications, which have the usual range of basic commands but require lots of hunting through menus to accomplish many other tasks. Even collaboration requires a bit of getting used to, although its value does become clear with hands-on usage.
Some users learn the new interfaces quickly, while others struggle through as they might when trying an unfamiliar and suspicious new food. Anecdotal reports suggest that user familiarity issues can be overcome with careful training, but many companies make the mistake of skipping this step in the rush to shift employees' primary productivity environments. The immediate effect is to foment rebellion that may be both unexpected and dramatic; users may flood IT help desks with innocuous queries, or simply demand a quick return to the productivity tools they know and love. Fear of protracted battles against users may not be enough to stop you altogether, but consider it seriously before taking too much for granted and pushing a migration through on an unsuspecting user population.
3. Security and reliability
While Google has a good track record on security and reliability overall, the fact is that adopting cloud email or productivity tools is going to add a whole new element to your corporate security and governance profile. Particularly if you operate in an industry where tight controls mandate your activities, you may find the implicit measured risks of cloud computing as simply being too much to jump into.
These risks are numerous, and especially in these early days largely uncontrollable. For example, despite overall good performance statistics on Google's part, downtime can strike at any moment – as it has on several occasions. This may be no different than in your own IT environment, but at least when you're hosting your own mail you know whose phone to ring to figure out exactly what's going on.
The other issue with security revolves around your corporate data. Records-retention regulations set requirements about how companies must store and archive data, and a common underlying theme is that data must be accessible for a certain amount of time. If that data is stored in the cloud – particularly if it's in another legal jurisdiction – the dynamics of accountability may change dramatically. If this risk is too much to bear, hold off on upsetting the apple cart for now until the effect of cloud-hosted data on corporate governance strategies can be appropriately evaluated.
Over the page: Reasons 4 and 5