Chrome replaces Windows at Woolworths

Supermarket chain testing 500 Chromebooks and Chromeboxes

Woolworths staff have reported productivity gains working on Chromebooks, says acting CIO Damon Rees. Credit: Woolworths

Woolworths staff have reported productivity gains working on Chromebooks, says acting CIO Damon Rees. Credit: Woolworths

Google Chrome OS devices will account for 85 per cent of business devices at Woolworths at the completion of the supermarket’s technology transformation, according to Woolworths acting CIO, Damon Rees.

“We are currently trialling several types of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes to identify those most suitable for our environment,” Rees told Computerworld Australia. “Across our technology and business teams, we have around 500 Chrome devices.”

Woolworths announced a 12-month transition to Google Apps and Chrome last April. The migration is part of a larger transformation program at the Woolworths Group, said Rees.

“Overall the program will replace a legacy Microsoft Email platform with Google mail, introduce richer collaboration features using the broader Google Apps suite, and replace a legacy Windows XP desktop with a far superior Web-based desktop delivery method using Citrix.

“This will provide our users with greater options in device choices including ‘bring your own device’ and Chromebooks.”

Rees reported strong progress on the technology initiative at Woolworths.

“To date, we have provided 25,000 support office staff with Google Apps for Business, and we are about to begin rolling out a Google identity to 175,000 Store and Distribution Centre staff, who have never before been connected to the wider Woolworths Group,” he said.

“Building on this, the replacement desktop environment is making good progress with migration activities for 10,000 users preparing to get underway, further increasing the flexibility and mobility of our workforce.”

The Chromeboxes are being tested for videoconferencing meetings, a feature recently touted by Google.

Rees said migrating the 25,000 staff to Google Apps in six months was no easy task. Woolworths worked with Google partner Cloud Sherpas to complete the job.

“The challenges along the way came from the sheer number and spread of the sites we migrated (across Australia, New Zealand, China and India), and our decision to migrate historical data from Outlook.”

Citrix played a critical part in making Google services a viable solution for the enterprise, Rees said.

“Embracing a Chrome device strategy in an enterprise setting has been made possible with recent advances in Citrix with its web-based delivery technology, enabling Woolworths to make the transition from legacy thick client application access to cloud like browser based delivery,” he said.

Woolworths is one of the first big enterprises in Australia to take up Google Apps and Chrome OS. Other big deployments have mostly been limited to the education sector.

Frost and Sullivan analyst Audrey William said the supermarket’s embrace of Google could foreshadow greater enterprise adoption of Chrome OS in the future.

“You’re starting to see the momentum pick up, but it’s still not across the board,” she said.

Rees said Woolworths’ decision to embrace Chrome followed on from its innovation strategy, including a major move to the cloud.

“Overall the combination of Google Apps, Citrix and Chrome devices delivers on the Woolworths technology strategy providing our staff with the right tools, available on the right device accessible from the right location,” he said.

“Our focus is on providing the tools for our team members to become more engaged with greater flexibility and productivity in the workplace, not to mention increased opportunities to collaborate and connect with team members around the world.”

“Google, Citrix and Chrome together meet these aims, as well as simplifying our support and administrative processes, whilst simultaneously reducing our IT infrastructure costs.”

The decision also made good financial sense, the acting CIO said.

“The reality is that we wouldn’t be doing this if it didn’t provide value for our shareholders.

“We were faced with the end of life of our Microsoft software, so we needed to make a significant investment in technology this financial year, whatever solution we went with.”

So far, the transition to Google Apps and Chrome OS has paid off, said Rees.

“We measured satisfaction with the rollout regularly along the way,” he said. “Within 12 weeks, our support office teams were telling us that 42 per cent of them were more efficient in their day-to-day tasks.”

“This exceeded our expectations for such a short period of time.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of a dystopian novel about surveillance. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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