August 18th, 2008 2 Comments

Google Apps is a great deal for small business

Managing e-mail, contacts and calendars are some of the most fundamental tasks in any business.  Yet even today it’s surprisingly difficult to set up an integrated system for a typical small business.  E-mail is probably the easiest, but there are competing standards for calendar information and contacts, and several different ways to handle security.  And if your company has a mix of Windows and Apple computers, and different phone models it’s very time consuming and training/support-intensive to get everyone working together.

Microsoft’s Exchange Server, combined with Microsoft Outlook is the most common way to integrate contacts, calendars and e-mail, but it’s a very expensive solution and requires a fair bit of technical skill to set up and maintain.  Very good, and less expensive, replacements for Exchange have appeared (the best is probably Zimbra , which was acquired by Yahoo! recently) but these still require hardware and technical support.

The new trend, which goes by such catchy names as "cloud computing" or "SaaS" offers a very appealing solution, particularly for small to mid-size companies.  Cloud computing, or Software as a Service (SaaS) refers to the concept of having programs out in the "cloud" of the Internet as opposed to having the software on your personal computer (or your company’s servers).  For example, your calendar would be stored in the cloud, on somebody else’s servers where you can reach it from any computer and easily share it with other people.  Turning over your calendar to "the cloud" might sound dangerous, but it’s no different from the way e-mail works, and everyone has come to accept those risks.

One of the companies offering such new services is Google with their Google Apps .  This set of online services is interesting because of who’s behind it, the breadth of features, and because it’s free.  There is no hardware or programming support required, and management of Google Apps is all done with a simple Web browser using the online administration site.  A "Premier Edition " of Google Apps is also available (for a fee) for those companies that need strict e-mail policies, archive control, and compliance.

You still might not want to set this up on your own, but it’s not particularly difficult – we have converted about a dozen of our clients to this system so far.  One nice feature of Google Apps is that you can use your private domain name for e-mail instead of the more common Google mail (gmail.com) or Hotmail-type addresses.  You can even have branded pages featuring your company name, logo and other artwork.

Here’s a short list of the key features:

E-mail

  • Over 7 GB of storage per mailbox
  • Built-in junk mail (spam) filters
  • Use either the Web-based e-mail program, or desktop Outlook, Thunderbird, etc.
  • Send/receive mail from Internet-ready phones

Calendar

  • Multiple calendars
  • Share calendars with a group or keep them private
  • Publish specific calendars to any Web site – great for scheduling public events
  • Schedule conference rooms, delivery trucks and other resources

Google is obviously invading Microsoft’s territory, and winning converts because they can afford to give away something that everyone needs.

In my next post I’ll describe how to use Google Apps on different computers and phones.

2 Responses to “Google Apps is a great deal for small business”

Harshil Karia

August 23rd, 2008 - 10:48 pm

In my office we use Google Apps as well – its brilliant for internal chat and hosting and all of that.. i think what Google Apps lacks is a good project management system. We use a system called Deskaway to manage our internal communications apart from chat. I think chat wastes time and i dont think Google apps fulfills the niche of an ‘internal website’ particularly well. DeskAway allows us to have be an online repository – something that Google apps doesnt do quite well alone. But i think the 2 work fabulously well together.

moderator

August 24th, 2008 - 12:34 pm

Thanks for the heads-up on Deskaway. I never looked at that before, but will set up one of their free accounts to give it a try.

We have recently been using Zoho Projects to manage a server upgrade/relocation project involving about a dozen people. So far the project is going well and Zoho Projects has proven easy to use and very helpful.

The integration with Zoho Invoice is also a nice benefit for a few consultants that are contributing to the project – the consultants can track their time on each project task and then generate an invoice with one click. The invoices/payments are tracked for them in Zoho Invoice.

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