New research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics is showing that business that pursue innovation are more than twice as likely to improve their productivity than those that don’t, but that's often a difficult sell when businesses are under increasing pressure to both cut costs and improve efficiency in a challenging environment.
iTWire spoke to two businesses who pursued Google Apps to find out what made them choose the suite over rival options, and if the switch has actually made a discernable difference to the way they operate day-to-day.
For the uninitiated, Google Apps is a service Google offers that comes with independently customizable versions of several Google products under a custom domain name. It features several Internet apps with similar functionality to traditional office suites, including Gmail, Google Groups, Google Calendar, Talk, Drive, Play, Docs, News, Wallet and Sites.
It was the brainchild of Rajen Sheth, a Google employee who later developed Chromebooks, and is now used by over five million businesses worldwide.
Australian Fitness Network CEO Ryan Hogan told iTWire that in no uncertain terms Google Apps had changed the way his business operates, and saved tens of thousands of dollars in the process.
Hogan said Australian Fitness Network has been in business since 1987 and is a 10,000-strong network of trainers, gym managers and other industry professionals. Hogan described them as pretty much the industry body for fitness, but the company was late to the game in terms of the digital space.
"We're a small to medium sized business so investing in technology is not something that's always been available to us," he said in an interview.
"Old school investment in technology - buying servers, racks and storage space and all that, was just really difficult." He said the company was using Exchange servers for their email but had to buy $25,000 racks in order to do so, and the service didn't offer the seamless syncing that employees have come to expect.
"Our IT suggested we had a look at Google Apps a couple of years ago, and we moved our email and calendars over, thinking that would be a good way to test the waters. And it was easily the easiest transition we've ever done. We did it over the Christmas period, thinking we'd need about a week and there'd be all kinds of problems... but there wasn't. It took two days, and we were done."
The feature that most excited Hogan was the calendar app - "having the ability to properly share events between people and devices, it's made collaboration and meetings much more efficient and easy. Previously sending a calendar invite from a phone, or pulling up a doc on the go was like slogging through an ultramarathon uphill in the rain”.
Hogan said the company was looking to eventually move away fully from using Microsoft Office, though Google Docs "wasn't quite there yet," needing a "few more features" including a more fully-functional spreadsheet app. He also said the only hurdles really related to some staff being hesitant to make the switch, but once they'd got past the initial training they began to realise it actually made their work quicker and even a bit more fun.
The Australian Fitness Network has now integrated their HR, CRM and project management tools so their operations are all in sync - fitness class instructors cano create customised workout plans and share them directly with clients, rather than printing or emailing updated versions. Now that the company's in the cloud, they aren't going back.
Meanwhile Toowoomba based family-owned security business Ambush Security Services said it has become one of the largest security firms in Queensland in large part thanks to cloud technology.
Graham Russell bought the company from Chubb Australia 10 years ago, and since then, they have steadily expanded the business to Brisbane and the Gold Coast employing 50 staff throughout Australia. Russell told iTWire that he's managed to keep costs low and productivity high through innovative technology, and that Google Apps was key to this.
"As you can imagine, it’s really important for security teams to have good communication systems out on the go," Russell said.
"Because Google Apps is cloud based, their team can now access their emails and files from anywhere and collaborate on these together in real time, instead of waiting till they get back to the office to do reports. When you start first investigating the options you don't fully realise how much it'll actually change the way your business operates.
"We used to use traditional stuff like IT servers, Microsoft products, that sort of stuff. And about four or five years ago we opened up our second office, in Brisbane, and we started looking at cloud but it was a bit too early. So we went to a remote desktop solution, and then about two years ago there were a number of things we looked at when deciding what option to go with."
He listed three things that ended up pushing the team to Google - a frustration with Exchange, a concern around redundancy in terms of backups and storage, and the poor speed of the remote desktop solution they were using at the time.
Russell said since moving to the cloud, Ambush Security Services' employees are saving between one and two hours each per week and hardware costs have dropped dramatically - ultimately saving upwards of $75,000 per year.
Like Hogan, Russell too said there was a "fair bit of pushback" from the staff, with about half of his team, and in particular the older members, reluctant to make such a big change. He said there was a "bit of an education process involved", but the company is now at the stage where everyone's fully onboard and comfortable with having everything in the cloud.
When asked what changes he would make, Russell said he would add a bit more support from Google, though they do have a "whole heaps of videos online", and he'd improve Google Drawing, which "doesn't come close to Visio."
Overall however both companies were extremely impressed with what Google Apps had delivered, and recommended other small to medium sized enterprises take a serious look at the offering.