Google Apps guide for small business and charities: 7 steps to full adoption

Considering adopting Google Apps? This post should help you!

For small businesses and charities wanting to keep things lean, Google Apps offers a great opportunity for a single, simple ecosystem of products. Google has been steadily innovating across its Apps products and has almost reached a point where an organisation can adopt their suite of products wholesale. Adopting Google Apps will require compromise in some areas but will offer massive savings on training, IT support, per user purchase cost, integration issues and centralised control.

To adopt Google Apps fully you also need to fully buy into a paperless, always connected, cloud-powered world. This will take most businesses some time and I recommend you proceed stage by stage, reviewing the benefits and challenges as you go. This post will walk you through each stage.

1. Move your business email to Gmail

Setting up Google Apps is relatively straightforward. It needs someone reasonably tech savvy but they do not need any particular or specialist skills as the process is well documented. You link your account to a particular domain (e.g. business-beginning.org) and any email addresses created are based in that domain (e.g. andy@business-beginnings.org).

If you are still paying and IT company to manage your email servers, this stage is a quick win for you. Moving to Gmail will almost certainly reduce your monthly costs and will also provide you with a much more robust and scalable platform that looks after spam, mobile integration, etc for you. The added bonus is that many of your employees probably already use Gmail so will need little training on the new email system.

2. Create groups

After moving to Google Apps for your email, it is easy to then create groups. Groups are handy for managing incoming emails (e.g. creating hello@ or enquiries@ email addresses). Each group has an email address at your domain but you can forward incoming email to numerous people or even to outsourced services or helpdesk software.

As you start using Google Drive more (see below) you will also see that groups are a powerful way to manage document sharing across different departments of your business.

3. Collaborate on documents, spreadsheets and presentations

Once you have set up Google Apps you will automatically have access to the full suite of Google Drive applications, which includes Docs, Sheets and Slides. You probably have many legacy documents in different formats (MS Word, PDF, etc), so the best way to introduce Drive to your staff is for the purposes of collaboration. This is where Drive really shines against previous collaboration options such as exchanging versions of Word docs with layers of tracked changes.

Docs allow multiple people to edit in real time or alternatively you can grant certain people only the right to suggest changes (equivalent of tracked changes) or add comments. Unlike older versions of Word, comments are threaded and can be marked as resolved.

Sheets has similar functions to Docs but you can also link them to Forms which can provide a simple and public facing data capture method.

4. Move all files to Drive and manage permission through groups

If you start to use Drive widely you will probably run into a problem. Whatever your previous file storage solution, whether a file server in the office, Dropbox, or some other system, it will be unsuitable for storing Google Drive files. This will leave you with a challenge: how can you have a sensible and orderly file storage system that allows your team to find things easily when half your documents are on Google Drive and half are somewhere else?

This is where you need to take another leap into the hands of Google and adopt Drive for all of your file storage. This is the stage where some will lose their nerve and those paranoid about Google’s grasp over our data will go no further. Personally, I think there are far more pressing issues for most small businesses and charities to worry about than Google turning evil.

If you choose to bite the bullet, the process is pretty simple. Migrating docs to Drive is best done by downloading Google’s desktop app for Windows or Mac. This is a native program that hooks into your file explorer and synchronises all of your docs with Google Drive in the background. If you are familiar with Dropbox or Box it works in exactly the same manner.

Your staff can choose to either download the desktop app or access files through the online Drive interface.

5. Send messages, make calls and hold video conferences using Hangouts

By this stage your team will be spending lots of their time within the Google world and a natural next step will be to adopt Google’s communication solutions. These solutions are currently amalgamated under the ‘Hangouts’ brand and this includes instant messaging, video conferencing and more recently the ability to place telephone calls.

The simplest adoption of Hangouts will be inside your organisation because you know that everyone is already familiar and set up on Google products. The challenge comes when communicating with others outside your organisation. This challenge is largely addressed by Google’s recent release (in the UK) of the feature, supported for some time in the US, that enables you to add credit and make calls to mobiles and landlines from a Hangout conference.

6. Set up Google Cloud Print

Google Cloud Print allows you to print from any device to any ‘Cloud Print enabled’ printer over the internet. This model has loads of potential for reducing reliance on office networks (which are becoming increasingly redundant) but is at present Google Cloud Print is still in beta and rightly so. Compared to the systems mentioned so far, it is a long way behind. The general consensus seems to be that it has potential but remains buggy and in need of development. As a result, the business case for moving to Cloud Print is still unconvincing aside from the fact that it is necessary to progress to stage 7 below.

If you have got to stage 5 then there is a good chance you are already adopting modern practices such as a paperless office and remote working. If that is the case you may already have reduced your reliance on printing and be happy to experiment with Cloud Print. If you are still heavily reliant on printing you may want to watch the development of Cloud Print and move to this stage once it has matured slightly.

7. Move to ChromeOS

Chromebooks and Chromeboxes (the desktop version of Chromebooks) are personal computers that run on the ChromeOS operating system which is a very lightweight and simple operating system that includes little else aside from the Chrome browser and a file manager.

Chromebook use is growing fast but still make up a small fraction of the global PC market (1% according to the Guardian last month). This means that if you get to this stage you are probably an early adopter – congratulations! However, if you run a small business or charity you need to look for every advantage you have over larger incumbents. One of the key areas of such advantage is your ability to adapt more quickly to changes in the technological landscape.

Why adopt Chromebooks for your organisation? For some roles – designers, developers, engineers – who rely on technical software not available in a browser, this will simply not be feasible. However, many office workers already spend most of their time in the browser, with the only exception being programs like Word which are themselves moving to the browser. For these workers Chromebooks are faster, simpler, less prone to viruses and faults, and significantly cheaper.

Conclusion

I am convinced that Google Apps is a great solution for small businesses and charities (I’m not being paid to say that!). It’s not perfect by any means but it is always improving and brings the potential of huge efficiency savings that are much needed by small organisations trying to innovate and generate value.

I’d love to hear your experiences / thoughts about Google Apps so please leave a comment below.