“Hello, my name is Jeff Ton and it has been one thousand, two hundred and seventy two days since I last opened Outlook.”
February 6, 2012, an historic date in Indianapolis, Indiana. Yeah, there was some little football game that night, Super Bowl XLVI - New York Giants against the New England Patriots. But that is not the event that made the date historic (though it was great to watch a Manning beat Brady!) What made that date historic was our go-live on Google Apps, our first step in our Journey to the Cloud.
Now that I have offended everyone from the Pacific Northwest and New England, let me rewind and start at the beginning. In 2010, I arrived at Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana. We were running Microsoft Exchange 2003 coupled with Outlook 2010. Back in the day, the adage was “No one ever got fired for buying IBM”, I was in the “No one ever got fired for buying Microsoft camp”. In fact, when I learned the students in our high school were using Google, I was pretty adamant that they use Office. After all, that is what they will be using when they get jobs!
At about this same time, we were switching from Blackberry to Android-based smartphones. We were having horrible sync problems between Exchange and the Androids using ActiveSync. We needed to upgrade our Exchange environment desperately!
As we were beginning to make plans for upgraded servers to support the upgraded exchange environment, I attend my first MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Boston. Despite the fact that I bleed Colts blue, I actually love Boston, the history, the culture, the vibe; but I digress. At the conference I learned about AC vs. CF projects (see: That Project is a Real Cluster to learn more). I could not fathom a more likely CF project than an email upgrade project. Why not look to the cloud? Since we were doing an upgrade anyway, perhaps this would be the LAST email upgrade we would have to do!
Enter The Google Whisper. For months a former colleague-turned-Google-consultant had been telling me we should check out Google as an email platform. Usually my response was “Google? That’s for kids not an enterprise!” (Ok, now I have offended everyone from Silicon Valley, too!) Everytime I saw him, he would bring it up. I finally agreed to attend one of Google’s roadshow presentations. I came away from that event with an entirely different outlook (pun intended) on Google.
We decided to run a A/B pilot. We would convert 30 employees to the Google Apps platform for 60 days. We would then convert the same 30 employees to BPOS (predecessor to Office 365) for 60 days and may the best man, er, I mean platform, win. We handpicked the employees for the pilot. I purposely selected many who were staunchly in the Microsoft camp and several others who typically resisted change.
At the end of the pilot an amazing thing happened. Not one person on the pilot team wanted to switch off of Google onto BPOS, in fact, each and every person voted to recommend a Google migration to the Executive Team. Unanimous! When was the last time that ever happened in one of your projects?!!?
The decision made, we launched the project to migrate to the cloud! We leveraged this project to also implement our email retention policy (email is retained for five years). The vast majority of the work in the project involved locating all the .PST in our environment, moving them to a central location from network file folders, local drives, and yes, even thumb drives and CDs. Once in that central location, they were uploaded to the Google platform. During this time, we also mirrored our email environment so every internal and external email also went to the Google platform in real time.
The process took about three months, but finally it was Super Bowl Sunday, time for go-live. Now before you think me an ogre of a boss for scheduling a major go-live for Super Bowl Sunday, I should tell you, the date of February 6, 2012 was selected by the project team. Their thought? No one is going to be doing email after the game is over. We announced a blackout period of eight hours beginning at midnight to do our conversion. Boy, were we ever wrong about the length of the blackout period! Our conversion that night took about 20 minutes. 20 minutes and email was flowing again in and out of the Google environment.
Our implementation included email, contacts, calendar, and groups for three domains. We made the decision to keep the other Google Apps available, but not promote them. We also implemented our five year archive and optional email encryption for sensitive communications. The other decision we made (ok, I made) was not to allow the use of Outlook to access Gmail. One of the tenets of our strategic plan was “Any time, Any place, Any device”, I felt having a piece of client software violated that tenet and created additional support issues that were not necessary.
We learned several things as a result of the project. First, search is not sort. If you have used Gmail, then you know there is not a way to sort your Inbox, it relies instead on the power of Google Search. People really like their sort. Took some real handholding to get them comfortable.
Second, Google Groups are not Distribution Lists. We converted all of our Exchange Distribution Lists to Groups. Yes, they do function in somewhat the same way, however, there are many more settings in Groups, settings that can have unexpected consequences. Consequences like the time our CFO replied to an email that had been sent to a Group, and even though he did not use reply all, his reply went to everyone in the Group! We found that setting very quickly and turned it off! (Sorry Dan!)
The third lesson learned was “You cannot train enough”. Yes, we held many classes during the lead up to conversion and continued them long afterwards. A lot of the feedback we had heard (“everyone has Gmail at home, we already know how to use it”) led us to believe once the initial project was complete we didn’t need to continue training. We recently started a series of Google Workshops to continue the learning process. Honestly, I think some of this is generational. Some love to click on links, watch a video, and then use the new functionality. Others, really want a classroom environment. We now offer both.
One of the things that pleasantly surprised us (well, at least me) was the organic adoption of other Google tools. The first shared Google Doc came to me from outside the IT department. The first meeting conducted using Google Hangouts came from the Marketing department. People were finding the apps and falling in love with them.
Today, one thousand, two hundred and seventy-two days later our first step to the cloud is seen as a great accomplishment. It has saved us tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars, thousands of hours, and has freed up our team to work on those AC projects!
Before I close, I do want to say, we are still a Microsoft shop. We have Office, Windows, Server, SQL Server and many other Microsoft Products. This post is not intended to be a promotion of one product over another. As I said in my previous post, your path may be different from ours. For us, a 3,000 employee non-profit, Google was the right choice. You may find it meets your requirements, or you may find another product is a better fit. The point here is not the specific product, but the product’s delivery method...cloud...SaaS. The project was such a resounding success, we changed one of our Application Guiding Principles. We are now “cloud-first” when selecting a new application or upgrading an existing one. In fact, almost all of the applications we have added in the last three and half years have been SaaS-based, including Workday, Domo, Vonigo, ETO, Facility Dude and more.
Go and get your Google on, later hit your Twitter up
We out workin’ y’all from summer through the winter, bruh
Red eye precision with the speed of a stock car
You’re now tuned in to some Independent Rock Stars
Next month, we will explore a project that did more to take us to a Value-add revenue generating partner than just about any other project. Amplify Your Value: Reap the Rewards!
The series, “Amplify Your Value” explores our five year plan to move from an ad hoc reactionary IT department to a Value-add revenue generating partner. #AmplifyYourValue
We could not have made this journey without the support of several partners, including, but not limited to: Bluelock, Level 3 (TWTelecom), Lifeline Data Centers, Netfor, and CDW. (mentions of partner companies should be considered my personal endorsement based on our experience and on our projects and should NOT be considered an endorsement by my company or its affiliates).
Jeffrey Ton is the SVP of Corporate Connectivity and Chief Information Officer for Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana, providing vision and leadership in the continued development and implementation of the enterprise-wide information technology and marketing portfolios, including applications, information & data management, infrastructure, security and telecommunications.
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