A while ago I took my first steps into the world of Google Apps for Businesses. Why? Well, let’s just say I wanted to walk that gold paved road to the low cost intranet paradise with my own two feet. In stead of just believing what others (read: Google) are saying. Nowadays more and more companies are making the switch to Google Apps and they seem quite content with it. A fact that seems to be backed up by the many success stories about the implementation of new Google Apps intranets. But success stories are one thing. I have yet to find a good article on how all the individual Google Apps tools like Mail, Groups, Docs and Sites have been incorporated into a successful intranet. How to create a seamless intranet platform where all individual tools work together with each other interchanging information and enhancing collaboration and sharing. And how does Google Apps work with tools like Yammer? So time to get my hands dirty and see for myself how great Google Apps is.
Setting things up
The setup for Google Apps is easy and straight forward. First Google needs you to verify the domain ownership to make sure you’re not trying to seize a random companies email. After that you can start your actual setup. Following the setup wizard doesn’t take too long and it feels Google has put quite some effort in streamlining the set-up process. I didn’t add any Marketplace apps as I wanted to see the bare functionality of Google Apps. And I must say that after a quick look into the Google Marketplace I’m not sure I ever will add an app from it. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot to choose from. But most of it is poorly documented and couldn’t give me a production ready feeling. Another thing about the Marketplace that bothered me was it being full of service companies offering me to setup my Google Apps environment. But enough about the Marketplace. The setup was finished and it was time to get started with my brand new Google Apps intranet.
What I wanted
My plan was to create a start page for our company intranet where I would put the latest posts from my management Google group that I had set up with the wizard, a calendar with all the planned appointments of all the users, the personal emails of the current user that is logged in and a people finder. The first option that came to mind was using Google Sites for this.
What Google gave me
After about 10 minutes of playing with Google Sites it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do what I wanted. Sites is a nice addition to the personal side of the Google platform, but as a business tool it lacks depth and more importantly integration. Why doesn’t Sites work with Google Docs in stead of a file cabinet? And why doesn’t it integrate with my Google Groups in stead of having it’s own announcement page?
Creating a people finder was a similar pain in the back side. I just couldn’t find a quick out-of-the-box way of doing this. But why not? Was I asking for too much? Maybe my idea of a seamless Intranet is just not of this time anymore. I know the Intranet is changing, but I thought it was moving towards better integration between different applications.
Mail, Docs and Groups are easy to setup and easy to use. Sites might work for some, but don’t expect any form of interaction between Sites and other Apps out-of-the-box. Contacts works nicely when you need to find someone to send an email to, but what if I want an overview of all the people in the company?
AlthoughI feel I have only scratched the surface of what Google Apps is capable of my conclusion, for now, is that if you need low cost, scalable intranet functionality as email, collaboration and newsgroups Google Apps is the way to go. But if your intranet needs are bigger, and you want an intranet where services integrate seamlessly with one another, you’ll need to find a Google Apps development company that can build your bespoke intranet solution on the Google Apps infrastructure.
But I do see a potential problem here. Most IT Companies that claim to be Google Apps experts have little or no experience creating tailor-made software for the Google Apps platform, which for now is leading to a whole bunch of stand-alone software solutions that lack integration with the whole Google infrastructure (except for the login functionality).
Maybe it’s time for a new Google certification. The current Google Apps Certification only states that you’ve implemented Google Apps a couple of times, but says nothing of the quality or the know-how of software development.
I guess the good news is that as more companies are making the switch to Google Apps, more IT companies will start developing on the platform and maybe one day we’ll see a Google Apps Developer Certification.