Why Flight Centre, Ray White went Google

Google this morning fired a broadside directly into the good ship Microsoft, claiming victory over the email platforms of Australian companies Flight Centre and Ray White. But why did the pair choose to dump their incumbent Outlook Exchange platforms and 'go Google'?

Google this morning fired a broadside directly into the good ship Microsoft, claiming victory over the email platforms of Australian companies Flight Centre and Ray White. But why did the pair choose to dump their incumbent Outlook Exchange platforms and 'go Google'?

The problem of storing data offshore, outside Australia's legal jurisdiction, is often mentioned as a barrier to adopting Google Apps, especially in the public sector. It wasn't a problem for either Flight Centre or Ray White, although both stated they wouldn't keep sensitive company information such as financial documents on Google's platform.

Flight Centre CIO Peter Wataman said that his company had evaluated a variety of email platforms when deciding to move from his company's Exchange environment (hosted by IBM). The choices were narrowed down quickly, and Flight Centre now has some 3000 users on Google's platform, with the plan being to roll out Google's applications outside Australia by the end of the financial year.

"To be brutally honest with you, the key decision was not only around the technology, but [also] the cultural alignment," Wataman said.

When Flight Centre was evaluating the technology, Wataman said his team went out to the company's staff in a survey and asked them whether they had used anything like Gmail before. Somewhere between 80 to 90 per cent of the staff said they had.

The second question asked, he said, was whether the staff would use the technology in a work environment. Over 85 per cent said yes. "Our people were very excited about it — we were actually being asked when it was coming," Wataman said, noting that staff generally didn't get that excited about technology upgrades.

It took Google about six months to convince Flight Centre to shift to Google Apps, Wataman said. It was a large decision: the company has about 100 terabytes of data wrapped up in its email systems, and it had disparate systems scattered around the globe.

Other attractive factors around the Google platform included the fact that Flight Centre wouldn't need to update its systems simultaneously around the globe, with upgrades being slipped seamlessly into Google's cloud platform. In addition, new, "crazy" features were to be integrated in the next six months, Wataman said — a short time frame which impressed Flight Centre.

It was a similar situation at Ray White, which this morning revealed it had rolled out Google Apps to some 10,000 staff in total, in addition to building a property management system on top of Google's App Engine. Like Flight Centre, Ray White had been running Outlook and Exchange, although it also provided a much simpler POP-based email platform to its wider network.

Ben White, the company's director of IT and property management, said the company had never had an ability to merge its culture with technology upgrade cycles. The company's dispersed model meant it had a culture which was fundamentally about empowerment, with White describing the company as being composed of "1000 businesses, all run by entrepreneurs".

In comparison, the traditional IT model was more about "command and control ... enforcing policies and telling people what to do".

"In many respects, we've sat out [of] IT for the past ten years," said White, noting that most of Ray White's offices had invested in their own infrastructure to suit their own tastes.

As a consequence, the company thinks about Google Apps as less about an email story — and more about how the company could build a platform for its internal entrepreneurs to building their businesses on. Hence the company began two years ago to build what it calls its 'Generation 5' platform based on Google Apps.

The company now has seven different applications built on Google Apps (two of which are the property management system and a new online advertising solution). "We don't have a single server any more on that side of the business," said White.

"The 'To Do' list is longer than when we started," he said. "It's exciting, quick — it's about ideas. That's the culture that we have as a company."

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