S'pore firm not gaga over Google Apps

Google launches marketing campaign to drive adoption of office suite, but one Singapore company has concerns over security and lack of formatting capabilities.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

SINGAPORE--In a bid to expand its international marketing efforts around Google Apps, the search giant last week launched a global initiative it calls "Gone Google". But, one local company cites user inertia and learning curve as reasons for not jumping on the bandwagon just yet.

Deepak Ramanathan, the company's Asia-Pacific head of enterprise marketing, said in an e-mail interview that Google is focusing on digital screens for the campaign to keep the advertisements "fresh and up-to-date", and has placed advertisements in 17 digital billboards across the Singapore Changi Airport's three terminals.

Ramanathan said Google sees "huge opportunity" in enterprises and has "thousands of" Google Apps business users in Singapore and Southeast Asia, ranging from small and midsize businesses (SMBs), to large enterprises and educational institutions.

At the Gartner Symposium in Orlando last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt had said: "[Enterprise is] the next big billion-dollar opportunity after our display [ad] business."

The company hopes marketing Google Apps will further promote enterprise moves to cloud computing.

But, at least one organization is doubtful Google Apps' feature set can match their current office productivity software staples.

User inertia, learning curve
Local company Digital Scanning Corporation (DSC) is among those that will not be switching to Google Apps just yet.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, DSC CTO Wong Ee Sing said the organization currently has no plans to push for a company-wide migration to Google Apps, though the IT department had tried out the suite and found it adequate for day-to-day use.

Wong cited "user inertia and learning curve" as some of the company's concerns.

"None of our users are interested in re-learning a new application, especially when the one they are currently using works just fine," he explained. "If we want to move to Google Apps, we would have to uninstall [our current office suite] from every PC to force users to learn Google Apps, [which is] not great for productivity."

He added that DSC employees in general seem to be more concerned with presentation rather than content of a document. "Google Apps do not provide such rich formatting capabilities. This mindset would have to change or be changed for Google Apps to take off," Wong said.

The company also has "nagging worries over security and confidentiality", he noted.

In response to these concerns, Ramanathan told ZDNet Asia in a follow-up e-mail that the "true power of Google Apps is the ability to collaborate online and share documents in real-time, from any PC or Web-enabled mobile phone".

"While client-based productivity software has many more rich formatting capabilities than cloud-based productivity software today, the gap is closing," he said. "Meanwhile, cloud-based productivity software can provide additional functionality that client-based software does not currently have, such as translation of documents into 42 languages."

Users who like Microsoft Outlook, he added, can try an application called Google Apps Sync for Microsoft Outlook, which allows Outlook users to connect to Google Apps for business e-mail, contacts and calendar. These people can also use Gmail's Web interface to access information when they are not on their work computer, he said.

PointStar, a Google Apps reseller, added in an e-mail interview: "Google has dedicated teams of engineers to constantly monitor and maintain data security as well as data center protection procedures that conform to the SAS 70 standard."

Wong believes, too, that the cloud computing model will eventually prevail. Although DSC is not focusing on the platform yet, he does not discount the possibility of migrating to the Web. "As more applications move to the cloud, our entire desktop experience will reside in the cloud and tightly," he said.

Company that "Gone Google"
And while DSC is biding its time with Google Apps, another local company recently made the switch.

In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, NRG Engineering's CTO Gilles Depardieu said the company made the decision to migrate after its previous server--running Microsoft Exchange--crashed following an attack by hackers from Russia and China.

The company's CEO was also looking to reduce associated IT costs from having to consult Exchange platform specialists whom NGR did not have internally, and who were "expensive and busy" to engage when needed, Depardieu said, adding that this also created "lots of invoices" that had to be exchanged between the finance and IT departments.

The company evaluated other options, such as running managed/hosted Exchange servers with local service providers, but found the price "too high", he said.

NGR conducted a pilot test before deciding to move to Google Apps, Depardieu said, noting that companies looking to make the switch should prepare for user resistance to change. He added that changes to local configuration on each PC can also be upsetting for some users.

"The CEO has to be on the CTO's side from the start [and] the CTO would have a lot to do to convince other executives," he said. "Users will complain about how slow the migration from their old local data [on the user PC] to cloud data is, [which] might take days, as uploading is always slower than downloading."

Gerry Chng, partner at Ernst & Young, said organizations looking to adopt cloud computing should first consider some key issues before making the commitment. In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Chng outlined these areas:

  • As public cloud computing utilizes the Internet, if they are using public clouds, organizations should consider whether their existing infrastructure can handle the demands to access applications and data over the Internet.
  • Companies need to review their business continuity plans for provisions in the event of unavailability of applications or data in the cloud.
  • They need to relook internal policies and regulatory requirements on data protection before deciding how much data, and in which form data should be hosted in the cloud.
  • Organizations need to realize even though users demand mobility, high-speed Internet access is not always readily available. For example, an executive on a plane will not be able to access his cloud-based e-mail if he cannot connect to the Internet.
  • Lack of open standards for existing cloud applications may pose a hindrance or risk for organizations in migrating existing applications or developing new applications for the cloud.

Chng also noted that availability and confidentiality posed risks to information security when companies move to the cloud.

"As the applications or data are provisioned from the cloud, organizations become highly dependent on the availability of the cloud service provider and Internet connection," he said. "While an organization can plan for bandwidth, one cannot always prepare for unexpected events such as an earthquake disrupting optical fiber submarine links to the Internet."

Chng added that organizations typically prefer to handle confidential data internally to prevent sensitive information from being leaked out.

"The challenge of confidentiality is amplified when data is handled, stored and processed through a third party," he said.

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