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UK builder switches email to Google Apps

A leading British construction company switched 1,800 users over to Google Apps on May 2nd, becoming the largest live deployment in the UK so far. Its IT director firmly refutes the notion raised here yesterday that Google apps aren't fit for enterprise use.
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Written by Phil Wainewright on

A leading British construction company switched 1,800 users over to Google Apps on May 2nd, becoming the largest live deployment in the UK so far for Google's enterprise applications suite. In a phone interview this morning, Rob Ramsay, director of IT at Taylor Woodrow, firmly refuted the allegations reported here yesterday that Google applications aren't fit for enterprise use.

"We've had a close on three-and-a-half-year relationship with Google based on the Google Search Appliance. We've found it [very] easy to deal with them and anything that corporately you'd expect, they've been able to deliver," he told me.

Taylor Woodrow brought 200 users live with a pilot implementation of Google Apps in November last year and more than a thousand users tried out the service prior to the May go-live date. At that point, the company switched off its legacy email system, forcing all users onto Google Apps. There had been no reliability issues with the service, Ramsay said: "We haven't had that sort of issue from the business saying, 'We have an outage here'." And based on his prior experience with the search appliance, Ramsay is confident that where changes and upgrades are needed, they'll be delivered as promised and on schedule — with the added benefit that all users will get the upgrade automatically without any local installation required.

Google Apps has replaced an antiquated HP OpenMail system and will be used primarily for email, although some users have started to use the Google Sites and Google Docs applications as well, said Ramsay. Getting off OpenMail had become a priority and the speed of implementing Google Apps was a big factor in its favor, he said: "There was a big benefit in moving the entire busienss in a very short period of time." Another factor was the cost, which the company estimates has saved over a £1 million ($2 million) as a result of not having to host and support the software internally.

The 1,800 users include close to 1,500 employees, along with 100 college students who are sponsored by the company and around 200 contractors. Being able to bring these non-payroll 'stakeholders' into the email system has been one of the advantages of switching to Google, said Ramsay: "Software as a service has allowed us a bit more freedom to open up our channels to them." At the same time, the company has gained more control over its email, deploying Google Message Discovery (a product acquired when it bought Postini last year) for security, content policy management and archiving. There was no central archive of the OpenMail system. Users' existing diaries, calendars, distribution lists, meeting rooms and contacts have all been uploaded to the new system.

With email the main focus of the project, there are no plans at present to adopt Google Docs in place of Microsoft Office ("not on the agenda," said Ramsay), or to supplant the specialized collaboration applications Taylor Woodrow currently uses for project management. Interestingly though, the company's prior familiarity with on-demand construction industry applications from indigenous UK providers such as 4Projects and Asite was a factor in easing acceptance of the Google service. "The data stored [on the provider's systems] is quite critical for our business. With that backdrop of using products like 4Projects, there is that experience there," said Ramsay.

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