Google Gmail Gets Shared Inboxes

Cloud workflow specialist RunMyProcess adds key collaboration feature to help businesses jump from Microsoft Exchange to Google Gmail.
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Cloud workflow specialist RunMyProcess has added a missing collaboration feature to Gmail, one that Microsoft Exchange users often miss if they switch to the Google Apps suite--and one that sometimes stops them from making the jump.

Whatever the virtues of Google's Web-based email for businesses, one feature of Exchange that it has never duplicated are the public folders many organizations use to manage inbound message queues that are managed by a team rather than belonging to an individual. When a public folder is used for a general address like [email protected], it doesn't just function as a forwarding address or alias to several employees. Rather than forwarding a copy of the message to each member of a group, Exchange shares the message in such a way that each member can see whether someone else has already responded. Organizations also can implement some lightweight workflow by routing messages to different members of a team.

Questions about the lack of a comparable feature are a frequent Google Apps support topic, simply because so many organizations have designed processes around this feature. The RunMyProcess Shared Inbox addresses that requirement with a gadget users can add to their Gmail account that provides workflow options for creating tasks, assigning follow-ups, and marking tasks completed.

"One of our customers here is a bank, where each branch has its own public folder" used to manage messages related to that bank, Stephanie Kidder , marketing director for RunMyProcess, said in an interview. Without some way of replicating that feature, the bank couldn't migrate to Google Apps.

The suggestion for RunMyProcess to create an answer came from members of the Google Apps sales team who thought it would help them close more deals, Kidder said. After all, Microsoft Exchange Hosted Services are just a click away.

RunMyProcess already has other integrations with Google Apps, since its core product is a Business Process Management platform that is used to tie different cloud applications together in common workflows. For example, it can be used to publish project milestones from Basecamp into Google Calendar, or organize a process that might require updating a series of documents in Google Docs. "We have 300 connectors for Google Apps alone," Kidder said. The RunMyProcess Workflow Builder provides a visual designer for defining workflows without programming, she said. While Google apparently doesn't have a public folders feature on the product roadmap for Gmail, its engineers did help coach RunMyProcess developers on the best way to integrate the feature, Kidder said.

The Shared Inbox standard plan is being offered through the Google Apps Marketplace at a price of $10 per user per year, and includes an unlimited number of Shared Inboxes. But email attachments, while available in the original emails, will not be accessible from the Shared Inbox history. The premium plan, priced at $15 per user per year, includes an unlimited number of Shared Inboxes and also includes the storing and transfer of file attachments, which will be accessible from Shared Inbox ticket history.

In a written statement, Scott McMullan, Google Apps partner lead for Google Enterprise, said, "software vendors like RunMyProcess are helping us build a rich ecosystem of integrated apps that work seamlessly with Google Apps, allowing IT administrators to leverage the benefits of cloud computing and extend Google Apps to meet more of their business needs."