What Genentech CIO Likes About Google Docs

It meets a need for quick-and-easy collaboration, says CIO Todd Pierce. It's not for regulated content, though.

Thomas Claburn, Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

April 9, 2010

3 Min Read

Todd Pierce, senior VP and CIO of Genentech, admits he didn't see this one coming. When he gave the company's 13,000 employees access to Google's online document and spreadsheet software, he didn't think there would be much interest in online collaboration.

So it was a big surprise to Pierce that more than half of Genentech's employees, about 8,200, use Google Docs every week, double the usage documented a year ago. "People really appreciate the simplicity," he says. "The fact is that so many other sharing technologies add another layer, you have to go to it, or log into it and check documents in or out. They add another layer of complexity. [[Google Apps] continues to get better. We just see more and more people working together."

Pierce adds: "There are just a lot of tasks within organizations that benefit from people being able to be in a document working together."

The biotech giant, owned by Roche Group, was one of the first large companies to deploy Google Apps. All of its roughly 13,000 employees use Google Calendar, and about one-third use Gmail. Everyone at the company also has access to Microsoft Office.

Genentech, as a pharmaceutical company, is highly regulated. It doesn't use Google Docs for regulated documents--any that must be tracked for legal reasons. "But there's so much other work within organizations, whether it's planning an off-site or getting a survey on a meeting or whatever, that the ocean of what it does do compared to what it doesn't do, that speaks to the unmet need in the organization," Pierce says. "Many of our tools are overengineered, are too complex for a lot of the work."

Pierce also likes that new features come constantly from Google, and he only has to decide whether to turn them on for Genentech's domain, not whether to upgrade or negotiate a license. "It's one of the advantages of this consumer-driven model, where they're out there testing and they have to continually stay competitive to attract users," he says.

If Pierce sounds like he's raving, he says that's because he's reflecting the employee comments on the company wiki. "Very rarely in my career have I had an IT tool that gets this much enthusiasm," he says. "Most IT tools, when you roll them out, people are either blasé or [they complain]."

Pierce says employees have plenty of other options for collaborating. Genentech has seven document management platforms and many more Web sites, wikis, and blogs. "We have every tool available," he says. "When they have choice, people are going to go to tools that are beneficial."

Employees like having access to files from any location and any Web-capable device, without having to get IT involved. "If somebody says, 'Hey, I want to work on this Doc from my iPhone,' boom, they just can," Pierce says. "It just works."

Pierce thinks a lot of CIOs are operating on "urban legends or rumor or misinformation" when they dismiss Google software for security and privacy reasons. That's a mistake, he says, "because this, in my opinion, is a major, major shift in technology and tools and capability. It's meeting a big unmet need. In these times, where people are really trying to figure out how can I control costs, how can I keep up with life-cycle management while managing cost--this is a dream come true. This level of functionality and ease of use at $50 per user per year: What's another example of a tool that has those properties in the enterprise?"

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About the Author(s)

Thomas Claburn

Editor at Large, Enterprise Mobility

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful master's degree in film production. He wrote the original treatment for 3DO's Killing Time, a short story that appeared in On Spec, and the screenplay for an independent film called The Hanged Man, which he would later direct. He's the author of a science fiction novel, Reflecting Fires, and a sadly neglected blog, Lot 49. His iPhone game, Blocfall, is available through the iTunes App Store. His wife is a talented jazz singer; he does not sing, which is for the best.

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