June 28, 2011
Top 15 Cloud Collaboration Apps
Slideshow: Top 15 Cloud Collaboration Apps (click image for larger view and for slideshow)
The Microsoft vs. Google heavyweight bout entered a new round with Tuesday's launch of Office 365. But productivity and collaboration can be achieved in a number of different ways, and a business doesn't always have to pick one side or another.
Model Metrics, a cloud services company with 150 employees, moved its corporate email from a hosted Exchange platform to Gmail more than two years ago. It was a cost-cutting move, according to the company's VP of operations, Amisha Rigia. The startup had around 50 people at the time and saved more than $25,000 per year by making the switch--a number that has grown in concert with the company, Rigia said in an interview. Aside from data migration and some change management issues, the switch was straightforward. "The transition was actually pretty easy," Rigia said. "We didn't have too much resistance--a few people here and there." Rigia said that it helped that many current employees already had personal Gmail accounts. She said that occasionally new hires that had been using Outlook or Lotus Notes in previous jobs have some trouble getting used to Gmail's interface, but it's a matter of a week or two for them to get comfortable. Since the email changeover, the Model Metrics staff has adopted other Google Apps for productivity and collaboration. Spreadsheets and Google Sites are two particular favorites, along with Gmail. "We didn't want to force people on things, but everyone has adapted to it and actually brought it to their clients as well," Rigia said. "Google Docs has just been a huge lifesaver on the collaboration piece." Rigia shared a peek at the Model Metrics Chatter feed, where she'd put out a call to employees for feedback on Google Apps. One employee said of Google Spreadsheets, for example: "Being able to see where team members are in the document, the changes that they are making as they are being performed, chat along the side, is a beautiful thing. Combined with security and forms for external entry, really just sets it above." Another person chimed in: "IT turnaround is shorter, I'm sure." That same employee followed with another comment a minute later: "Also, Exchange never had Google Apps Marketplace." Virtually all of Model Metrics' internal processes are based in cloud applications--not too surprising given that that company's business is cloud-related services. It's also a function of the fact that around 40% of the Chicago-based firm's employees are distributed in remote offices around the country. Salesforce.com and its various applications form the centerpiece of the company's Web-based operations, supporting everything from recruiting and hiring to, of course, CRM. And Google Apps has become increasingly critical to daily business. Yet Model Metrics maintains its on-premises licenses for Microsoft Office, even though Rigia said: "I don't even know the last time I used Word, to be honest." Ditto for Excel: Rigia is currently working on a compensation analysis project, but she's doing it in Google Apps. PowerPoint is the most commonly used Office application among Model Metrics employees, but even that is beginning to take a backseat to Apple's Keynote--nearly all of the company's employees use Apple hardware. Yet Rigia said she doesn't foresee the company dropping Office altogether at any point in the near future; in fact, it's unlikely that will ever happen. "I don't know if I could see ourselves completely transitioning. The challenge sometimes for us [is] our clients aren't as cloud-based," Rigia said. Dropping Office would create potential file sharing problems and other headaches on customer projects. "That would be the prevention for us to completely walk away from the Office licenses." Is Office 365, Microsoft's BPOS replacement that includes Web-based versions of its traditional productivity suite, on the Model Metrics radar? "Not necessarily, no. We've just had such success with Google," Rigia said. "We've evaluated [Office 365] here and there, but we're definitely kind of tied to Google." Security concerns give many companies pause as they consider migrating portions of their IT operations to cloud-based services. But you can stay safe in the cloud, as this Tech Center report explains. Download it now. (Free registration required.)
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