Standard technology platforms deliver many business benefits (simplified support, streamlined processes, reduced costs), but when an enterprise is spread across Canada, the U.S. and Britain, and employs about 1,450 people, creating that standard platform is problematic. And that was the challenge facing Cossette, the advertising and communications services giant, and its vice-president of IS/IT services François van Doesburg.
“We had outsourced five contracts for Microsoft Exchange servers in 2003; [the contracts] ran until 2008,” and with the renewal date approaching, the company started crunching numbers. “It was about $21 a month per user for 200 megabytes; one gig was $25 to $26,” he said, adding that with almost 1,500 employees those fees add up quickly.
Owning the servers would have been cheaper but more problematic, given the geographic distribution. “Also, beyond e-mail, our people are sharing a lot more documentation than they e-mail.”
The Google alternative
Investigation led them to Google Apps, a suite of cloud office tools that encompasses everything from e-mail to word processing, spreadsheets, shared calendars and presentation.
The big attraction is that the information is held in the Web, making it accessible to any authorized user. And at $50 a year per user, Apps is more affordable than solutions such as Microsoft Office.
Also, as van Doesburg said, many of the creative folks at Cossette work on Apple machines, and Web-based solutions are operating-system agnostic, allowing IT to treat every user in the same way.
Cossette started with a small pilot project in early 2009 and then “decided to roll this out to the entire IT team in May 2009,” he said. What impressed the team, van Doesburg said, was that when someone complained a feature wasn’t available—the ability to drag and drop a file into an e-mail for example—it would be added shortly afterward.
“With other systems, sometimes you wait years for something to get fixed,” he said. But Google adds new features regularly and, as the system is Web-based, no one has to install upgrades. “It really was a love story from the start.”
Quick rollout, cost savings
Still, there is a big difference between switching one department and switching an entire organization in three countries. The organization ran the pilot for one year before deciding to make the switch across the company.
The first deployment group involved 450 people in five U.K. offices who were being combined into one location, so upgrading their systems was timely. The U.K offices formed the template for subsequent deployments, said Bill Whyte, director of IT and operations, and the last of the offices will be switched over in 2011. All employees are also getting access to subsidized smartphones that will plug into Google Apps. “The big thing is simplicity,” Whyte said.
“There’s one password and Mac users don’t feel like second class citizens.”
User experience aside, it was the numbers that impressed the board, van Doesburg said. “It was costing $384,000 a year; that has dropped to $144,000, a 62 per cent cost saving. There were some one-time non-recurring training costs, but it is cheaper and scalable, which really impresses the CFO. In fact, I’ve talked about this experience a couple of times to other groups and I’d be more than happy to talk to any CIO who wants to know how it went and what we learned.”
Cloud Computing blog
Backbone's Cloud Computing issue - March 2011
Backbone's Cloud Computing issue - March 2011 - Digital Version