In October 2009, The City of Los Angeles made a monumental business decision to switch its email (Outlook) and basic productivity products (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) to Gmail and Google Apps by June 2010. They cited cost savings as the main driver and I applaud them for such a gutsy move.
Despite unanimous approval from City Council, this move wasn’t without critics. Moving to Google means moving its emails out of City managed data centers and into a private cloud under Google’s surveillance. Issues concerning security and privacy naturally ensued, and both Google and the City published articles and webinars addressing these fears and articulating the additional benefits.
I have no qualms about moving to the cloud. My fear is around IMPLEMENTATION because we’re not just talking about going from chocolate to vanilla…
…we’re talking about ripping away a system that the majority of 30,000 employees have been using for many years, and forcing them to embrace a completely redesigned system that’s been turned on its ear.
I know training is stressed in their plan, but teaching what might be a large number of new users to learn Gmail is no small feat. Below are 7 aspects of Gmail that I hope gets extra attention in their training sessions.
1. There are only two places: “inbox” and “not-inbox”
This is probably the most difficult aspect to grasp for new users. When you want to move something out of the inbox, you don’t drag it into a folder, you tag it with however many labels that apply and then archive it. Gmail never uses the word “folder”. It’s either in your inbox or not. Expect to allow a lot of time for non-gmail regulars to adopt this concept.
2. Speaking of no folders, how do you get any structure?
I have some coworkers who are VERY proud of their well-architected hierarchical folder system. In Gmail, no hierarchy. New users better get used to the Search feature as the main way of retrieving archived mail.
3. Speaking of archived mail… why does it not mean archived mail?
In Outlook, archiving is for transferring the gargantuan weight of antiquated emails that you’ll probably never look at again. You don’t mess with it and just wait for it to automagically do its thing every few months. In Gmail, archive means scooting emails out of your inbox. That’s all. No big deal.
4. What about threaded conversations? That seems pretty intuitive
This is one of the low hanging fruits that make people fall in love with Gmail right away. Especially in government, we enjoy ridiculously long email trails. With threaded conversations, all that back and forth shrinks to one email in your inbox. But it does get tricky when the conversation branches. Sometimes you don’t want to reply all and it could get complicated. Expect a few oops from new users.
5. What about printing my emails?
Something else that government employees love to do… print emails. I don’t know why, but you’ll always find printed emails in the forgotten pile around print areas. With threaded conversations, some folks might not want to bother fishing through threaded conversations and just hit the “print all” button on the side. Or some will forget that if you just want to print one message, you’ll have to select from the drop down menu. Either way…printing could get tricky.
And two features that Google is touting that scares me
6. I can chat from my inbox? How awesome!
Many agencies already have instant messaging, but the reason it’s not ubiquitous is because agencies don’t want to deal with the policies. Now that it’s in Gmail, you’re instant message is automatically saved and searchable. Imagine what this does for e-discovery. Now when someone demands all records related a project, you can include all the chat conversations with it. And you know how professional people sound when they’re instant messaging… (that was sarcastic).
7. Google is proud of its storage space blowing away the competition
I’m not sure this is a good thing. Yes, it’s annoying to get the “Your mailbox is over capacity” email, but that forces employees to archive and delete deadweight. Now without that restriction, watch email management of attachments go even more crazily out of control.
Overall, I’ll be cheering the City of Los Angeles onwards in their endeavor, because I believe Gmail is superior to Outlook. But it’s so tremendously different that it will take a long time for the majority of new users to figure it out. Hopefully, with their extensive training plan, they can emerge as a pattern for other agencies to follow.