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Productivity Improvements — From Cloud-Based Apps

Cloud based communication and collaboration services help you ease into the daunting world of cloud-based services by using the most mature product. These products offer rich features at a low price without the hassle of managing the infrastructure. The major players are Google Apps for Government and Microsoft Office 365. I have used both and my opinion is that Google holds the advantage. While not a detailed comparison between the two product lines, I want to highlight the productivity improvements I found.

Generally speaking, cloud productivity app vendors are becoming pretty even in capabilities. Microsoft Office 365 used to be clunky, slow and awkward. Microsoft has since caught up to Google. Both feature flexible access to email, calendar and stored documents.

I find Google to be a better productivity tool for two specific reasons: excellent real time collaboration tools and extendable functionality using Google Apps scripts.

Well Designed Collaboration:

Where Google holds an advantage is real time collaboration. Any document in Google Drive provides collaboration for up to 50 people simultaneously. In addition, well designed access controls allow fine grained control over what collaborators can do in your document (read only, comment only, and edit). Office 365 accomplishes this via Sharepoint, but it doesn’t work as fluidly as Drive.

In Drive, you can see what others are typing in real time even if they are on an mobile device. This is a huge benefit for our telecommuters. Previously they needed to set up WebEx sessions to see the same document. This cumbersome step is eliminated with Drive.

Versioning is very well designed. Drive autosaves as you go and saves each version via a time stamp. As collaborators add content, it saves their changes giving each person their own color coded text and time stamps. Looking at the history makes it very easy to see who made changes and when. Collaborators never have to check documents in and out. It is not necessary to save drafts and final versions as different documents. The revision history contains each draft from initial to the final in a single file.

My team realized significant performance increases with Drive. Typically, my team took over a week create our weekly report. We always turned it in late because someone forgot to email the next person. With Drive, our new record is 15 minutes. Each person opened the document and updated their section at the same time.

I like to use shared documents to save time in meetings. I open and share a document with meeting participants. When we start I ask each to add their notes and thoughts while we meet. This helps get introverts involved and keeps everyone engaged in the conversation. At the end of the meeting, I do a quick clean up and then share the group authored meeting notes.

Why Commodities Matter:

As more competitors enter a product market place, they compete on features. Product lines vary on gadgets but they are mostly the same. This ignites price wars. Think flat screen TVs. When this happens, the product has become a commodity. Commodities are well…common. Cloud apps are quickly becoming a commodity.

In “Start with Why”, author Simon Sinek talks about companies that inspire because they stay true to their purpose. Thus, they build transcendent products. Think Apple after Steve Jobs returned to ignite the iPhone. Disruptive technologies change the market and thus do not compete on price. They change the way we interact with a good or service.

Google’s “Why” is providing developer friendly tools. They based Google Apps on this disruptive concept. They don’t advertise these feature much, but in my experience this makes Google Apps stand out from the rest.

The Transcendental Feature:

As a developer, Google Apps scripts is liberating tool. It provides a platform to easily add extra functionality to the basic Google Apps. It enables the creation of low effort, high business value applications without additional costs. You pay for Gmail, Calendar and Drive but you get an entire development ecosystem with it.

Of course, Microsoft provides custom scripting via .Net and APIs. However, there are significant differences in capability from a practical standpoint. Microsoft’s more complex tools set requires experienced programmers or extensive training to be able to extend the basic features. Moreover, .Net scripts run on your local machine, whereas App Scripts run on Google’s cloud.

By using the ubiquitous language, Javascript, Google helps novice and casual developers to create powerful tools. Google Apps Scripts include services to easily connect your code to the core Google App functions. You just need a willingness to tinker. Thus, custom development is more accessible to offices of any size.

President Obama recently challenged Americans to learn how to code. Google Apps platform democratizes development. This make Google Apps a fundamentally different choice. My team has built custom tools quickly and simply and your office can too.

  • NOTE: All views and opinions are those of the author only and not official statements or endorsements of any public or private sector employer, organization or related entity.

Chaeny Emanavin is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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