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Google Apps on Parade
When the world does a computer based search for anything, the word Google pops up as a verb, a noun, a resource. Search was the foundation for Google’s creation, meteoric stock price rise and the capacity to do almost anything. Google is continually expanding its reach. This time the reach is into and through the SMB universe.
Apple’s iPhone introduced the world to what continues to be an overflowing cornucopia of programs that provide the hand-held world with resources, games, Internet access, financial data, document access, sports scores and the amazing world of never get lost GPS (Global Positioning System). These programs quickly became its own category and a new member of our lexicon – Apps. Apps started as simple information resources – weather, clock, calendar, contacts and an easy access to the Internet. Soon, developers from every corporate office to college dorm room, to home offices were creating Apps. What continues to be a flood is fueled by our increasing desires to function in a mobile world with less need for a single, large static office location. That reason along with a whole lot of people wanting new ways to play games and enjoy entertainment.
Google’s Apps Marketplace is not like the army of Apps developed just for Smartphones. Google Apps are focused in a non-linear, multi-user direction. These Apps are connected to data created through multiple programs inside Google’s cloud architecture.
For those who have fond memories of Time-Sharing, the advance of Cloud Computing will appear familiar. Of course using a teletype device with punched paper tape, an acoustical modem that held a telephone handset, and a transmission rate of 10 characters/second (110 Baud) has changed. Google Apps take advantage of Broadband communications speed and logistically limitless storage space.
Starting with Google’s own suite of applications, Gmail, Calendar and Docs, 50 vendors have already announced available applications for business from accounting to mailing lists to task management. Vendors like Intuit and Survey Monkey, and others that are new in this space like MailChimp and ZOHO are providing ways to connect to everything within the Google Apps Marketplace.
With over two million entities already signed up with Google, the Apps have a built in target customer. Most customers are using the free standard edition and are already uploading a lot of files and documents to the Google cloud. This includes names, addresses, and documents created with other vendors’ word processing programs, either in original format or converted to PDF, RTF and TXT formats.
In addition to the Standard edition, users can upgrade to the Premier Edition. This upgrade, $50/year/user, provides four times the storage space from 7GB to 25GB, setup and hosting of your own site’s domain, access to multiple email accounts within your domain, not Gmail.com. Once deciding to use the Google Apps in your business, or for a client, this upgrade should be an easy decision. The annual cost translates to less than one coffee and pastry each month.
Users have the option for setting security for specific applications, file folders or individual documents. This will enable CPA firms to share and collaborate between and among staff and client personnel. Not quite as sophisticated as large client portals available today, the annual costs are significantly less.
The increasing number of Google Apps are aimed directly at individuals and companies currently supported by stand-alone computers and company-wide servers. The competition for this space comes from Microsoft and the whole host of companies looking to sell bigger hardware, enhanced software, and off-premises storage. In fact, the entire SaaS community is standing up to evaluate where this new marketplace is going. Microsoft, for one, is not hiding while all this activity at Google and Apple continues its creative surge. Microsoft’s new, better-than-ever business suite, Office 2010, is due out in June. Business users will be able to acquire the programs a month earlier.
A strong indicator that Micrsof tis awake is the recent announcement about the all new, completely redesigned Smartphone operating system, Windows Mobile 7, which includes the MS version of cloud based light version Office Apps - Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote. These reduced versions will be free. If light does not provide enough features for your use, you will likely upgrade to the full Office 2010 suite.
The first delivery of phones with Mobile 7 are scheduled to appear this fall. Microsfot has completely rewritten all code for Mobile 7. As with Google Apps, integration, collaboration and sharing are at the forefront all new products from Microsoft.
Currently, Microsoft Office does not have the easy cross sharing of data and programs. Sure, you can copy and paste between Excel and Word and Outlook. However, the underlying data will always stay in its native format. Google’s universal navigation provides one-click access with one login and then access to every application in your cloud.
This single point access is called ‘contextual integration’. When one App needs data stored elsewhere, the data can be accessed across your cloud and displayed in the correct context. A sales invoice is a simple example. Currently, with separate applications for customer relationship management and accounting, names and addresses will have been added to each data base separately. Names or addresses may not be the same from one program to the other. With contextual integration, all names and addresses reside in one data base. When the sales invoice is processed, the App reaches across the cloud to pull in whatever address and coding data was needed. The result is less duplication of data entry and more cost-effective processing.
The issues surrounding data protection is magnified due to the nature of any Cloud application. Data is stored at some location not under complete physical control of the user. During my working with technology, it continues to amaze me that so many people refuse to use remote services due to the “control” issues. Comparing an in-house computer system with a Cloud computer host shows that security, safety, hardware backup, data backup and technical expertise is typically more advanced in the Cloud than at a local computer user. Whether it is a desktop, a laptop, a server, the levels of protection need to be in place, functioning and tested on a continuing basis.
Any business can sign up with one single company license for everyone (not recommended) or sign up every employee with their own access codes for $50/user/year. All Google Apps become immediately accessible. Here are the basics:
Gmail for business
25GB storage for each user. Mail protections include spam, virus, phishing and other enterprise level security. All filtering tools are in place and do not have to be configured. Personal email rules to block domains or individuals are available. Email files can be archived for up to 10 years.
Agenda management, scheduling, shared online calendars and mobile calendar sync.
Documents, spreadsheets and presentations. Work online without attachments.
User-created groups providing mailing lists, easy content sharing, searchable archives. Good for audit teams, individual offices, project management and control.
Secure, coding-free Web pages for intranets and team managed sites. Any department, audit team or development project can have its own site.
Private, secure, hosted video sharing. A easy way to deliver firm training programs, Senior Partner updates and client newsletters.
Apps are grouped by Google within the following categories:
· Accounting & Finance
· Admin Tools
· Calendar & Scheduling
· Customer Management
· Document Management
· Project Management
· Sales & Marketing
· Security & Compliance
· Archiving & Discovery Implementation
· Custom Application Development
· Google Analytics
· Medium-Large Business Implementation
· Small Business Implementation
· Support & Managed Services
· Training & Change Management
As of this March, 2010, here are the Apps listed in the Accounting & Finance Category. More will be added to all categories.
· Expensify - Create, approve, and reimburse expense reports from one interface
· myERP.com - Business suite -CRM, Sales, Accounting, Projects, Purchasing, Inventory
· Asset Maintenance - Manage resources - scheduling, approval, maintenance, inspection
· Yendo Accounts - Accounting for UK and Eurozone - invoicing, expenses, payments
· FreshBooks - Online billing to send, track and collect payments quickly.
· Shoeboxed.com - Scan and organize receipts and documents
· EZasset by StrongTech - Web-hosted asset management solution, enables collaboration
· Intuit Online Payroll - Online payroll
· Concur Breeze - Small businesses expense reporting
· FreeAgent - Online accounting application for freelancers and small businesses
The focus of these initial accounting Apps are aimed directly at the SOHO and SMB community. Sole practitioners with only a home office or firms with both office-office and work at home procedures can do work, collaborate and interface directly with clients through the Google Cloud. The capabilities to work through a Smartphone interface is fast becoming standard procedures for mobile professionals. Mobile phone use has gone way beyond just checking email and updating calendars. Smartphone interfaces are getting bigger and more adaptable to web based applications with Tablet computers, such as Apple’s iPad, HP 2730p EliteBook Tablet PC, Lenovo IdeaPad U110, and whatever Microsoft shows up to the party with.
Should you use and will you use Google Apps are two separate questions. If your view of anything Cloud-oriented is permanently obstructed, the answer to both questions is no. For the rest of us, the choice comes down to what technology makes sense as we move forward. Instant changes do not happen. However, after tax season and before August vacation, there should be an investment of time to view, review, assess and ask colleagues and friends. Planning for technology needs to be sharply focused on what services are needed to support the practice. Clouds can be terrific when and if the applications fit within your growing technology needs. Google Apps Marketplace is a clear indication of where the next evolution of technology is being nurtured. Look up and see if there are clouds in your forecast.