Woolworths punts on the cloud, switches to Google Apps

In one of the most surprising moves related to cloud computing in Australia, supermarket giant Woolworths has announced it will shift its national and state office staff completely to the Google Apps platform.

The decision is aimed at saving the company on IT infrastructure costs, and follows a trend being seen among smaller Australian businesses which have moved over to Google’s enterprise software platform.

Businesses such as Ray White, Flight Centre and online retailer Shoes of Prey are already using Google’s enterprise system. So far, Woolworths is the first company of its size to commit to the platform.

“Our decision to move to Google Apps is a key element of transforming our workforce computing to achieve a step-change in our collaboration and productivity,” chief information officer Dan Beecham said in a statement.

“The move builds on the successful roll out of Gmail and our ‘tap to support’ app on iPads to Woolworths supermarket store managers last year.”

The move highlights the trend among businesses to switch to cloud-based services in order to save on internal server costs. Adopting tech solutions is becoming popular with big companies, with iPads in board rooms now common. As Beecham points out, companies are creating apps for their own staff in order to increase productivity.

The benefit of using suites such as Google Apps – which is marketed against Microsoft’s Office Suite and motivated the company to create a cloud-based solution of its own – include cutting infrastructure costs. With the Google Apps suite hosted entirely by Google, companies no longer need to run expensive server infrastructure or buy packs of software licenses.

Doug Farber, enterprise managing director for Google Asia-Pacific, also said in a statement the suite is designed so staff can access it at any time, on any device.

Mike Knapp, the co-founder and head of technology at online retailer Shoes of Prey, runs the company entirely on Google Apps, and says the move is a viable one for small businesses, although warns it can be tricky for SMEs moving from one system to another.

“I can definitely understand why Woolworths would do it; having not to worry about server administration would be big,” says Knapp, who is a former Google employee.

“Just in terms of support of having not to worry about different devices, Google has figured that stuff out. When people here say they have a problem with something, I just point them to the Google frequently asked questions.”

Knapp says for businesses wanting to move over to some sort of cloud-based system, whether it is Google Apps or anything else, he warns companies have to put the full weight of the organisation behind any transition.

“There is always going to be a bad period where people are unhappy,” he says. “But you just have to not listen to people who are complaining about the change. Grit your teeth and bare it.”

SmartCompany spoke to Ray White in 2011 about moving employees over to Google Apps. Ben White told SmartCompany he had to help enforce the change by refusing to accept any emails which contained attachments – he would only work on cloud-based collaborative documents hosted by the new system.

Knapp says the best method is to simply switch over, and not do so over time.

“You need to switch over right away, at the start, and then you’ll be fine,” he says.

“At Google, people used all sorts of email clients before Gmail. When the switch happened internally, it was a bit painful to start with but once they used it, they loved it.”



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