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File Sharing +1 : Harnessing Google’s Cloud Collaboration Architecture

google-sites-intranetThis article forms the final part of our white paper Going Google Enterprise.

It completes the document as our first version 1.00, and will be added to on an ongoing basis, acting as a showcase of the Google Cloud solutions ecosystem.

Social Intranet – Implementing an Enterprise 2.0 strategy on Google Apps

Although the headline message of our white paper is that Google offers a full suite of IaaS, PaaS and SaaS services, quite uniquely so in the industry, our first major benefits point focuses on Google Apps.

Google’s collaboration suite is more or less a pound for pound competitor to Microsoft’s entire office and collaboration suite, from Word processor through MS Sharepoint, Exchange and Lync, and is so for only $50 per annum per user.

This means it is a very compelling switch to consider even just financially, but then on top of that there is a whole new generation of collaboration tools to consider.

A few years ago our white paper ‘Enterprise 2.0‘ described how to implement an internal social media strategy via one vendor platform, in this case Microsoft Sharepoint, so one simple way to make this comparison is to ask how the same models can be achieved but this time with Google in 2013.

Since that time not only has the technology evolved but the term ‘Social Intranet’ has emerged, and there are aspects of this in 2013 that really shine a light on why Google is emerging as the power player in this space.

File Share +1 : Taming Unstructured Content Workflow

One of the primary criticisms of MS Sharepoint was that it was too complex for the scenario it was often most used for, simple file sharing.

This is why in the few years since the era of Sharepoint as the dominant intranet tool we’ve seen the rapid adoption of popular tools like Dropbox.

While this does improve the collaboration method by moving it online, this is achieved at the expense of using a public Cloud service, often a mismatch with corporate policy.

So this is the first effective way to convey the benefits of the Google approach, where their toolset is the ideal way of achieving both. Through Google Drive they offer their own online file store and as part of the Google Apps suite comes with a raft of methods of controlling and auditing access to them, making them the ideal ‘corporate version’ of the popular consumer tools.

Also as part of the Apps suite which includes a simple intranet platform called Google Sites, as well as the email and other collaboration apps, moving your file share method to Google Apps can bring the following benefits:

  • Portability - The traditional enterprise file store model, the shared drive, is tethered to the equally traditional LAN environment, meaning it’s mainly accessible only when you are on the LAN. In contrast once staff move to an online model they can access it when they are on client sites, when travelling etc., all from their smartphones.
  • +1 Collaboration - As per the article title, the +1 idea refers to this part of Google+ which is the equivalent of the ‘Liking’ feature of Facebook and Linkedin. Enterprise 2.0 author Andrew McAfee described this as ‘signaling’, a way of sharing knowledge that is accelerated through online social communities of which Google has their own: Google+.
  • Structured indexing – A primary benefit of this tagging feature is to tackle what is often the core issue of enterprise file stores: Chaos! Often there is no real directory structures or file naming conventions, and so it mainly becomes a ‘dumping ground’. The social media approach encourages people to dump files, but to index them with multiple tags while they do so, adding terms like ‘McKenzie Project’ or ‘Trends in North America’ to register them in the corporate knowledge pool.

Apps is a recommend first step because this is where you will likely find the “low hanging ROI fruit” here, principally due to the ability to automate “unstructured content workflow”. Files like MS Word files, Powerpoint presentations and multimedia flow around the organization and are as essential to business systems as the database systems like Oracle or Salesforce.com.

However to date this activity has been poorly addressed by IT, usually being achieved through random emails, some use of shared file drives but not much else, resulting in a poorly managed content estate.

cloud desktopEnterprise Cloud BPM

Therefore what is important about these file sharing activities is when we consider what role they are playing within broader business process requirements.

For example I recently met with the CIO office of a Canadian firm who provide Facilities Management services, right from the first stages of construction.

This means a big part of their day to day work activity is taking photos of the build at different stages, which they use in different ways including showing to potential clients, like those renting mall space and so on. There is no workflow system for these photo files, they are simply uploaded from laptops to the corporate file server and stored in the associated file directory.

As a result they experience challenges like ‘version chaos’ not knowing where the latest file copy is, on someone’s laptop or in a directory that is not easily to find intuitively, and this has a real impact on their work.

Google Apps can address this where through various ‘gadgets’ and third party applications additional layers of workflow functionality can be built around the files in Google Drive, making it possible to build more sophisticated procedures around the files to meet these needs.

This can be simply web forms that upload files to Google Drive via a structured process, this might also index them for example, and the same principle is also continued through third-party applications as well, like Arachno Orbit and AODocs that we cover later in the white paper. Both provide powerful workflow and portal tools similar to many of the equivalents for MS Sharepoint, and do so by leveraging the underlying Google Drive storage mechanism.

And this is just one of the apps contained within their Google Apps office collaboration set, so you have the online apps as you have always used for Word, Excel type collaboration. Except Google does it all online natively, baking in lots of user productivity boosting features and project team organizing tools.

Conclusion – Harnessing the Google’s Cloud Collaboration Architecture

This ability to start with simple tools for collaboration that can then evolve to become more sophisticated structures is a powerful metaphor to find the mix that suits the busy lives of staff, the ideal ‘Cloud Collaboration Architecture’.

For example a new project team might be started to write a sales proposal response to a client RFP. Sharing this RFP document is therefore the very first step taken, and over time grows into a project team with many collaborators and ultimately a submitted bid, what should then become part of the corporate knowledge base.

What this means is that teams can start with a level 1 simple operating model, using only basic file sharing methods. Projects often start this way, for example receiving a new client RFP opportunity, which is shared to discuss bid options.

As the project develops it becomes more complex – Next they will want to do a video conference (Hangouts), then start a project workspace to manage their response to the RFP. This will need approval from the Sales VP and so workflow ultimately is needed too.

Using Google Drive as a modular base for this approach takes care of so much of the heavy lifting, from access controls through replication and backup, and can then be extended by BPM tools that build on the same low cost, per annum/user costing model as Google Apps.

This is due to an architecture employed where Google Drive acts as the baseline storage method and file sharing environment, and then via ‘gadgets’ and other software methods, they can be embedded and integrated into intranet portals based on Google Sites.

The post File Sharing +1 : Harnessing Google’s Cloud Collaboration Architecture appeared first on Cloud Computing Best Practices.

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