Com­pe­tent and com­pet­i­tive

Finweek English Edition - - TECH TRENDS - SIMON DINGLE si­mond@fin­

SET­TING UP A SMALL BUSI­NESS is more com­pli­cated than pro­cess­ing some pa­pers with Cipro and phon­ing an ac­coun­tant. One of the ma­jor ques­tions fac­ing any new com­pany is who and how to take care of email, cal­en­dar­ing and other ba­sic com­mu­ni­ca­tions and col­lab­o­ra­tion re­quire­ments.

I set out to find the most com­pe­tent so­lu­tion at a rea­son­able price – some­thing that scales well and doesn’t re­quire a qual­i­fi­ca­tion in rocket sci­ence to set up. And I came close to tick­ing all of those boxes with Google Apps for Busi­ness. The propo­si­tion is a great one: hand over your busi­ness In­ter­net do­main to Google and let it take care of your email, cal­en­dar­ing, con­tact or­gan­is­ing and other ba­sic re­quire­ments. You won’t have to worry about email servers or em­ploy nerds. It’s very tidy once you set it up.

I used a dot­com do­main name I’ve owned for some time to set up a Google Apps ac­count. The ba­sic setup is free, with email, cal­en­dar­ing, con­tact man­age­ment and Google’s on­line pro­duc­tiv­ity apps hosted on your do­main. For US$50/user/ year you can up­grade to Google Apps for Busi­ness and gain more on­line stor­age for your email and doc­u­ments, ac­cess to busi­ness-grade tech­ni­cal sup­port and a bet­ter guar­an­tee of up­time. Google will let you trial its pre­mium ser­vice for free for the first 30 days, so I elected to do that.

Set­ting up and con­fig­ur­ing the ser­vice was as sim­ple and in­tu­itive as could be, but set­ting up the In­ter­net do­main it­self was more tech­ni­cal. I man­aged to edit the re­quired MX records in my do­main’s DNS con­fig­u­ra­tion.

With the do­main set up, I con­fig­ured some email ad­dresses. Google will even let you up­load your own com­pany logo to re­place its own on your do­main apps. The email sys­tem is built on Google’s Gmail plat­form and has the best web in­ter­face in the busi­ness. The same goes for Google Cal­en­dar. It’s easy to cre­ate shared cal­en­dars, fil­ter email and ap­ply other ad­vanced set­tings. You can also cre­ate groups of users within a do­main and share a cen­tral ad­dress book of con­tacts.

As Google Apps Email is also en­abled with Mi­crosoft Ex­change technology it can be con­fig­ured with Mi­crosoft Out­look and also of­fers pow­er­ful sync­ing across mo­bile plat­forms. It can be in­te­grated with Black­Berry En­ter­prise Server or you can use the Google Sync ap­pli­ca­tion to use the ser­vices with Black­Berry de­vices in your busi­ness. I con­fig­ured – with­out hitches – an iPhone, Black­Berry, Mac and Win­dows PC to use the ser­vice.

Google also re­cently opened its Apps plat­form up to third-party devel­op­ment so that mod­ules can be added for other ap­pli­ca­tions, such as cus­tomer re­sources man­age­ment, some of which come at an ad­di­tional cost to the third party de­vel­oper.

At around R350/year for each user in the busi­ness, Google Apps is very com­pet­i­tive. Many com­pa­nies will even find the free ser­vice is highly re­li­able and meets most of their needs at an un­beat­able price.

Google’s ser­vices are also slowly start­ing to trickle on to lo­cal band­width, but some busi­nesses will be wary of their email and doc­u­ments tech­ni­cally re­sid­ing out­side SA on Google servers in the United States – and, of course, sub­ject to its Pa­triot Act.

Pol­i­tics and cor­po­rate gov­er­nance aside, Google Apps will get even medi­um­sized busi­nesses up and run­ning with ba­sic col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tools in no time and at very lit­tle cost. The ser­vice is highly re­li­able and the ap­pli­ca­tions on of­fer – es­pe­cially when it comes to email – are highly com­pe­tent. For ex­am­ple, it even al­lows you to solve the prob­lem of pro­duc­tiv­ity soft­ware if your needs come down to sim­ple spread­sheet­ing and doc­u­ment cre­ation with­out re­quir­ing the more ad­vanced fea­tures of Mi­crosoft Of­fice.

I’d have no is­sues rec­om­mend­ing the ser­vice to small com­pa­nies in SA, al­though I’d sug­gest com­par­ing the ad­van­tages of Google Apps for Busi­ness to those of a lo­cally hosted ser­vice, such as the Zim­bra plat­form pro­vided by Sy­naq or RSAWEB.

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