Competent and competitive
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.