How consumerization led Kaplan to Google Apps, and what they learned on the way

Credit: jonrussell via Flickr

Cost-savings, greater reliability, built-in disaster recovery, and the simplicity of the cloud were all factors that sold Kaplan CIO Edward Hanapole on migrating the education products and services company from Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps.

But there was another equally important reason: Staying ahead of the consumerization of IT curve.

"It's important for CIOs to stay current with trends: You don't want your employees to have better devices at home than at work," Hanapole says. "I want employees to be obsessed with tech and continue to be excited by the tools they get to work with."

After successfully migrating Kaplan's 25,000 employees to Google Apps in late 2011, Hanapole embarked on a 500-employee pilot of Google+, Google's social network. This platform, he says, has been instrumental in bridging that gap between the tech employees use at home and at work.

"Part of what I've been trying to do is start embracing what our employees want from a core communications point of view," he says. "You need to acknowledge that your employees are increasingly digital natives and you need to stay current by living in the world they're living in. That's what makes you a better leader."

Kaplan's Google+ pilot wrapped up in December, and the service is now deployed to almost all employees. Here are four steps you can take to embrace consumerization of IT based on lessons Hanapole and his team learned from integrating Google+ in the enterprise.

1. Makeover Your Mindset

Hanapole acknowledges that not everyone is "as obsessed" with technology as he is, and that not everyone is a digital native. But that's changing, he says, and he wants to stay ahead of that curve. That means moving toward social networks and collaborative streams.

"It's important to provide modern communications in the enterprise to encourage the same kind of communications and collaboration between our employees, partners and students," Hanapole says. "As CIOs, we need to advance along with what our clients expect from technology, and ensure that we're taking appropriate measures to keep the enterprise safe."

Keeping the enterprise safe is key: Hanapole says Kaplan isn't blind to the fact that employees access and use social networks regularly, which puts the company at risk. But, he says, you can either try to neutralize this risk by giving employees the tools they want inside the enterprise, or work tirelessly to block workarounds that employees find.

"It would be more effective and safer to the enterprise to embrace the changes and sponsor them in a controlled manner than allowing our resources to work outside the system with no controls or protections," he says. "Google has made great improvements that make the use of Google+ a solution that works well to start modernizing communications at Kaplan with the controls you would want to see between enterprise messaging and the public."

2. Acknowledge Risks and Trust Employees

When Hanapole introduced Google+ to Kaplan, there was some concern about employees inadvertently sharing company information with people they shouldn't, he says. Employees can create groups of people with which they can selectively share information. Google+ calls these Circles, which can consist of different departments and even customers outside the enterprise, for example.

To combat this, Hanapole says Kaplan enabled the Google+ administration features, which allow them to set the default visibility for new posts to be restricted to their domain. They also use an external service called CloudLock, which gives administrators visibility into statistics on sharing inside and outside the domain.

Hanapole says users are also reminded to make sure they're managing their Circles carefully to avoid cross-contaminating internal groups with external people, though Kaplan hasn't experienced many of those problems.

"When you deploy this type of technology, there is a level of trust you need to have in your employees," Hanapole says. "Sure, you take on additional risk, but you also get a higher employee satisfaction rate because you trust them."

To Hanapole, that risk is well worth the reward-and necessary to support Kaplan's clients: students and teachers.

"I feel strongly that as leaders of technology, we need to be providing our employees with the technologies and solutions they are becoming increasingly comfortable with: mobile, tablets, social networks, cloud-they're all being led by consumers and most importantly our students," he says. "As we obsess over student outcomes, it's essential that our employees are adept at the same technologies that our students use to work, learn and play."

3. Offer Training

Kaplan produced training videos and hosted lunch-and-learn sessions to introduce employees to the Google Apps suite and show them how to use the platform. While many employees embraced the service-and already knew how to use it-there were some who were less enthusiastic, Hanapole says. Over time, though, they too have come to praise the collaboration features.

"Making these types of transitions as a tech leader helps to raise the level of awareness of the entire employee base," he says. "You're helping them become more aware of what's possible with cloud computing and how that can benefit them in the work they do."

When Gmail first launched, Hanapole and his team prepared by staffing the helpdesk, expecting to get an influx of calls-but that never happened.

"During the two releases we did, we were consistently amazed by the lack of volume coming into the helpdesk," he says. "With the hype around IT consumerization, it becomes real when you go into a massive rollout that affects everyone's desktop, and yet the phone doesn't ring. Customers and employees are already used to using these tools."

4. Experiment and Have Fun

Google Hangouts, Google's video chat capability, is one feature of the Google+ suite that Hanapole and his team-as well as others-are using frequently.

Before Hangouts, Hanapole's team used Microsoft Office's Live Meeting, which he says was a "pretty heavy download" and caused a lot of user frustration. Hangouts, he says, has a much shorter learning curve and is fun to use.

"We use Hangouts for staff meetings and sharing screens," Hanapole says. "It's fun, it's easy, and we're starting to see more and more of our employees with Web cameras and other devices that let them consume a Hangout-it's something they're identifying more with."

Most recently, Hanapole used Hangouts during a team outing where his department held an award ceremony for the top performers in IT. Using a Hangout made it easier to relive the event and share photos-something that previously would need to be sent and uploaded through the internal communications group onto an intranet, he says.

"Hangouts are just simple to use and it's a more modern way of bringing together your team, which used to be cumbersome and costly and not as easy of a user experience," Hanapole says. "And Google+ as a whole is just a very straightforward approach to solving a communications issue and bringing together teams at a very low cost."

Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking, social business and enterprise collaboration for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com

This story, "How consumerization led Kaplan to Google Apps, and what they learned on the way" was originally published by CIO.

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