This company went Gmail because it's "cool" -- then discovered a surprising thing

Credit: jimmywayne via Flickr

Google, to borrow a turn of phrase from a bow-tied time traveler of some renown, is cool.

At least, that's what Bill Schechtman, IT Director for Quixote Studios, says, on his reasoning for moving the company's 200-plus employees from Microsoft Exchange 2003 to Google Apps. 

"Google is just cooler. We have a cool company. Microsoft is kind of mature, older. Google is kind of cool and hip."

That's not the entire reasoning behind Quixote's move, of course. Quixote is a studio services company that rents equipment stages, vehicles and production supplies for photo shoots and movie/TV productions from its six offices across LA, Boston, and New Orleans, and when Schechtman first signed on in late 2010, the aging Exchange infrastructure was severely limiting the ability of employees to check their e-mail on the go.

"I was losing a lot of sleep," Schechtman says of his first few months wrangling Microsoft Exchange at Quixote. "The worst three words I could hear were 'Exchange is down.'"

Schechtman knew that it was time to outsource email, and moved quickly. The company investigated both Google Apps and Microsoft BPOS (the cloud productivity suite that preceded the modern Microsoft Office 365), but it was the former that ended up getting the nod. That's due in no small part to the high familiarity that Quixote's younger-skewing workforce have with Gmail and all the rest of Google's browser-based cloud tools. 

In early 2012, Quixote turned to Virginia-based Google Apps deployment partner Dito for migration assistance, but Schechtman says that in hindsight, he appreciated the assurances but didn't really need the help. Google provides its own set of Exchange migration tools, and from the user perspective, the change was seamless. There was no downtime, and users were still able to access their e-mail from Microsoft Outlook.

But what happened next was a pleasant surprise for Schechtman.

The object of the exercise was simply to provide a new, cloud-based e-mail infrastructure for Quixote. But gradually, and with minimal pushing from Schechtman and his team, users stopped checking e-mail from within Outlook and started using the familiar Gmail interface, on- and off-site. Employees started posting meeting minutes on shared Google Docs. Google Calendar invites started flying around the office. And Google+ Hangouts, as seems to be a trend, started to supplant traditional conference calls. 

A happy side-effect has been a drastic reduction in Quixote's budget for Microsoft Office licenses in the two years since the transition. The accounting department can't escape Microsoft's iron grip on the spreadsheet market and still needs to keep current on Microsoft Excel, but otherwise, Quixote doesn't really need Microsoft products any longer.

Google Apps is also giving Quixote an entryway to the wide world of BYOD, and while Schechtman looked at a few different device management apps, he decided that the native tools were plenty for the company, especially considering Google Apps' effort in that area is getting more robust all the time. It's not perfect, Schechtman says, but it's getting better all the time, and enabling employees to get their e-mail from any device is having a tangible benefit for productivity. 

Where Schechtman's days used to be filled with worrying about having enough Exchange servers - and enough backup and disaster recovery capability to support them - for the growing company, he says Google makes it all easy enough to scale and add users that he has a lot more time to focus on projects outside of mere e-mail management.

For instance, Quixote now uses Google Single Sign-On (SSO) to integrate identity across the company's Active Directory (AD) domain and Google Apps, and there are nascent plans to turn Google+ into the company's social intranet. Schechtman also praised Google's continual refinement and maturation of the Google Apps platform, finding that the stream of updates and tweaks to the platform are always for the better. 

"One of the great things about Google is that as we grow, Google is keeping up with us,"  Schechtman says.

In the spirit of full disclosure, it was a representative from Google itself who connected CITEworld with Quixote, and no wonder: It sounds like a Google-powered fairy tale, and doesn't speak well to Microsoft's attempts to reinforce its relevance in the post-iPhone world. All the same, Schechtman says that the ROI on Google Apps has been far greater than he expected, and that he can't speak well enough of the platform to his colleagues in the IT management profession.

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