At the end of last week, we began the process of moving the business over to G Suite. For those who don’t know, G Suite is Google’s answer to Microsoft’s Office365 – a subscription-based, cloud-based office platform. Unlike Microsoft’s offering though, it operates 100% online in a browser. You have Gmail for business and Google Docs/Spreadsheets/Slides (aka Drive) rather than Outlook, Word, Excel and Powerpoint. It also has a bunch of business-grade admin tools as well as other cool stuff like meetings, Jamboard (a digital, online whiteboard) and even an app design suite.
I’ve been a user of and an advocate for Google’s apps for a while now. They make sharing and collaboration very easy. Since a very high proportion of the documents and spreadsheets I write are going to be shared and commented on by others, they suit that very well. My favourite feature has always been that you can edit a file literally at the same time as someone else, and you can see each others changes as you make them. It stops the ridiculous email trails of different versions of a document where no one is quite sure if they’re working on the latest one.
Granted, these browser-based apps aren’t as powerful as desktop Word and Excel. But, unless you’re using the really advanced features of those programs you probably won’t notice the lack of them (although Google Docs could use ‘Heading Rows Repeat’ in tables). They are certainly better than Microsoft’s Office Online apps. And there are admin permissions that are as strong as a shared Windows drive. As for offline working, I haven’t used it in anger yet but Gmail and Drive do offer offline capabilities.
The biggest draw for me, though, is that they are totally cross-platform – as long as you have internet and a modern web browser you can access your work. We use all 4 major desktop operating systems so this is important – Windows, MacOS, Linux and a January new starter will be using a Chromebook. We are moving our development over to run entirely on virtual machines hosted on Amazon’s infrastructure with the Cloud9 web-based development suite, and all of our business management uses online software (accounts, payroll, our own CRM platform etc). So we will soon be an entirely cloud-based business. And given that there are now few places you can’t get wifi or 4G, I’m not too bothered about relying on fast internet.
Advantages of Cloud-based
There are several big advantages to this approach, for us at least. Firstly, we can work from anywhere. That allows for home working as well as office working, but also working at client locations, on trains and in cafes between meetings.
Secondly is the disaster recovery and security aspect, which go hand in hand. Although everything on physical machines is stored on encrypted disks so is safe, it’s nice not to have to worry about it. G Suite and the other software we use have security baked in, and provided we are careful in how we set up our development platform, those are more secure online than on a laptop which could be stolen. And because we don’t store anything important on our machines, if they break or are lost we just need new hardware (annoying but easy), without having to build a whole new development machine from scratch.
Finally, cloud means less need for high-end machines. I can buy a nice Chromebook for £300, with touchscreen and fully ‘twistable’ into a tablet, so I don’t need to spend £1500 on computers for my staff.
I wrote a book 8 years ago called ‘Through the Cloud’ – it finally seems to me that cloud computing has delivered on its promise and the need for stand-alone desktop systems has gone away.