Google Apps’ Collaboration Red Herring

In today’s workplace, a core competency for information workers is the ability to work together. As a result, we likely spend a lot of time in meetings. But we also spend a lot of time working independently—like doing the leg work to facilitate meetings or completing action items that result from those meetings. One study by the Ken Blanchard Companies found that 54 percent of respondents spend about 30 percent of their time in team settings. That leaves 70 percent of the time in which they’re working independently.

Microsoft Office 365 facilitates team work in real time, independent work, and everything in between. People can  collaborate productively using the social capabilities in SharePoint, user presence across the suite, and the real-time meeting capabilities in Lync. They can also work independently and, when the time is right, share information, gather input and approvals, and consolidate feedback, all while protecting sensitive information.

The Google Apps offering is a one-scenario collaboration feature posing as a full collaboration suite.

What's Missing?
Google Apps, on the other hand, has some tools for working together but struggles to support many aspects of work and collaboration needs.  According to Amit Singh, Google's Vice President of Enterprise, “We don’t worry so much about individual productivity in a PC one-to-one environment.” In fact, Google touting that it offers a great collaboration experience is a bit of a red herring. 

So what’s missing? For the purposes of this blog post, I am going to focus on a few key capabilities Google Apps fails to provide related to working on documents:

Tracking Changes: How do you know what’s changed in a document when you’re collaborating with others on a document but not working at the same time?

Microsoft Google
Microsoft Office allows you to share a document with others and track all changes made by those users. After you have received others' contributions, feedback and changes, you can then navigate through those changes and keep or remove and edit those changes. Just because someone makes a change or suggestion doesn’t mean you want to keep it. With Google Apps, there's no simple way to see what has changed in a document when co-authoring with others at different times. People who have edit rights can make whatever changes they want in a document and there is no way to accept or reject those changes. Any content they have removed or changed is now gone from the document. Your only option is to go to the document archive and look over previous versions of the document and, if you find the right version, copy and paste the old content back into the current version.

Document Reconciliation: What do you do when a document gets copied and one or more version is floating around? What tools are available to bring the divergent versions back together?

Microsoft Google
With Office you can easily merge two versions of a document to bring them back together with the document merge feature in Word. You have an intuitive user interface to view the differences in the two documents and decide which content you would like to keep for the final merged version. Google Apps does not have any document merge capabilities.  You are left with manually scanning documents and creating the composite document on your own.

Notifications: Is there a proactive way to find out if a document has changed or been updated?

Microsoft Google
If you want to stay up-to-date on changes to documents and list items, you have two options. One is to receive updates as email alerts for a document library, a folder, or an individual file.  The second option is to receive alerts as an RSS feed on a document library. Both options allow you to customize how much information you receive. You can only set notifications in one of Google’s productivity apps—spreadsheets. In addition, notifications are only via email.

Workflows: For more complex projects, are there easy tools to help improve productivity without having to code or buy additional software?

Microsoft Google
Office 365 includes a set of out-of the box workflows that anyone can use to automate processes and routing of content to improve the efficiency of projects or to establish a formal record of approvals. No advanced development or other specialized skills are needed. To add a workflow to a document, users should have basic knowledge of JavaScript to code a workflow using Google Apps Script. Or they can purchase third-party software that integrates with Google Docs and provides workflows.

Security: Can you easily make sure that sensitive content is protected and isn’t shared outside of your team or company?

Microsoft Google
Office 365 offers end users the flexibility to share information with co-workers and external parties while at the same time giving IT control over data access controls, and providing audit capabilities. Companies can choose to implement information rights management alongside Office 365 to protect content even further and to ensure that sensitive information remains protected. With Google Docs, there’s a yes/no control for user controlled access to documents and external sharing. IT does not have any auditing or additional data controls for content. Google Apps does not have any information rights management capabilities.

Compliance: For collaborative work that’s sensitive in nature, is there a way to mark it for retention or legal hold?

Microsoft Google
SharePoint Online makes it easy to tag content, enforce retention schedules, declare records, and apply legal holds. With these measures, organizations can address the need for compliance and reduce the risk of mistakes when information is archived or disposed. Google Apps does not provide centralized document access control, retention management, legal hold, destruction management or disposition management.  Google does offer the Google Drive software development kit (SDK) to access data stored in Google Drive. Customers either need to develop a custom solution or purchase third-party software for content management and document compliance.

Eyes Wide Open
When you look at the evidence above, it’s not surprising that Google focuses so much of its marketing on a few real-time collaboration features. There are so many gaps when compared to Office 365.

By focusing on just one collaboration scenario, Google Apps misses the larger needs of organizations. The reality is that most businesses face a full spectrum of collaboration needs. Don’t be misled! Make sure you choose a collaboration solution that meets the full range of your needs.




Comments (18)

  1. Ian Ray says:

    Real-time collaboration: Can you see changes instantly?

    Microsoft Word/Office 365 Word App, Excel App, Powerpoint, Sharepoint Online


    Google Apps Web, Mobile


    Even "co-authoring" is mix and match within the Office 365 line.

    The above seems to me like a big list of lawyeresque document reconciliation features which most small businesses could care less about. It is glossing over the key missing feature.

    LucidChart also allows real-time collaboration. Any version of Visio online yet?

  2. A says:

    I have to agree with Ian.  The advantages of real time collaboration available with Google Apps is far superior of Office 365.

    Your first comparison of 365 v. Google Apps is not accurate.  Google Docs has full revision control and the ability to easily see what has changed in a document and by whom.  You are also easily able to restore old versions.

    Check your facts.

    Also note Microsofts questionable ethics of focusing their time on bashing Google's products instead of dedicating resources to improving their own.  Google doesn't participate in the smack talk, they simply keep their heads down and continue to innovate at a pace much faster than MSFT.

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