Google’s “Simple and Affordable” Siren Song

Google’s claim that Google Apps for Business is “simple and affordable” reminds me of the irresistible song of the Sirens in the Odyssey.

It’s hard not to be swayed by low prices and bargains. Yet the reality is that many businesses lured by Google Apps promise of “simple and affordable” are finding that it’s a false promise.
Many organizations who’ve adopted Google Apps have discovered that the “simple” solution is actually bare bones. Either enterprises use the bare bones version, and pay in lost productivity. Or they pay for the additional time and cost of implementing add-on features that may not be well integrated with the core offering.

As with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

Simple or Bare Bones?
Google claims that Google Apps is simple, and often criticizes Office as too complex; the company maintains that the average person only uses about 10 percent of Office features. According to Dave Girouard, Google’s former vice president of product management: “The technology should be only what you need and nothing more…More features, more functions are not always a good thing.”

The question is which of the 90 percent of Office features would you do away with? The 10 percent of features used by a financial analyst may be totally different from the 10 percent of features used by a policy analyst. Although no one employee is likely to use everything, chances are that, as a whole, your organization is using most, if not all, of the features.

Office is designed with enterprises in mind. We’ve worked with enterprises for more than 20 years to understand what functionality they need and use on a day-to-day basis, and Office delivers on those needs. No wonder 9 out of 10 companies that adopt Google Apps continue to use Office at the same time—they miss the functionality that keeps them productive.

Missing Basic Features
The reality is that Google Apps provides just bare bones functionality. From the inability to filter email to the inability to track changes, it lacks even the most basic features that enterprises need and expect.

Just ask BCBG. The premier fashion brand at first used Google Apps, but it soon discovered that the capabilities were adequate for fewer than 25 percent of its employees. “Google Apps had nowhere near the rich functionality that Microsoft Office would provide,” says Kent Fuller, Director of IT of IT Services at BCBGMAXAZRIAGROUP. “The rest of the company relied heavily on Office products, and it would have been a huge business disruption if they were to use Google.”

The security company HSS had a similar experience. “Employees found that Google lacked a number of important features,” says Marina Johnson, Chief Information Officer at HSS. “For example, they were unable to sort mail by sender or subject and found the Google Mail label system cumbersome. They weren’t able to mark messages that are very important and require immediate attention. We didn’t realize how much we would miss Office features until we didn’t have them.”

No wonder IT leaders maintain that Google “still isn’t a corporate contender.” In a recent survey by The Corporate IT Forum, well over half of the IT heads from large UK companies said that Google’s missing features—especially when compared to mainstream offerings such as Microsoft—are a “barrier to adoption.” 

Affordable? Take a Closer Look!
Google also claims that Google Apps is affordable. It may seem so on the surface, but when you add in lost productivity and the need for extra products, companies soon realize it’s a false promise. As Tina Parfitt, head of IT for the construction firm VINCI PLC, put it: “Although Google may appear less expensive at first, it costs money to support and run it.”
The digital marketing agency Atominx, initially adopted Google Mail “because it was easy and it was free.” But as the organization hired more people, employees discovered that Google couldn’t keep up with their collaboration needs. “Once we had four employees and six freelance designers trying to collaborate with just the very basic email and chat tools in Google Mail, it began to feel restrictive,” says Myles Kaye, director at Atominx. “We pieced together other collaboration solutions, such as Windows Live Messenger and the Dropbox document-sharing web service, but we were working from too many IDs in too many different places.”

Rookie Recruits, an Australian-based recruitment firm, also discovered that productivity waned with Google Apps.  “Almost immediately, our team began to complain about Google Apps,” says Andy Springer, the firm’s co-founder and director. “They felt that Google Mail lacked the familiar tools they had come to depend on in Microsoft Outlook. The Google Mail add-in for Outlook was difficult to install and only added a layer of complexity to sending and receiving emails. We were concerned that it would impact the level of service we provide, or even affect an opportunity with an employer or candidate. We just couldn’t afford that.”

A Sweet Siren Song
No wonder so many companies switch to Office 365 after trying Google Apps. The promise of simple and affordable may sound alluring, but it’s just a sweet siren song that doesn’t pan out.  

Don’t be lured by Google’s false promise. Even if it means tying yourself to a ship mast and putting wax in your ears, in the end you’ll be better off.


Comments (36)

  1. Anonymous says:

    It's been a while since i read the Odyssey, and to be honest, like Tony did, I only hit the crib notes (or more precisely, the Spark Notes like the link he referenced). But that said, I don't agree with "tying yourself to a ship mast and putting wax in your ears, in the end you’ll be better off."

    I think its really important for companies to evaluate both platforms and not turn a blind eye to one or the other. It has to be about what YOU need and not what some vendor said. We tested both and found one better than the other, but not with wax in our ears or a blind eye.

  2. @Michael Graham – We stand by the information in this blog post. I don’t know how you define "filter email" but I define it as the ability to easily sort email in different ways — by sender, date, subject, etc. To the disappointment of many Google Apps
    customers, Gmail does not offer this functionality:
    . Regarding track changes, I would hardly call what Google offers the equivalent of the "track changes" functionality provided in Office. Opening a separate document to view the revision history of the document you’re working
    on is hardly the same as "track changes" and frankly it’s both time-consuming and confusing. When collaborating on documents,  customers want the quick ability to see which people made what changes — right from within the document. They also want the ability
    to accept or reject each change on an individual basis. Don’t take my word for it. Just read Google’s customer comments:

  3. Constructive Criticism says:

    Bashing competitors directly is a sales 001 "do not do". You could have titled it "Affordable Doesn't Have to Mean Bare Bones", where you made the case for all the value-added Office offers for just a small premium over Gapps. Many of the same points would apply, only now from a customer's perspective instead of a competitor's.

  4. Ian Ray says:

    "inability to filter email"

    This is an outright lie. Filters are dead simple to set up in Google mail.

    "unable to sort mail by sender or subject"

    Aside from email, I've always wondered why search engines do not also have an alphabetize function instead of being so reliant on relevance and search operators. It seems to be a major oversight. Maybe Bing could Bing this on: "sort the Web". It could be even more useful than sorting a 50,000 message inbox.

  5. Michael Graham says:

    "From the inability to filter email to the inability to track changes, it lacks even the most basic features that enterprises need and expect."

    This is incorrect.  Gmail will filter and label any message it receives.  The ability to "track changes" is readily available it is just not called "track changes."  Ways to track changes include making comments where collaborative users can resolve or discuss potential changes.  In addition to this, users may see revision history of a document and "track changes" that way.  This article is plain incorrect on many of its points.  Google Apps is the best and innovative way to get work done.  Microsoft is the old way that will be left in the dust of the innovators like Google and Apple.  Sorry Bill its just not what will drive creativity and positive change.  

    Michael Graham

    Author of Google Apps for Education Meets Common Core


  6. Ian Ray says:

    @Constructive Criticism

    Compare this blog to the generic Office 365 blog…/microsoft_office_365_blog


    …or the technical blog…/default.aspx

    (what's up with the low-contrast, sky-blue text anyway? New Outlook password expiration notifications! oooh, great…)

    Microsoft has to do something to compare with Google

    I mean, Google does blog posts about adding 10-person video chat to calendar entries. That is a pretty interesting subject by itself. Other examples are the Google Drive standalone iPhone app for real-time document editing. How about automatic email translation? This is all pretty interesting technology to write about without having to sling mud at competitors at all.

    In contrast, Microsoft's promotional blogs are posting about "igniting innovation", "leading the way in security, privacy and compliance", "Enterprise (insert buzzword) for businesses with (throw additional buzzwords)"


    At least this smack talk blog is entertaining.

  7. Ian Ray says:

    I’m pretty sure everyone else’s definition of "filter email" is to "filter out" messages they don’t want to look through, not change the sort order. That would be called "changing the sort order".

    What about this study that claims searching emails is by far the most efficient method? Is this wrong?…/chi2011_refinding_email_camera_ready.pdf

    I look at it like this: before Web search, everybody looked through the Web on directories in alphabetical order, by subject, etc. I used to have a book that was literally a list of Web and gopher addresses. Now that search is excellent, very few users sort
    the Web alphabetically or by subject. Google uses the same type of search algorithm on email as it does on the Web, so therefore searching gmail is probably more efficient than sorting it alphabetically or filing it in folders by subject as the IBM study suggests.

    Google’s problem is it only provides the most effective method. Microsoft, to their credit, dumbs it down by allowing less efficient methods.

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