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Is Google Ready to Handle Your Business? (Part 1 of 2)

Is Google Ready to Handle Your Business? (Part 1 of 2)

Is Google Ready to Handle Your Business?

    As a big fan of online, Web 2.0 applications, I’ve long followed Google’s ever-increasing stable of web-based services, from Google Docs to Google Voice to Google Reader. Their large and growing collection of online applications and services make it increasingly possible to consider running the bulk of your business using free (or low-cost) Google applications. Even big businesses have gotten in to the act, with mega-corporations like GE giving Google’s Google Apps for Business suite a whirl. And with recent additions to the Google stable such as Postini, an email security and discoverability service, a lot of concerns about security and compliance are finally starting to be addressed.

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    Though I don’t actually run a business any bigger than myself, I recently took a look at Google’s offerings and how they could be used in a small- to medium-sized business setting. Here we’ll look at some of the basic tasks businesses need to accomplish — communication, productivity, and promotion — and how Google’s services, both those in their Google Apps package and among their standalone services, can help businesses get the job done – and where Google just doesn’t seem to make the mark.

    Communication

    One of the core functions of any business is communication, both among its employees and with clients, vendors, and the media. Google Apps combines email, chat, calendaring, document creation and editing, and collaboration tools in one suite. Other services include Google Voice (formerly Grand Central), a phone forwarding and voicemail service that also offers cheap outgoing calls.

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    Among these services, Gmail is easily the strongest. As part of Google Apps, businesses can quickly set up @yourdomain.com email addresses, each with its own online mailbox. Gmail’s integration with Google’s powerful search technology makes accessing archived information easy, and full POP and IMAP access means you can access email through the desktop client of your choice, including Outlook.

    Online users of Gmail also have access to a variety of features from Google Labs (accessible from the upper right-hand corner in Gmail), such as the ability to save and re-use boilerplate text. The online interface also includes a simple task manager, which is shared with Google Calendar, allowing dated tasks to be placed directly onto your calendar without leaving Gmail. Gmail’s contact management is fairly weak, with nothing like customer relations management (although Salesforce.com users can take advantage of Salesforce for Google Apps, which integrates with Gmail, Google Calendar, Docs, and Google Talk.).

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    Postini, a newer Google acquisition, provides rule-based security and email archiving and discoverability for businesses that need to assure HIPAA or Sarbanes-Oxley compliance, or simply need a high level of security on both inbound and outbound messages. Some of Postini’s services are integrated with Google Apps Premier; others must be purchased separately. All of Postini’s features are available as well to non-Gmail users by routing your email through Google’s servers.

    Google Talk is not the most popular IM system out there, but it offers more than enough power for inter-office communication. The service can be accessed through a dedicated client, a pop-up client within Gmail, or third-party clients like Digsby or Pidgin. Voice and video capabilities are decent, but lack the ability to cross over to standard phones like Skype or other VoIP systems.

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    Google Voice replaces traditional voice mail and forwarding services, giving users  a single phone number that can be forwarded to one, some, or all of the user’s other phone numbers – or different combinations of phones based on user-created rules. Messages can be picked up through traditional voice mail, or audio files can be sent via email. Unfortunately Google Voice does not offer a business-level service that would allow it to replace a PBX system. Also, at the moment, it is not fully open to the public and requires an invite to sign up.

    For keeping on top of industry news, world events, blogs, Twitter searches, and even information and updates within your organization, the free Google Reader offers perhaps the best RSS reader on the market. Since most apps in the Google suite (as well as other online applications and services) offer a stream of updates via RSS, Reader can easily become the “hub” of your business. To keep tabs on how your business is being discussed on the web, add in feeds from Google Alerts, which allows you to create searches against Google’s web, news, blog, or video search engines, as well as within Google Groups or across all five with a “comprehensive” search. All of them let you know when a particular term shows up in the top 10 (top 20 for Web, top 50 for Google Groups) search results on that term. Google alerts are ideal for tracking how your business or products are being written about on the Web – set them up for your company and brand names, as well as for general searches in your field to keep track of your competition. (Google Alerts can also be sent by email).

    For communication among project groups, try setting up a private list on Google Groups, a free email list management system. Groups can be public or available only to the people you add directly, allowing communication both within your organization and with your public. Like all Google products, the ability to search your archives using Google’s search engine is the strongest point of the service, which is otherwise comparable to other mailing list services like Yahoo Groups.

    In part 2 of this post, I’ll discuss Google’s offerings for productivity and promotion. To be honest, though, Google’s offerings in communication are their strong point; their productivity applications, while useful, tend to be far more limited than similar offerings, even their online competition. I’ll close with a short assessment of where Google’s services may or may not be appropriate choices for small- and medium-sized businesses. See you then!

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

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    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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