Thoughts so far on Google Docs & Sites

We’ve been doing some initial trialling across the business with Google Docs and Google Sites, and here’s a brief summary of thoughts and observations so far…

Team working tools will only have an impact in teams that have a sense of team
This might seem a bit bleedin’ obvious, but it is fundamental. If you are trying to get teams to work more effectively, they need to have a sense of team before technology will help. Forming, Storming, Norming and then Performing… Collaboration software won’t help if the team hasn’t at very least reached the norming phase. In fact, it might become counterproductive as software services become the scapegoat for team management and co-ordination issues.

Google Docs isn’t a replacement for Microsoft Office
Thanks to Paul Rigby at Ingensys for banging on about this… It does similar things, but if you are just looking to Google Docs to be a replacement for Office, you’ll be disappointed. It doesn’t have all the functionality, it doesn’t output to print particularly well, and if you import Office documents into Docs, unless they are really simple, they’ll probably be more hassle as you try to unpick the formatting.

However, it does do things that you couldn’t dream of doing in Office. Collaborative authoring is the way forward if you have people who need to author collaboratively (not everyone does). See here and here for earlier observations about this.

Innovation has to be led by the users

Because it’s different, Docs needs to be experimented with. You need to have a mindset in your users that is open to experimentation (and that some things won’t work for them). People who expect to have tools delivered on a plate with detailed instructions are going to struggle with exploiting Docs and Sites. And don’t just assume that this will be in the older part of your workforce…

Text and spreadsheets don’t do anything for visual people
Again, file under bleedin’ obvious, but a design organisation’s folk are that interested in numbers and the written word. Demoing a collaborative spreadsheet doesn’t engage them… showing a collaborative drawing tool does.

Google Sites is a bit of a red herring

I’m not convinced that internal publishing of web pages is anything but hobby activity for most people in most organisations. But collaborative documents are for everyone…
(Likewise, I see things like Docs as the death of Wiki’s, which look horribly old fashioned to my mind with markup language and all…)

Using Docs as a file share is OK…

But 1Gb of data isn’t what it used to be…
Having said that, using Docs to publish out PDFs to the planet quickly and cheaply is remarkable. Combine it with a URL-shortening service, and it rocks (see for example).

Beware the clients’ InfoSec team

If you are a client service organisation, your clients’ Information Security departments may have concerns over the use of Docs and Sites (it’s in the Cloud, so must obviously be extremely dangerous and bad. If you are suggesting to use the service, then don’t approach their InfoSec people directly – convince your immediate client, and then get them to get the authorisations. An external supplier approaching an InfoSec team will always be on the back foot. Your immediate client is more likely to get their security people to actually think about the issues in detail, and have to justify any decisions they come to.

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