Free Google Tools Changing the Way I Do Business

I have always been a tech geek, focused on solutions to keep my data safe and synchronized between all of my devices.  In the late 1990s I had the Palm pilots, then the Kyocera smartphones (it was the first time I'd heard the term "smart phone"). 

All that said, Google's suite of free tools have just blindsided me. I have always been a keen user and advocate of Microsoft Office.  I still think it's a great suite of programs, but my needs have changed.

When I first started dating Sue, I would watch her walk over the the computer, type like mad, then use her trackpad to hit send, then walk away.  If I asked her if she could email me a copy of an archived email, she'd walk back to the computer, click the mouse a few times, type 6 or 7 letters, hit enter, click forward, then press send… and close the computer.

I made her show me her Google Mail, etc.  I was amazed at the speed of the workflow on Gmail… and the best part was she was always working off of webmail, so it didn't matter if she had her computer with her. And without putting much thought into it… she was actually working in the "Cloud" by keeping all of her documents as attachments on Gmail!

The second revelation was when we bought her iphone.  As we were driving away from the store, she connected the iPhone to her gmail account. Before we returned home, all of her folders, emails and attachments were synced with the phone.  

If she needed access to any of the documents, they were a quick search away (with Google search speed).

Although I preferred my branded "Century 21" email address, I quickly fell in love with the ease of use of Gmail, and set up my own account.  

The next feature that dazzled me was the Google Docs Feature.  I'm a stickler for aesthetic layouts on word documents, and google Docs beta was a little rough around the edges, but with a little thought I was able to comfortably layout each document.  

I bought a new computer, with the idea that I would be able to upload all of my documents into the "Google Docs cloud", and keep my computer free of clutter.  In today's 24 hour business world, my clients expect that I have all of the information that I need for my transactions, at the tip of my fingers, within minutes, but also that it is kept safe and confidential.

There are 1,000 reasons why Google's suite of applications makes sense but here are the main ones:

  1. If my computer gets stolen, my documents are both safely stored online and secure away from the thief's eyes.
  2. If I happen to soak my computer in my hottub like I did in 2007 (don't ask), I won't lose one document.  Clients are tired of hearing that your computer crashed, regardless of whether it is true or not.
  3. If I'm working on a huge document, and a lightning storm crashes takes out the power, the document won't be missing one letter.  It is right where I left off.
  4. If I'm working at the office, and I get distracted and leave home early, I can open Google Docs, and resume right where I left off.  If I'm on the phone with a client at home, I need to be able to pull up their file, and discuss the actual details of the contract, not try and recall from memory.
  5. If my administrative assistant and I are working on the same document (which can easily be shared via Google Docs), we only have one document to work from a year later when we need to use the same document.

Smartphone Synching

The final point I want to make today is about the Google iphone and Blackberry sync features. I know so may people who have asked me to help them set up their smartphone, and I recommend to them to do DAILY syncs.  This requires you to be in the same place as your computer DAILY for up to an hour at a time while it does the backup. I've found that very few people do daily backups (with their phone, a cable and a computer).

My business friends who worked at large companies such as Shell, Encana, TD Waterhouse, etc. have access to this magical box called a "Microsoft Enterprise Server" which costs a minimum of tens of thousands of dollars, and takes almost a full time administrator if you have more than 20 employees.  I looked into this for my own business, and although I could see the benefit of wireless synchronization of my data, I couldn't justify the price or the hassle.

Earlier this year (2010) Google offered free "Enterprise Server Synchronization" to all of it's gmail customers.  Let me repeat… for free! I carry a Blackberry and an iphone, and a laptop.  I can lose one, two, or all three of the devices, and my information is still safe.  As you may know, insurance companies won't insure you to replace your data so I recommend that you consider this option.  (you can actually set up an account an only use the Google Calendar and contacts sync feature as a simple backup if you want).

I hope you find this blog useful, and I'd love to hear your thoughts, or questions, if you decide to use these Google features.

Bob Sheddy is the broker of record with Century 21 in Drumheller, Alberta.

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