From Microsoft to Google Apps: Why we migrated

When Michael O'Brien joined Journal Communications in May 2010 as its new CIO, he had a stacked agenda. Journal Communications, a media company with operations in publishing, radio and television broadcasting, understood the industry was changing and looked to O'Brien to spearhead the transformation.

On his list: Harmonize and consolidate disparate IT shops, break down silos and question every process in place.

"When I got here, we had an IT organization focused on TV, one on radio and one for publishing. There were multiple instances of PeopleSoft running different versions in different business units," he says. "We had three to four flavors of phone systems and routers and databases that weren't talking to each other. We needed to consolidate, so we started with people, then processes and worked our way to systems."

In the first nine months on the job, O'Brien successfully consolidated the IT groups into one. With the people part of the consolidation complete, O'Brien and his team looked next to processes and systems. That's when it was time to scrutinize Journal Communication's contract with Microsoft.

O'Brien, who was always a proponent of cloud computing, had good experiences in the past with Microsoft in the BPOS environment. Journal Communications was about halfway through its agreement with Microsoft when he and his team had to take a close look at it.

"We looked at its investment and what it was going to take to upgrade the legacy productivity tools and legacy email and collaboration systems, and it was substantial," O'Brien says. "There was going to be a lot of hardware and software to repurpose and replace."

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With that in mind, the next step, O'Brien says, was to consider other possible cloud solutions. This included Google Apps, which, O'Brien noted, had made "substantial strides" with their cloud-based portfolio of productivity tools. He does admit, though, before they considered the Google option he was not necessarily a "pro-Google person."

"The first time I introduced my directors to the concept of Google and getting rid of Microsoft, they looked at me like I had three eyes and thought I was completely nuts," O'Brien says. "[They weren't initially sold on] the idea that within a legacy manufacturing company--newspapers and all--we could get by without Microsoft productivity tools. They thought I was crazy, but were willing to hear me out because I was the new guy."

O'Brien first tested the Google Apps suite with users inside the IT department. The main objective: Determine how they could use the tool and how it would fit within the company. During this 60-day period, O'Brien says they migrated the IT team at various levels--some only had the browser component, others had just the Google toolset and others had access to the entire Google Apps suite.

"We had to basically eat our own dogfood. We had to make sure the tools worked within our business and we had to emulate how the business would use it--some users going native and others using everything," O'Brien says. "We had weekly meetings with IT staff about what was going well and not going well."

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At the end of the 60-day period, O'Brien says they were convinced Google Apps was right for Journal Communications. The next obstacle: convincing the legal team that the cloud was safe and secure.

"My security team and I needed to make sure we explained the technology at a business level so they understood how our data was more safe and secure in the cloud than it was in the data centers in our buildings," O'Brien says.

Part of the strategy to convince the legal team was ensuring they were relaying technical information in language the lawyers would understand.

For example, O'Brien says they relied on individuals from the IT department who were also business savvy to help break down the basics of what cloud computing is. These individuals also spent a lot of time with Google representatives coming up with slides and pictures to translate tech speak such as the basics of managing data centers. The key, O'Brien says, was in weeding out technical jargon.

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"It's one thing to explain how servers manage data to a tech team using tech terms, but the challenge is taking that same presentation, turning it upside down and using business language so an attorney can look at the pictures and understand how data is sprayed and servers are separated out from firewalls," O'Brien says.

This preparation and approach paid off, as legal eventually signed off on the Google Apps rollout.

Journal Communications is in the process of three-phase rollout of 2,700 Google Apps seats. So far the deployment has been successful, though there have been some nervous employees, O'Brien says. "There are some people who have only used Microsoft for their whole career, so naturally they're a little nervous, but generally excited."

O'Brien recalls how part of the pitch he made to senior execs in favor of Google Apps centered around cost savings related to getting rid of a number of servers. "Then, within two weeks of signing the Google contract, we had a catastrophic loss in our email servers. We had people who had been with the company for 10 or 15 years and they literally lost all their contacts. That's when I had people raising their hands asking to be the first to go Google."

Kristin Burnham covers consumer technology, social networking and Web 2.0 for CIO.com. Follow Kristin on Twitter @kmburnham. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Kristin at kburnham@cio.com

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Kristin Burnham

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