Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Greenleaf Hospitality Group chooses Google Apps


Greenleaf Hospitality Group, recently named among the 50 Most Engaged Workplaces in the U.S., is a hospitality management company that oversees two hotels, five ice arenas, seven restaurants, two retail shops, a spa, and is currently 800+ employees strong. Their locations and employees are spread out across an entire state, and employees can often be found on the road between locations. Getting them data when they need it is crucial to operations. Recently, Greenleaf was looking at opportunities that would allow them to move away from their aging and undersized IT system, including Exchange.
Michael Cross
Dir. of Technology Services

“We were looking at changing our entire infrastructure, and email was at the top of the list,” explains Michael Cross, Director of Technology Services. “We had explored staying with Exchange, as well as moving to a cloud solution like Office365 or Google Apps.”



Greenleaf was looking at finding better tools for their employees who were always on the go, to help them stay on top of projects and reports at their many locations.

“I was already familiar with the many benefits of Google Apps, and I already knew of Newmind as a Google Apps partner,” Michael continued. “In the end it really boiled down to cost being the most significant factor in our decision. Google Apps was 30% less than the cost of Office365, and only half the cost of using a self-managed Exchange server. When we calculated the ROI, we discovered Apps would pay for itself in only 18 months.”

Greenleaf Hospitality Group decided to make the switchover with a well-planned “rip and replace” strategy. “Only a dozen or so users had been given a preview of the new tools,” Michael said. “But everything went as smoothly as we could have imagined it to go. The Exchange server caused complete data migration to take longer than we would have liked,  but the entire cutover took four hours at the most.”

“Having Newmind Group manage our deployment was a critical success factor,” Michael goes on to say, “Doing it ourselves would have been possible, but there were a lot of ‘gotcha’ moments that would have delayed our efforts. Having Newmind Group involved helped us plan and get those roadblocks out of the way. Newmind’s assistance with training was also essential. They enabled a seamless, smooth process.”

The biggest benefit Greenleaf has seen since their move to Google Apps has been that now all of the employees can access their email from any device, anywhere. “As an IT guy, I really appreciate the freedom I can now give my colleagues to use what they like. The Android people are happy, the iPhone people are happy. Plus, my IT staff are happy now that we no longer have to support old devices that were losing their value and functionality.” Michael explains.

Prior to the switch, Greenleaf employees were locked into using antiquated devices as their only option for handhelds. They were difficult to work on and incapable of performing the functions employees yearned for, but the company was locked in. They had zero choices if they wanted to be able to access their email. If an off-site employee didn’t have a company-issued device they were forced to trudge through a complex vpn connection. One employee recounted a time when, in the legacy system, they were out of the office and needed to check their email. “After an hour of unsuccessfully trying to connect to the Exchange mail server with the vpn, I simply gave up,” the employee said. “When I returned to work the next day I discovered that there had been a crisis in my absence. Because of my inability to access my email, what could have taken seconds to clear up (with Google Apps) instead took days to rectify.”

By harnessing the power of the cloud, Google Apps has enabled Greenleaf Hospitality Group staff members to access their email, calendar, and documents from any device anywhere in the world.
In terms of delving deep into all of their new tools, Greenleaf’s training intentionally only covered the basics, leaving employees with the freedom to explore everything else on their own. “Now we’re starting to see widespread adoption. Chat was the big one to become adopted first, and now we’re starting to see people using forms. A lot of users are not computer savvy, but the fact that they are finding these tools on their own and are using them is amazing,” Michael says. “We’re lucky to have users that are used to and willing to accept change.”

“In hindsight, I can honestly say that every aspect of switching to Google Apps with Newmind went really well. The biggest success factor for me is that on the switchover day our CEO was on vacation and was able to get his email. He was on a boat, in Alaska, in the middle of nowhere, and he was able to get his email and reply to it,” Michael laughs. “In fact, as an organization we decided we should use this project as a tool to measure all future projects on how smooth and painless they should be.”