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Google Apps seen as critical for Fairfax cost cutting

Google Apps seen as critical for Fairfax cost cutting

Too much trouble to remove Microsoft Office, but Fairfax gung ho on Google.

Fairfax Media CIO Andrew Lam-Po-Tang

Fairfax Media CIO Andrew Lam-Po-Tang

Fairfax Media plans to let its Microsoft Office licence wither away while the company makes Google Apps its primary productivity suite, according to Fairfax Media CIO Andrew Lam-Po-Tang.

Google Apps, adopted two years ago, has saved money and spurred collaboration at Fairfax Media as it responds to cost pressures on its business, Lam-Po-Tang said at the CeBIT enterprise mobility conference.

However, Fairfax still owns a Microsoft Office licence and, while encouraging users to switch to Google because of its greater collaboration features, has not removed Office from employee computers, Lam-Po-Tang said.

When people asked if he would take Office off desktops, “I fell on the ground laughing,” the CIO said. “Do you have any idea how much that would cost, how much angst that would create and how pointless it would be? We own those licences, so it costs me nothing to let people use it.

“We will just let those run to the ground and not replace them.”

Cost-cutting continues to be a major emphasis at Fairfax Media, the CIO said.

"It is quite an interesting environment to work in where you are furiously cutting away costs, eradicating whole [parts] of your activity, making significant groups of people redundant ... and on the other hand investing for growth effectively in enterprise startups at the same time,” he said.

“We are confident we have that change muscle. We are confident that we have the discipline and the courage to proceed as necessary.”

Mobility has played a key role in helping Fairfax meet its goals, the CIO said.

Read more: BYOD 'a privilege, not a right': Fairfax

“We have never put up mobility as a specific objective,” he said. “But … it turns out that mobility is one hell of an enabler.”

The company’s outsourcing of email using Google Apps helped achieve Fairfax’s primary cost-cutting objective, but ended up enabling greater mobility and collaboration for workers, Lam-Po-Tang said. It also made it easier for Fairfax to implement plans to do bring your own device (BYOD) and real-time, activity-based working, he said.

Fairfax evaluated Google Apps for six weeks and then began moving 10,500 staff accounts to Google, he said. The migration was done in six phases and took 24 weeks, he said.

Fairfax mandated that staff use Gmail, Contacts and Calendar, and made it optional for employees to use other Google Apps such as Drive and Google+.

To pull off the transition, Fairfax hired implementation consultants. The company also trained a select number of employees to be company Google Guides to help peers.

A recent move by Fairfax to real-time working – an initiative meant to cut office floor space by 40 per cent in the Sydney and Melbourne offices and save $32 million over four years – might not have happened without Google Apps, Lam-Po-Tang said.

“It would have been impossible. The only way that I think you can do true activity-based working is by going to a cloud-based solution.”

While embracing Google Apps has helped Fairfax do BYOD and given employees much more flexibility to work where they want, the company has required employees to employ two-factor authentication to keep the company's data secure.

Lam-Po-Tang said there was resistance from about 10 per cent of the workforce, but most employees now understand the more complex log-in process is an acceptable trade-off for increased mobility.

“If we’re going to give you all this freedom, we need some additional security, and people are OK with that,” he said.

Adam Bender covers business tech issues for CIO and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

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Tags mobileGoogle AppsFairfax MediaBring Your Own Device (BYOD)

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