Monday, 7 December 2009

Google Apps Directory Services

With Google Apps Market Place now available to all Apps users, it is easy to add directory services via various tools. We have adopted Sherpa Tools to manage our global directory as well as manage the global settings within Google Apps, such as language etc. Groups can be defined via Profiles and associated to users. A free tool with more advanced features available for a price.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Google Docs Backup and More!

Have you ever wanted to keep your life simple by having the same files available on your work PC, home PC and notebook? Even mobile phone?

Well Syncplicity provides a great tool to do this. A cloud based service to keep the following backed up and in sync:

  • My Documents
  • Bookmarks in the browser (IE) / Favorites
  • Google Docs (including your Google Apps documents)
There is even a version for the Mac!

Chinese folders and files are no problem to sync. Once running a small Green Tick will appear over the file icon or folder icon to represent the file is in Sync.

Syncing Files

Using this app is pretty simple. Once you download the software and install the app you are ready to go. First you have to link your computer to the service. This service works by uploading any files to Syncplicity, which can then distribute these files to other computer connected to your account. That way every computer and folder has the correct file.

The actual application composes of a menu bar item and a right click option. There isn’t a dock icon in sight. To sync a folder to the web service, you right click on any folder you want to sync and select the More option and press Sync to Syncplicity. It will then whirr away as it uploads the files. The uploading and downloading of the file is blindingly quick, it maxed out my connection.

You can now access all your files on the net and any other computers in which you have connected to your account.

Google Docs sync requires you to provide your login name and password for Google Docs and identify a target folder on your local drive. Once defined your Google Docs will be downloaded from Google and provide a local copy for backup and to be available if you are off-line.

Pricing is very reasonable, free for under 2GB of data. There are personal editions available for US$15 per month or business editions (3 users) for US$45 per month. This includes 50GB of storage and unlimited devices connected.

If you invite others who install you will get a free upgrade if you are using the free edition.

Remember mobile phone access to your files by the web is supported and Mac!

Monday, 19 October 2009

Human Resource Management in the Cloud

Zoho People HR Management Software is a Service (SaaS) solution for HR Management and offers the first 10 users FREE! There is no reason not to start implementing it today!

Includes e-forms for:

  • Apply Leave
  • Travel Requests
  • Training Requests
  • Expense Claims
Zoho People covers three very powerful areas, the first being Human Resources Information System, the second area covers Recruitment including application tracking, the final being a staffing solution whereby eletronic forms and workflows can be define.
  • Employee portal
  • Self Service - Employee & Manager Self Service
  • Organisation chart
  • Business Process Enablers
  • No hardware or software to buy, install or maintain, even as you grow
  • Access from anywhere

Zoho People provides an affordable and powerful HRIS. It helps HR professionals to manage all employee related data in one central place through "Employee Portal". Lessens the burden of your HR team by allowing the managers and employees to handle their data. View organisation's employee reporting hierarchy and structure.

Check it out at Cloud Solutions Hong Kong.

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Monday, 28 September 2009

Cloud Starting to Catch On

This month we had our first customer in Hong Kong go 100% Cloud. Yep, no Windows servers, no database applications, no backup tapes or backup devices, and also he has "no worries". So you are asking "have they got anything?".
  • Email, including 10 Years of archive and message discovery
  • Intranet Site
  • VoIP & Chat
  • Word processing, spreadsheets and presentation tools
  • HR management including workflow for forms such as "Apply Leave", "Travel Expense"etc
  • CRM in both English and Simplified Chinese
  • Project Management
My client wants to expand in China and the Cloud offered him the best way to do this. His cost savings at start up were over 65% when compared to the traditional file server etc offered by others. This was a new business so conserving cash was a big issue for them. Out of the various consultants they worked with I offered the most flexible and forward thinking approach. The cost of IT is now a set fixed cost per employee, per year. If they expand they just add a user. If they wish to downsize they simply do not renew some licenses.

The model works and it was up and running in record time.

Single Sign On (SSO)

As you look closer into Cloud Computing you will also the appreciate the need to have a Single Sign On for users of various Cloud services. To do this you can adopt OpenID's or can use an OpenID provider such as Google so only one provider manages your ID information and none of the other providers have this in their system, they simply make a call to Google who confirm's the information. Other hosted web providers can then leverage that single sign in across a range of applications on the web.

If you wish to integrate to legacy Windows Active Directory services then this can be done in two ways. One is during the initial phase of populating Google's directory via API's provided by Google. For ongoing management of this environment there are providers than now provide this service. We are working with one now.

On Demand Storage

I was also interested to see in a recent report that 46% of CIO's questioned would seriously consider using the Cloud for storage in the near future rather than purchasing an endless cycle of storage. In Hong Kong it is common for many companies to rent storage space for their documents (even when the laws in Hong Kong support keeping an electronic or digital copy and destroying the paper documents), so why would they not rent space to store their digital files?

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Latitude from Google

Google with Latitude?

Latitude - Big Brother - Time Saving Business Tool - Social Fun?

Let's hear what Google say about it:

“Latitude is a new feature for Google Maps on your mobile device. It’s also an iGoogle gadget on your computer. Once you’ve opted in to Latitude, you can see the approximate location of your friends and loved ones who have decided to share their location with you. So now you can do things like see if your spouse is stuck in traffic on the way home from work, notice that a buddy is in town for the weekend, or take comfort in knowing that a loved one’s flight landed safely, despite bad weather.”

As Google points out, you can only track those that have agreed to be your Latitude pal. “Everything about Latitude is opt-in. You not only control exactly who gets to see your location, but you also decide the location that they see.”

Google Latitudes started as a service that managed to obtain your location and shared it with a group of people, who also revealed their locations. The service was available as part of the mobile Google Maps application or as an iGoogle gadget.

To make the information stored in Google Latitude more useful, you can now display it on a web page, in a feed or add it as a constantly-updated Google Talk status. The location can be added to a badge and embedded on any web page, but there's also an option to get a list of the most recent locations as a KML or JSON feed. Since you may not want to share your precise location, Google Latitude has an option to display the city-level location.

We use it in house to track our sales people's location just incase we have an urgent request we know where each person is. We also find this very useful when locating our technical support staff. We can locate them without calling or interrupting them and send a request to the engineer closest to our customer. This improves our customer service levels.

The staff can also check on each other when it is lunch time and agree where to meet. It is a very useful tool as it works from your mobile phone also.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Outlook Sync for Google Apps

As we all know, it is not easy for user's to change their work habits. Outlook is the default email client for many of us. Getting used to a new email interface is sometimes too much to ask of your users.

Google have helped by releasing a very good tool to sync your Outlook 2003 and 2007 with Google Apps Email, Contacts and Calendar. This tool can be downloaded free and installed in a few minutes. It asks the user for their Google Apps email and password and then creates a user Outlook Profile automatically. Make sure you download all the patches for your Outlook first as SP2 is requried. It will not install until all the right patches have been applied.

It may take a little while for all email and contacts to Sync across, this will depend on how many messages you have. It does however work. I have experienced my PC slowing down a little as the sync tool runs but it is a small price to pay if you wish to continue to use Outlook.

Some of the advantages include:
  • integrations with desktop applications like CRM can continue if your integration was via Outlook for filing or sending emails

  • sending a fax from Outlook remains supported

  • Emails are NOT presented in conversation threads which some user's find difficult to get used to, I have mixed thoughts on this one

  • Sending an attachment out I find is easier if Outlook launches as Google Mail needs to attach the file rather than using say SEND from within the application

  • Google Apps limits your email POP accounts to 5 whereas Outlook it is unlimited to this is a workaround for those of you, like me, who have more than 5 POP accounts

  • Folders vs. labels is another point some users don't like. Outlook Sync will create labels automatically for any Outlook folder and vice versa. When a sub-folder is created the label will be named "folder/subfolder"

So moving your backend to Google provides small business many advantages, when remaining transparent to end users who can continue to use Google.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Hong Kong can profit from Google Apps

Hong Kong has never been a city of early IT adopters, we have great buildings and a great transport system but behind a majority of businesses in Hong Kong an email connection and an old version of Microsoft Office is the extent of their adoption of technology.

Don't get me wrong, there are some companies that use technology very well, and in doing so, profit from their investment. However Hong Kong's love with paper and chops is simply something that is hard to break away from. Of course the cost is often given as the main reason companies do not embrace technology, this of course includes software licenses, hardware and IT services.

With the current weakness in the global economy many companies have cut staff and budgets however the challenge remains on how to work efficiently to ensure profits can still be generated.

Hong Konger’s also love the word FREE. In fact everyone, no matter where you live the word FREE is something we don't hear very often, well at least for something that can bring you value and profits.

Well finally this is true, Google offer small business, up to 50 users, FREE use of their software, Google Apps Standard Edition. This offers any business everything they need to operate their business. The suite works perfectly in Chinese (Simplified and Traditional), which is often the biggest problem we have in Hong Kong. However read on.

Google Apps Standard Edition (FREE) includes the following:

  • Corporate Email, with your OWN domain name, not but your actual domain
  • Each user (up to 50) has 7 GB’s of email storage including translation on-line of messages, e.g. simplified to traditional Chinese or Portuguese to English
  • Calendar, which is easy to use and includes sending reminders or alerts to your phone via SMS, can be shared with staff or clients
  • Contacts and shared contacts
  • Word processor, spreadsheet and presentation application including the ability to create PDF files
  • Document manager for filing and sharing documents
  • Instant Messaging right inside your Email, including the archiving of all chat conversations so you can refer to them later
  • Video chat which allows face-to-face video calls to be made. If you don't have a camera then you can simply make an audio call rather than using Skype. One feature which is very interesting is Chat to SMS, which allows a user to type a message in chat and send it to a mobile phone as an SMS message. Google actually allocates a virtual number so once the reply is made it comes back to you as chat where you can keep a record of the conversation. The one catch however, this currently is only available in the USA. So watch this space
  • Mobile phone integration to allow your staff to access their emails from a Blackberry, iPhone or Windows based Smart Phone
  • Sites is a tool to bring up an intranet site to share information with your staff or clients without the need to understand HTML coding

Many people already use, and love Gmail. Now is the chance to adopt it for your company, customize the look and feel with your corporate logo and brand colours. With free storage and of 7GB per user, no software to install, simply point your browser to Google’s Public Cloud and you are up and running. If you already have a Gmail account, Google Apps allows you to consolidate up to 5 different email accounts into your inbox and up to 5 aliases per user. So you can have or

Some additional advantages for small businesses include:

  • all your data is now backed up off-site and you have a disaster recovery plan in place
  • with the flu now doing the rounds, it is possible to have members of staff work from home as all documents and emails are available from anywhere in the world!
  • as the solution is a browser based application, Windows PC's and MAC’s are supported so if you have a MAC at home and Windows in the office, it works perfectly!
  • Google’s SPAM and anti-virus services are included and very acceptable
  • Support for the Outlook client or Outlook Express if this is your preference
  • Migration tools to allow importing of your current emails, calendar items and your address book into Google
  • Documents can be shared and edited in "real time". Yes no more emailing different versions of the same document back and forward, you can edit a single document along with another user, at the same time!
  • Google's famous search speeds, search for any emal in seconds!

More big advantages:

Google have worked out how to work off-line. This allows your email and documents to be kept locally and accessed if you are on a plane or simplyhave no access to the Internet.

So what are the down sides?
Well not many actually. I have been using the solution for some weeks now and while change always takes time to get used to, I see no reason why any business in Hong Kong could not benefit from the technology on offer from Google.

Google Apps Standard Edition still includes Google adverts (Adsense), which are visible when you open an email however this is a small price to pay for something that is free. The good news is if you have more than 50 staff or you wish to turn off the adverts you can upgrade to Google Apps Premier Edition. We will discuss this in another issue. This has a few more features but overall is the same as the Standard Edition.

Interested? If so, Cloud Solutions in Hong Kong can help you set this all up for a minimal fee. This will include configuring your domain to work with Google and the migrating of emails etc into your new system and then support your users when requires.