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10 Reasons to Use Google Docs

By Robert McGarvey

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Google rules in the cloud. That’s the stark reality and that is despite Microsoft’s direct shot at Google’s heart with its cloud-based version of Office.

Word from CIOs and IT pros is that, suddenly, the momentum is on where companies, mainly still small but with increasing numbers of large ones, are switching to cloud-based office productivity apps for one simple reason: they want to save money. Cloud-based apps definitely save, in two ways. Per-seat fees are usually much lower than the charges imposed by Microsoft (typically $100 to $200 per seat, per year) and in some cases there are no fees whatsoever. The other, huge, money saver is in IT support costs. Cloud providers usually handle support for little or no cost.

Ready to join the stampede? You will have company. Google now claims over two million businesses using Docs with “thousands more” signing up daily. Here are the top 10 reasons to make the switch:

1. It’s free - Even the beefed up enterprise edition of Google Docs, featuring more storage and more bells and whistles (video hosting, Google Groups tools, and more), only costs $50 per user, per year. That’s an all-in fee, inclusive of cloud-based file storage and help desk services, but many get by fine with the absolutely free version.

2. It’s easy - No hassles, said IT consultant Jeff VanDrimmelen, author of Googlelize your Life, a book about the benefits of using Google. If you can type, you can use the Google suite, which emphasizes ease of use.

3. It does collaboration better - That is inarguable, said VanDrimmelen. When a team is working on, say, a PowerPoint show or a spreadsheet, it happens more smoothly in the cloud, with much less wasted storage. (There is no need to make a dozen local copies of the presentation, for example. One copy resides in the cloud and that is plenty.) Google Docs were built from the ground up to support 21st century collaboration, legacy desktop alternatives weren’t.

4. You don’t need the features Google Docs lacks - Word, Excel, PowerPoint are mature programs with literally thousands of advanced features apiece and, yes, Google Docs is not nearly so feature rich. And Word, for instance, does some things much better (footnotes, for instance), but does your business need those highly advanced features? Probably never, said Wade Beavers, CEO of DoApp, a developer of mobile phone apps that is standardized on Google Docs.

5. Free up IT to do higher-value work - Because Google Docs can eliminate IT’s involvement in the minutiae of productivity app deployment, “this frees staff to do more important work,” said Beavers. Like what? The stuff they have long said they wanted to do but were too bogged down with grunt work to tackle.

6. What me worry about security? - VanDrimmelen concedes that some businesses have held back shifting data into the Google cloud because of security concerns, but the reality is that Google’s security track record is good. Data stored with Google is probably as safe as it would be in most corporate data centers.

7. Google Docs are polished tools - Google’s word processor dates back to Writely, which debuted online in 2005 (and was bought by Google in 2006). Google put its own spreadsheet application online in 2006. In 2007 it debuted a presentation app. The tool set is tested, it’s had millions of users, and it has been thoroughly debugged, said project management pro Steven Savage, and that’s a key point

8. Any device, anywhere - That’s the mantra of the 21st Century mobile worker and no office productivity suite gives such seamless access as Google Docs, which allows users to access files via mobile phones, even the Apple iPad, and of course from desktop computers and notebooks.

9. Free off site back-up - With a built-in, robust auto-save feature Google Docs provides automated backup for documents as they are edited. There also are good tools for flipping through revision histories. But the real plus is the back-up: Losing work becomes nearly impossible when Google Docs is deployed.

10. Google will integrate telephony into Docs - There is no confirmation of that from the company yet, but with Google Voice and its purchase of VoIP player Gizmo5, experts are persuaded that telephony inside Google Docs is coming soon. Stay tuned. If this is true, it will give companies that want more and better unified communications a strong reason to adopt Google Docs.

The reasons are plentiful and persuasive for switching to Google Docs and, with continuing pressures on IT to contain costs, the velocity of businesses switching to Google Docs seems certain to accelerate.

There is one counterpoint to mull, however. There may be a better cloud-based office productivity suite than Google Docs already, at least for some users. “Zoho is robust and it has a good developer platform,” said Vatsal Sonecha, a VP at online security firm TriCipher. The Zoho difference is that under its umbrella are many applications -- online meetings, CRM, a DIY wiki, in addition to the core office productivity apps (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation). Zoho, which prices applications per user, (typically around $12 per seat, per month) launched its Web-based apps in 2005 and although Google Docs gets the loud buzz, Zoho has a loyal fan base that insists it’s worth a look before plunging ahead with Google Docs.

As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1500 articles for many of the nation's leading publications―from Reader's Digest to Playboy and from the NY Times to Harvard Business Review. McGarvey covers CEOs, business, high tech, human resources, real estate, and the energy sector. A particular specialty is advertorial sections for many top outlets including the New York Times, Crain's New York, and Fortune Magazine.