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Google - King of the Hill

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Hey there, Tech Savvy fans! This week I thought I’d share something from the real life adventures of Dr. Phil as we’re nearing the beginning of the end of our software upgrades from Forum. If you didn’t know, on Jan. 1 we were acquired by Forum Communications Company out of Fargo, N.D. In addition to offering us outstanding content possibilities they also brought with them a bevy of upgrades to our computing systems. Most of them were the standard accounting, processing and order entry programs that are new with every company you work with. However, they also brought with them an established company that has embraced Google’s suite of products wholeheartedly and that’s what I want to chat about today.

I have long been an advocate for Google’s products, I’ve used gmail for years, my articles have been written in Google Docs for months and Google Drive has been one of my staple cloud services for years. As we’ve been integrating our Outlook to gmail and our network drives to Google Drive, I thought it would be a good time to share some of the great things I love about Google and how they can make your life a little easier. If you’re a business owner looking to find a more efficient way to do business, this may help get you started.

Gmail was Google’s first real foray into a product other than being a search engine. In the years that it’s been around the UI (user interface) has come a long way and Google has integrated what they know best into the system: searching. One of the great things about Gmail is that the search tool is so comprehensive. Need to find an email but can’t remember who sent it, but you do remember the product they mentioned? Gmail will search your entire email base for that product name. It will automatically search all of your messages whether they are in your inbox, other mail or labeled as something else.

This leads into another neat feature of gmail. In Outlook you are able to create folders and create filters to sort your mail as it comes in and for future reference. Gmail does something similar but does so in a much more efficient way.

Gmail will create labels rather than folder, they act much the same way, but you can label a message with more than one tag — get an email that is about your annual conference and it’s also something important you don’t want to lose track of? You can create a label called Annual Conference and another called Do Not Lose and apply both to the same message. This way when you call up a label folder any message with that label will show up. This makes it much easier to search for messages and keeps your mail organized.

Google Drive is another facet of Google that has really come a long way. A few years back cloud storage was something not being used to its full potential and it was often overlooked in favor of a small flash drive. In the time that has passed Google has introduced a better functioning, mobile app ready, catch-all cloud solution. Drive, like other cloud services, allows you to share folders and files with other people and allows access nearly anywhere there is an internet connection. Where Drive starts to set itself apart is when you want to collaborate on projects or documents. Google Docs could be considered “live” documents meaning that they save changes automatically and if more than one person is working in the same document it saves all changes and you can see where the other person is working. This has been especially handy as we have made Google Sheets (Excel) and Docs (Word) that have to-do lists and such that others within the company have been working on simultaneously. I can instantly see what updates have been made and I always know I’m working with the most recent version.

One downside you must be cautious of is that because these documents save “on the fly” you can’t edit one and do a “save as” later to have a copy, you need to make the copy first and then make your changes in the copy otherwise you will write over what you’ve already done. If you’re like me, you will forget this and edit over something only to realize you can’t undo it, or you don’t want to undo the changes but you want a separate version. Have no fear, Drive is equipped with a revision history so you can revert back to previous versions of that document.

Google Calendars are a significant upgrade as well. In Outlook we could have public calendars which allowed us to see group events, have a shared calendar and help keep everyone on the same page. Unfortunately it was not something that integrated on mobile, at least not if you didn’t have Windows integrated into every aspect of your life. This meant, from a business standpoint, we had to have someone monitoring the calendar for changes and still had to use email or a phone call to convey any changes if we weren’t near our actual computer. Not very efficient if you have a business team that is on the road a lot.

Google Calendars was made to be mobile. Easily accessible from smartphones and tablets, you can create, share and edit events on the go and it’s just as easy to use on a smartphone as it is a desktop computer. Like Drive it’s insanely easy to make sure the right people share your calendar and because it’s so platform friendly it’s a piece of cake to get things entered.

One word of caution if you are currently using Outlook and thinking of switching. It’s not the easiest thing to migrate emails or calendars into Google. It’s not terribly hard, but there are multiple steps you need to take to ensure everything gets there. In Calendars the recurring events don’t always pull correctly, so I’ve found it’s easier to remove all recurring events except the next instance, migrate your calendar and then re-set them up as recurring events in Google. If you are using Office 2007 or 2010 it’s easier to get your data exported and into Google.

For emails there is a Google Migration Tool that you can use that will pull your email, calendar and contacts out of Outlook and into Google. We used that and it was pretty simple to use and for the most part worked great. One other option to consider, is to move all of your emails in Outlook to a .pst file and upload that via the Migration tool. That was the method I used and it seemed to take a little less time and seemed a little more consistent. Another tip that I’m sure many of your can relate to is how to export your Suggested Contacts out of Outlook. The Suggested Contacts are the ones that you don’t actually save as a Contact, but when you start typing the email address it will autocomplete within the field. If you’re like me, you’ve probably come to depend on that pretty heavily and if you lose that you are in a world of hurt. You can actually go to your Outlook settings and in the Export option under the Advanced tab you will be able to single out the Suggested Contacts list. It comes out as a CSV file and you can load that directly into Google.

Finally, I can’t really complete this brief look without mentioning Google Forms. One of the newer additions to the Google suite, Forms is a DIY survey and form generator and it’s a beautiful thing.

They are incredibly simple to create, with templates and multiple options for questions. They are housed in your Google Drive so they are easily accessible and any submissions can be stored as a Sheet (Excel) in your Drive so you can access results anytime you like. We have used them for questionnaires, surveys, and have also implemented them as internal forms to help us track project progress, sales, and daily activity. They can be embedded into websites or left as a standalone link. This makes it easy for businesses to use these and be able to track results, all for free.

Oh yeah, all of this is free.

Google has a business level and subscription options if you want more, but every function they offer has a completely free, fully functional, model as well. That right there accomplishes what many other open source softwares have tried to do for decades — reach the mainstream.

If you haven’t checked out what Google is capable of yet, you really should. Bravo Google, you’re King of the Hill, keep it up.