Google Apps iPhone Contacts Woes

Google Apps iPhone Contacts Woes (or how I learned to love O365…again)

Google Apps iphone setupI recently returned to an organization I previously worked at. At that time we were an Exchange shop. Microsoft Exchange is pretty much the de facto standard for corporate email. Upon returning to said organization I discovered I was inheriting Google Apps for Business as our communication platform.
Interesting. The fact that I was also inheriting a Google Apps iPhone nightmare became evident shortly thereafter.

Over all, the platform is solid. It’s a cohesive ecosystem incorporating email, text/video chat (Hangouts), file storage via Drive, and in-browser office apps. I find the transition to a fully browser based office suite less than stellar, though. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact that it makes operating system irrelevant for critical business apps since any device with a modern browser can be used, but I miss dedicated task switching (Alt/Command-Tab) between apps. Switching tabs in browsers is simply nowhere near as intuitive or quick.

These reasons are enough for me to stand firmly in the “meh” camp when it comes to Google Apps. We are now about to reach our cruising altitude in the complaint-o-sphere, though.

Contacts, contacts nowhere!

Google Apps for Business officially launched on 7 July, 2009. Since that time people have been clamoring for Google supported iOS contact synchronization. Six and a half years later, we’re still waiting for this core functionality. Oh sure, you can search the GAL, but at its core, Gmail is still a personal product that has been adapted for corporate use through some clever integration on the back end. Let me explain this statement in context of the “Contacts” application embedded in Gmail. You can import contacts from the company Global Address List (GAL) to your private contacts inside Gmail, which once done will populate your contacts on your iPhone. This is fine for a smaller organization or personal users, but simply doesn’t cut the mustard if you have more than a handful of users. The GAL simply must be accessible, automatically updated, and browseable by all users of your organization without user interaction.

Example: let’s imagine a user leaves your organization. As part of the off-boarding process, email access will be terminated by IT. Once a user account is removed from the subscription the GAL will update and in an Exchange organization the GAL will update each users’ address book at the next synchronization.

Here is where “Google Apps iPhone Woes” ties in: this simply doesn’t happen with Google Apps. Oh sure, the GAL gets updated, but there is simply no mechanism in place to update every users’ contacts. I now reiterate: this is core functionality for an enterprise communication platform. The fact that to this point Google’s solution is to have their users either a) custom build functionality via the GApps API or b) purchase a 3rd party utility that does the aforementioned API wizardry is simply unacceptable.

office-365Where do we go from here?

Apart from the other slew of minor issues I have with Google Apps, some of which I listed here, others I omitted for sake of brevity, this is the catalyst for the CEO requesting a project plan for a migration to O365. Thankfully in a previous life I used to be an O365 migration consultant (though I will admit that I never moved a Google Apps organization to O365…yet), so I am not terribly nervous, from a technical standpoint, of migrating the organization away from Google Apps, but it’s still a lot of planning, organizational impact prediction and mitigation, and simply a bundle of man-hours spent not providing other value to the business. Let’s face it, IT is, more often than not, a cost center for the business, so duplicating effort migrating and re-migrating the organization from platform to platform is inefficient and troubling. The loss of productivity org-wide is a staggering impact as well and we’re not even a huge company. If we had multiple hundreds of users, I’d be even less enthused with the prospect.

Ultimately, this about more than just Google Apps iPhone issues, but that really has become the final straw that looks like it will push us to jump ship back to Microsoft. It’s marginally more expensive than GApps, but the fact that it’s the standard for office productivity, meets all the needs we have and offers complete integration regardless of device type seem to be pushing it over the threshold.

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