NEW YORK (
) -- Is
global-business ready? I just spent a month and 22,000 some-odd miles finding out.
One of the raison d'etres of international Web powerhouse Google is that it's, well, international. The Mountain View, Calif.-based software firm's world-conquering vibe -- and sky-high equity valuation -- comes in part from the steps the company takes to support the world's roughly 7 billion citizens.
Get online and Google Apps really is a global player -- but the farther apart its users, the less likely real-time collaboration gets.
Its interface works, by my count, in 149 languages. Including, no lie, "Elmer Fudd." (Here,
yourself.) And there is country-specific content for consumers for most every nationality.
But for businesses, the global Google is a trickier deal.
Google Apps for Business, its work-oriented package of word processing, mail, document and presentation tools, does work in many languages. But I as a business owner couldn't care less if the world's businesses can use it; I care if my business can use it.
So I arranged for the ultimate test. I committed to creating about two dozen written pieces, including several for this publication, on an extended business trip from New York to Michigan and then to Las Vegas, Paris, Amsterdam and finally northern India. And I planned to do them all using Google Apps for Business. My collaborators reside in southern Arizona, New York and southern Florida. My firm pays for the upgraded Google Apps for Business product, which offers a service-level agreement and live customer support for $50 per user, per year.
Here's my read on Google's global "skillz:"
1. Assuming you have Web access, Google works.
Assuming you can get online, Google Apps for Business really did let my business be a global player. The critical core tools of mail, documents, basic calendars, chat and even video were stable from the Golden Nugget Hotel in Las Vegas to Gurgaon in suburban Delhi. Assuming your people know what they are doing, there is no reason why you cannot create documents, spreadsheets, project plans and otherwise conduct business anywhere on Earth without ever attaching a file -- or being out of touch with the absolute most current information in your shop. It's pretty darn cool.
2. You never have enough Web access.
As powerful as Google Apps is, it means you absolutely must be connected to the Web. And on this trip that took work. Sure, it's possible -- I logged on in a crowded Vegas parking lot and in a crowded taxi behind a camel-drawn cart in Uttar Pradesh. But to do all this Web connecting I took not one but
different mobile network options: a domestic Wi-Fi hotspot from
Galaxy Tab from
Wireless hotspot from a company called
globally roaming phone from
( RIMM) supplied by
. And thank heavens I did, because Google Apps forced me to use every single one. I rapidly become my own mobile global IT officer. And even I, a professional geek, wore down in the process.
3. Real-time collaboration tends not to work across great distances.
Even when connected, clearly there are things Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin did not think through when they dreamed up Google's collaborative approach. Namely, once your people are more than, say, six time zones apart, the real-time collaboration features at the core of Google Apps break down. We were able to collaborate between Vegas and New York; but once in India, critical layout, spacing and even words were lost. If you are dealing with global teams, Google rapidly becomes a file-sharing tool, where single users make changes one at a time, not a real-time collaboration tool.
4. Keeping team calendars synced was surprisingly challenging.
While basic calendars absolutely worked -- we could see each other's rough schedules -- scheduling was tricky. Why? It seems that when I built my calendar in Eastern Standard Time in the U.S. and traveled to India Standard time, my original events stayed in their original time slots, 12 some-odd hours too late. Google tries to put those events in one's current time zone, but that never quite worked for us. So meetings and events had to be updated by hand, which defeats the purpose. If you rely on Google Apps calendar functions across the globe, make sure you double check appointment times. They may be wrong.
5. Your people better know how to collaborate on the Web.
My little digital world has been all about Web-based collaboration for years. And during this trip, everybody here needed every last moment of that experience. The main problem is part of the team is asleep while the other part was awake, so the quick-connect options such as chat, text-messaging or a quick call that grease the Google Apps collaborative wheels were not available to us. It turned out to be far too easy to work on the wrong document, mismanage notes and otherwise not get the right content where it needed to go. If you are getting spread out around the globe, it is not the time be learning how to collaborate online.
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This commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet guest contributor program. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of TheStreet or its management.