Tools of the Trade - Part 2, Professional Services Toolbox


In this installment, starting with the basics, I will discuss the collection of tools we employed to manage Agilix Professional Services.

About Agilix

Agilix is an ed-tech company based out of Orem, UT, and the professional services team is essentially a product team for hire, creating custom solutions for large educational publishers in the ed-tech industry. As the company name implies, Agilix prides itself on being, “agile”; as in fleet of foot. So, nimble process, flat hierarchies, and lean UX are all important to Agilix -- and that meant choosing a flexible toolset. Since we created the group from scratch, we had the luxury of starting with a clean slate. We were essentially a startup within Agilix, with our own infrastructure and culture. And like all startups, we were cash conscious. Our toolset decisions were driven by these realities.

5 Buckets

Agilix specifics aside, the requirements of enterprise project management are pretty similar across industries and the toolsets can be organized into five, broad categories:

  1. Collaboration Tools
  2. Artifact Creation Tools
  3. Resource Management Tools
  4. IT Management Tools
  5. Accounting Tools

The Basics: Startup? Google Up!

Call us religious zealots, or fanboys, I really don’t care. Agilix Professional Services was established as a Google Apps shop. Given the selection criteria I shared in Part One of this Series on Tools of the Trade, it isn’t hard to understand how we landed on this decision.

For $5 a user per month, consider the value proposition of Google Apps for Work:

  • User Management
  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Contacts
  • Google Docs (docs, sheets, slides)
  • Drawing & Charting Tools
  • Google Chat
  • Google Tasks (personal todo’s)
  • Google Hangouts (video chat and file sharing)
  • Google Sites & Forms
  • Google Drive (shared storage)
  • File Management (robust file sharing)
  • Cloud Storage (5 gigs/user included)
  • Backups and Disaster Recovery
  • Extensibility (Google Script and Extensions)
  • Robust Publishing Options
  • Free Hosting
  • Zero hardware and maintenance costs

Taken together, the Google feature set addresses most all of the functionality outlined in the five major categories above: collaboration, artifact creation, resource management, IT management and accounting -- okay, accounting is a bit of a stretch, but spreadsheets do have a role. ;-)

In other words, you can practically run an entire enterprise on Google Apps alone!

Not to be left out...

If you are a Microsoft shop, you can still integrate Google Apps into your Exchange environment to reap the benefits of both platforms. Google offers various articles about how to implement this.

A Few Google Highlights

Let me highlight a few areas where Google Apps shine.

Google Docs Collaboration
Before Google Docs, few people, if any, considered the notion of real time, multi-author collaboration in a single computer document. Google Docs collaboration is brilliant! Once you experience the productivity boost of working together in real time, it is painful to even consider reverting to the old school practice of circulating documents for input, one author at a time, each adding their initials to the filename. So 2006!

Authoring vs. Publishing
One of the great things about Google Docs is its ability to read other formats for preview or conversion to native Google documents. Likewise, Google Docs offers a wide variety of publishing formats, including Microsoft Formats (.docx, .xlsx and pptx), Open Document Format (.odt), Rich Text Format (.rtf), PDF Document (.pdf), Plain Text (.txt) and Web Page (.html).

My standard process is to author in Google Docs and publish in whatever format the client needs. If a publishing format isn’t specified, PDF is our default publishing format. Once a document is published, especially if it is an editable format, be sure to communicate clearly to your team where any updates are to be authored; typically, I recommend maintaining the original authoring source doc, to prevent later confusion.

SSO User Management
It's not surprising that Google user management offers SSO (single sign-on) across the Google suite, but many 3rd party systems, including Wrike and Jira, also offer SSO integration with Google Apps. What this means is if you create a user in Google, they are also created in Jira and Wrike, for example. We chose not to employ this feature at Agilix, in order to have more control over user licensing management.

Shared Storage
When Google Drive first came out it seemed buggy and unreliable; especially on the iOS platform. For this reason we experimented with Dropbox and, but ultimately, we standardized on Google Drive. One thing than many people overlook is the the native reversion capabilities of Google Drive. If you want to update a file on Google Drive without losing its version history, right click on the file to be updated and you will see a dialog that allows you to upload a new version.

Hassle-Free IT
One huge benefit of any cloud-based solution, is hassle-free IT.

  • No servers to buy
  • No growing Pains
  • No hosting to manage
  • No backups to manage

24 x 7 Phone Support - Included
No provider can promise there won’t be glitches, from time to time, and Google was no exception. The difference is the quality of support, and in this department, Google was best of breed: quick access, short hold times, excellent CSRs and over the top follow-up, both email and by telephone!

These are just a few highlight. If you want to learn more, you can visit the Google Apps for Work homepage.

Beyond Google

Having made the case for the power and excellent value of Google Apps as a foundational toolset, we still found the need to supplement the Google suite in various ways for various reasons, which I will share in the next installment of this series.

If you have any comments about this series or your experience using Google Apps or other project management tools, please share them below or with me directly.

Next post: Part Three - A Professional Services Toolbox, The Rest of the Chest

Steve Lomas
Idea Mechanic
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