Manesh Patel

This CIO went after tidy savings in the cloud by targeting the application most employees don't want you to touch -- e-mail.

It wasn't broken, but he fixed it anyway. After launching an initial pilot, Manesh Patel, senior vice president and CIO at global contract manufacturer Sanmina-SCI Corp., ramped up quickly to move more than 16,000 users onto Google Apps for e-mail, calendaring and contacts -- and he began turning off the company's Microsoft Exchange infrastructure.

Patel estimates that by moving messaging into the cloud, he's on track to save the business nearly $2 million annually in operating expenses. He explains how he did it.

Why did you move to Google Apps? We had done a lot of the traditional cost-reduction measures over the last several years. We felt that we needed to go after what I call the "high-hanging fruit" and consider structural cost reductions, so two years ago we looked at our messaging environment. Google Apps seemed to be a viable contender.

Were there other motivations besides cost savings? The cost piece was the primary factor and more immediate [benefit]. But there were two other factors. The second was to give ourselves flexibility and options moving forward. We want to leverage cloud-based technologies, [and] we thought messaging was the right place to start. Getting to that point where we attain that flexibility to me is a very strategic thing.

The third point was getting our employees to work more effectively together in teams across time and distance. We wanted an environment where these teams could go off and work together in one place that's searchable and accessible without IT having to get involved. What we're doing with Google Apps is leading us toward that. It's not fully there -- it may take another two or three years -- but that's the direction we're going.

So, how did you get started? We started a research and development project with three or four people. That exercise went on for almost a year. In parallel we started to look at security and some of the other issues you get into with a cloud-based model. We came to the conclusion that this was a very viable technology and the capabilities were fairly comparable to what we were looking for.

Then we went into multiple pilot projects, followed by a global rollout over a period of about four months. We are now using Google Apps across 16,000 employees. We have a handful of Exchange servers and 100 or so employees left to convert. Those are our tougher employees that have specific requirements, and we're still waiting for some gaps to be filled [such as the ability to delegate access to contacts]. We expect those to be closed out in the next two or three months.

What challenges does a cloud-based environment like Google Apps bring? One is to put in a support model that is more appropriate to a cloud solution. Changes come much more frequently. Figuring out a way to have a continuous conversation with our employees about what's changing and making sure they get the most out of the situation, without being too intrusive -- we've got to get creative there and make that work.

Secondly, we need to figure out how to roll out the additional Google Apps that we're not fully utilizing today and start employees on the path to using those applications. For example, Google Docs and Google Sites and Google Video. Most of these are self-service, and employees have access to them. We just haven't communicated to employees that they're out there.

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