Auberge Resorts recently began deploying Chromebooks and Google Apps to their eight luxury resorts. It wasn't the difficulty of Windows 8 or the low price of Chromebooks that drove them to do it. The tipping point was the back-end structure of a Microsoft Exchange server.
When Tim Dickson became the director of technology at Auberge three years ago, he faced the task of rebranding the eight properties and consolidating them under one domain for unification. Before the switch each property had their own Exchange server and ran their own domain. The issue this created was that guests staying at a particular resort had no idea that it was a part of a larger company.
Rebranding through consolidation presented its own challenges in that 1000 users would be coming to a single platform. So, the Auberge team brought three options to the table: they looked at hosting it themselves on an Exchange server, deploying Office 365, or Google Apps. After weighing their options, Dickson said Google Apps was the "clear winner."
It all began with Gmail. Once Auberge was able to get their employees on board with Gmail, they began rolling out Google Apps. Google+ hangouts soon replaced many of their faceless meetings and actually improved employee morale. They had to wait for the technology to catch up before they thought about moving to Chromebooks. According to Dickson the company was only able to move to Chromebooks because Google Drive had matured, but it was worth the wait.
"The biggest advantage for Drive is actually the collaboration," Dickson said. "The ability to be working on a single document, no matter where you are or what stage of the process you're at, to always know that that's the real document has actually been huge. We'll save, on some documents, weeks of time."
Chromebooks and Google Apps brought more functionality than what Auberge was expecting, but the process hasn't been easy. Convincing employees that this was the right move has been difficult for the Auberge team. César Reynoso, an IT Specialist for three of the properties, describes it as a "love/hate" relationship between employees and the Chromebooks. They love the speed and collaboration, but the hospitality industry uses a lot of specialty software that is tough to use on Chromebooks. According to Reynoso, they have to find ways to work around the issues.
"We also do use ThinRDP for users to access certain programs so there would not be a need to download software that is not compatible with Chromebooks, but at times using these programs through it are not always reliable. We do deal with disconnections, freezes, and slow navigation within ThinRDP. It's not suitable in every occasion or for every user as of yet, in a couple of instances we've had to use PC laptops instead," Reynoso said.
Another consideration that many companies need to make that was lost on Auberge is bandwidth; they didn't need to increase it to accommodate Google Apps. Auberge is continuously assessing its needs for bandwidth and Wi-Fi, because they view it as a utility and don't charge guests for Wi-Fi. The company had already scaled bandwidth to provide Wi-Fi to guests with most properties hitting north of 50 Mbps and some of the larger properties providing 100 Mbps.
Despite the challenges in the transition, using Chromebooks and the Google Apps suite has proven itself to be a worthwhile experience for Auberge. It freed up their employees to get work done easier, and has made onboarding easier for younger employees.
"Being a Google Gmail/Drive based company, it allowed us to continue to work, communicate, and continue our business anywhere, anytime, and with ease. No need for jump drives or cumbersome heavy laptops to lug around. Most helpful is that the generation we are employing can navigate the system very easily," said Janelle Eng, director of operations at Pronghorn, one of the company's resorts in Oregon.
Of course, the company still has plenty of products in their lifecycle on Windows, so their goal is to get most of the resort on Chromebooks within the next five years. However, there are departments that might never make it to Chromebooks, such as their design department and their finance department. Their designers use Photoshop and their finance team has run into trouble converting large spreadsheets in Drive.
The immediate goal, according to Dickson, is to focus on getting all of the company's customer-facing endpoints, such as their front desk, over to Chromebooks and not worry about transitioning the speciality use-cases just yet. But, using Chromebooks allows for quick roll-outs and transitions as Auberge expands.
"We're in a rapid growth phase right now," Dickson said. "We're looking to acquire or build several properties over the next couple of years. And, to be able to say, 'Yes, we'll take over this company or this hotel next week,' and I'll ship out 50 Chromebooks and that's it, I'm done."
All-in-all, Dickson credits the transition to Chromebooks with improving operations at the resorts, but it has also strengthened the team, which Dickson attributes to the fact that it was built with collaboration in mind.
Words of wisdom
If you are considering Chromebooks and Google Apps for your business, here are three pieces of advice that Dickson had to offer:
1. Start with Google Apps - "One of the big mistakes we did was actually supporting the legacy Outlook connector. When we made the transition we let users choose between Gmail and Outlook, and that ended up really slowing things down and hurting our overall momentum," Dickson said. Don't be afraid to draw a line in the sand for an adoption date, and be ready to enforce it. Starting with the Google Apps system will better prepare your staff for working with Chromebooks.
2. Map you architecture - You have to decide how you are going to share files before you get started with Google Apps and Chromebooks. There is a totally different mentality in manually saving files and using Drive. Reiterate to users that they can do things like share folders instead of a ton of individual files.
3. Use other products - Don't stick with just Google Apps. Look to Google Apps partners to help you accomplish what you need. For example, Auberge partnered with Backupify to do a third-party backup. "Google does a very good job of redundancy between data centers, but it doesn't protect your end user," Dickson said.
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Conner Forrest has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Conner Forrest is Enterprise Editor for TechRepublic. He covers startups and enterprise technology and is passionate about the convergence of tech and culture.