Andy Wolber offers his best suggestions for what Google Apps administrators should do when Google announces a feature change.
In December 14, 2012, Google announced several changes to Google services as part of a "Winter cleaning". Notably, Google eliminated Appointment Slots from Google Calendar. This was the feature where users selected blocks of time, then invited people to sign-up for appointments within that time window. Apparently the feature was not widely used. (Unfortunately for me, I'd just suggested Appointment Slots to a client.)
Welcome to the world of software as a service. Features move. Features get added. Features get discontinued. Change happens. Here's what Google Apps administrators should do when Google announces a feature change.
1. Understand the change
Go to the source to learn about the change. In the case of Appointment Slots, Google announced the change in a post to the "Official Google Blog". Google employees also blog about major changes to Google Apps at the Official Google Enterprise Blog. (If you're interested in following other Google blogs, check out the entire Google blog directory.)
You should identify when the change will occur and who will be affected. Some changes impact only a few users. The Appointment Slot feature is a good example: only users of that feature will be affected. Other changes, such as the launch of Google Drive, clearly impact all users.
"On January 4, 2013, we'll be shutting down several less popular Google Calendar features. You'll be unable to create new reservable times on your Calendar through Appointment slots, but existing Appointment slots will continue working for one year."
2. Inform usersIn many cases, you'll want to inform users of the change. For example, Google renamed Documents, Spreadsheets and Presentations as Docs, Sheets and Slides in October 2012. That's something that's helpful for users to know, but there was no immediate action needed. So, that's the type of information you'd want to share with your users as part of a regular "tech update" communication.
3. Provide trainingYou also may need to provide user training on changed features. Over the summer of 2012, Google replaced their older video chat tool with a new one built on Google+ Hangouts. Some users likely started using Hangouts quickly -- no training needed. But some users may have benefited from a little training on the new interface and features. Training can be as simple as encouraging users to watch a video, or demonstrating a new feature during a staff meeting.
4. ConfigureOther changes require some administrative setup or configuration. When Google launched Google Drive in April 2012, administrators could adjust settings in the Google Apps Control Panel. Google Drive also could be installed on user machines. Moving an organization's files to Google Drive required a complete communication, training and configuration plan.
5. Find options (if needed)When features are removed, an alternative solution may be needed: Google didn't identify an alternative to Appointment Slots in their discontinuation announcement. The first place to look for alternatives is the Google Apps Marketplace. (A search there turns up options such as ScheduleOnce, YouCanBook.Me, and Appointy.) If none of those solutions are viable, look for more options at the Chrome Web Store.
When features disappear, I feel like a worker reaching for a tool that has gone missing. I'm grasping for something that is no longer there. Thankfully, it's a rare event. But it can be quite frustrating when it happens.
Most of the time, though, I'm busy trying to get people to understand and use features that already exist within Google Apps.