First Church of Christ Scientist Goes Google

By Jennifer Lawinski  |  Print this article Print

Case Study: The global church and Pulitzer-prize winning news organization had already decided to move from on-premise Microsoft Exchange to Google Apps. But it couldn't afford any bumps on the road to the cloud so it brought in Google Apps partner Cloud Sherpas to help.

When The First Church of Christ, Scientist – a global church and international news organization – wanted to revamp its email systems to contain management costs for its global email network accessed by different types of end-user devices, cloud-based Google Apps seemed like a perfect fit. But the transition from the organization’s legacy on-premise Microsoft Exchange infrastructure to the cloud wasn’t a road the organization wanted to travel alone.

With more than 1,200 branch locations in 80 countries, the Boston-based IT staff had its hands full and didn't want to manage transitioning its staff from Microsoft Outlook to Google Apps without a partner. That's when The First Church, publisher of the Pulitzer-prize winning Christian Science monitor, brought in Cloud Sherpas.

Founded in 2008, Atlanta-based Cloud Sherpas saw 650 percent growth between 2009 and 2010 and the company expects triple-digit growth again this year. It has more than 65 employees in offices in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Austin and San Francisco.

Working with a religious organization that was also a news agency was a first for Cloud Sherpas. "It was a very unique deployment for us. It was our first opportunity to get involved – with the Christian Science Monitor –  in a newsroom type of atmosphere. They have a very mini-NBC environment," says Jeff Miller, director of the cloud migrations team at Cloud Sherpas.

But aside from the customer's unique business model, the project played to Cloud Sherpas' expertise in midmarket and small enterprise Google Apps migrations.

"For each of our deployments, we have a methodology that includes a few key phases. The first phase of our deployment is a planning and kickoff phase, understanding as much about the customer as we can," Miller says.

After the initial assessment, Cloud Sherpas set up a project plan and started on design and configuration. "This phase of the project is not necessarily the longest but the most technical phase of the project," Miller says. "Putting the tools in place to make sure we have a successful migration … Once that technical design is built out, tested and validated and benchmarked, we’re ready to move into the heavy lifting of actually doing the deployment and data migration for all of our users."

The lead was passed to Cloud Sherpas' enterprise group by Google. "On the SMB side we generate nearly all of our opportunities ourselves through online marketing efforts, Miller says.  "For our midmarket/enterprise customers, our opportunities are coming largely from Google. It's important to note that it's not that Google is simply passing leads our way."

Cloud Sherpas' approach and experience with migrations to the cloud helped Curt Edge, CIO of The First Church, feel confident they'd chosen the right partner.

"I think their experience stood out, and also their approach. The interesting thing for me was the fact that they were interested in what we were trying to accomplish and the path we were going down. They were considerate of just how important this was, for us, this was an enormous thing. It was the entire organization. It was our first enterprise foray into the cloud, so it had to go well," Edge says.

Edge says that the productivity increase that comes from enhanced collaboration enabled by Google Apps made the move "a no-brainer." He says that users have adopted the solution so well that the organization has discontinued its Microsoft enterprise agreement.

As for the partnership with Cloud Sherpas, Edge was pleased with the process.

"They were really intent on listening to what we thought the problems were and where we thought problems would come up. There could be no bumps along the road," he says. "We had some pretty serious discussions on the importance of this going well – it affected everybody from the board of directors down through the organization."

Not all of The First Church's users were highly skilled in using technology. "They all try and they all do well, but there were going to be some problems. There were going to be some folks who were not going to have fun with this," Edge says. "They were the most convincing on giving us confidence that we could move internally."

To help manage the transition, Cloud Sherpas trained about 50 employees as Google Guides, who were early adopters of the Google Apps platform – mail, contacts and calendar – and who would be available to help others learn the new systems when they deployed on Nov. 17, 2010.

While certain features, like moving recurring meetings from Outlook to Google Apps, had to be transitioned by users, Edge says the transition was flawless.

"We were educated well enough by Cloud Sherpas to know what was going to work and what wasn’t going to work, so the whole IT team could go out with Cloud Sherpas and work with the clients," Edge says.

While the initial deployment focused on moving to Gmail, calendar and contacts in Google, the users, IT manager Matt DeJohn says, have managed to deploy Google docs on their own.

"We chose not to promote Google docs… the staff has organically embraced Google docs just by finding it," he says. "To date we have 7,000 to 8,000 Google docs out there and each doc is being shared on average by about 5 and a half people."

For Cloud Sherpas, the sales cycle on the project was slightly longer than is typical and the deployment was delayed by a few weeks to ensure the employees would be available.

A typical deployment runs between four and six months, Miller says, and this project cost the customer upwards of $40,000.

Post-deployment, the Cloud Sherpas' Cloud Management team takes over the "care and feeding" of the customer, Miller says. They provide service and monthly webinar training to "help make sure that they’re continuing to improve their productivity in Google apps and maintain a high level of success in the platform."

Additional opportunities for Cloud Sherpas grow, Miller says, as the customer engages further with the Google Apps platform. "We have an entire team that’s dedicated to building applications on Google app engine. What else can we migrate to the cloud?" he says.

"We talk to our customers about the broader vision that Google has and where they’re heading with that cloud solution… Mail is usually the first thing to go, but we’re building entire intranets now on Google sites that are displacing Microsoft SharePoint."

For customers, having Google Sherpas on hand to help manage the transition to the cloud is invaluable.

"If this did not go well, we would probably not be able to move more things to the cloud. This was the first attempt at it and it had to go smoothly. It was awesome," Edge says.

"Whenever you find a vendor that is willing to listen to you and willing to work with you on your goals, you generally keep them pretty close. They’ve been very helpful, attentive and thoughtful. It’s important for us that we don’t cram technology down people’s throats, and I think Cloud Sherpas helped us."