With the release of its new Forrester study yesterday, Google moved to quantify the range of productivity gains and collaboration savings users of its Google Apps for Work suite can experience.  

The numbers are eye-popping, especially for a metric Google calls Total Economic Impact, but can they be believed and can they be replicated by real-world companies? 

Eagle-eyed Google watchers may remember that yesterday’s report follows hot on the heels of another Google study issued last week. Those findings, based on a survey by Raconteur, detailed a related Google effort to create metrics capable of defining and measuring benefits of collaboration.

Let’s peek behind the curtain at Google’s latest effort to assign ROI to qualitative, often intuitive workplace behaviors to see what lessons we can ― or can’t― draw from them.  

Creating a Mythical, Multi-National Beast 

Forrester based its Google Apps for Work study on a novel and possibly controversial methodology. It followed six users of the app suite’s in-house prototype for three years and then extrapolated that dataset to model the behavior of an entire imaginary B2B organization.

The Forrester study envisions Google’s imaginary user company as a global B2B multinational services provider with 10,000 employees and $4 billion in annual revenue. The virtual company virtually used the Google Apps for Work suite on an enterprise level for three years.  

Based on those assumptions, Google projected that its Google Apps for Work suite generated: 

  • $17.1 million in risk-adjusted benefits for its phantom company.  Total costs came in at $4.2 million, representing a risk-adjusted ROI of 304 percent 
  • $8 million in collaboration efficiencies as employees based on employees being able to work in real time and create collaboration spaces for projects and sharing files
  • $9 million in mobility benefits and legacy IT cost savings. Working remotely accounted for $5 million while decommissioning the legacy servers, software and phone systems saved another $4 million

Too Incredible to Be Credible?

How realistic are Forrester’s methodology and Google’s findings?  Can they be generalized beyond a sample of six non-random users to give us any usable feedback on Google Apps for Work’s expected financial and productivity performance in a real company? 

The Forrester study is careful to note that "these types of outcomes are possible only by [using] ‘pure’ cloud-based architectures that overcome the inefficiencies of legacy, desktop-centric computing.”

The likelihood of a company of the size of our global B2B service provider moving entirely to the cloud is slim though. 

Learning Opportunities

When BetterCloud, for example, looked at the benefits of companies shifting to the cloud via Google Apps for Work or Microsoft, it found small companies leading the shift to the cloud.  

BetterCloud has also reported that while more than more than 50 percent of all small and medium-sized organizations surveyed expect to run 100 percent of their IT in the cloud by 2020, enterprise cloud adoption will follow a timeframe that’s a full five years behind. 

Bottom line: Enterprises are slower to wean themselves away from their legacy infrastructures, making projections of triple-digit ROI for Google’s imaginary company sound more than a little optimistic. 

Serving Up Some Tantalizing Bite-Sized Metrics

So what, if any, useful conclusions can we draw from Google’s Forrester study?  It turns out the findings yield some bite-sized insights that may be useful to companies in the here and now. 

The collaboration efficiencies at Google’s imaginary B2B company lead to savings per employee of up to two hours per week, a metric that passes the smell test for an existing smaller company. 

The benefits of "going Google" translated into $1,708 per employee. That suggests an ROI ratio of 1:3, a useful rule of thumb that means every $1 spent on costs could generate $3 dollars in revenue. 

In short, Google’s bold attempt to create an enterprise usage model from the behavior of six users may not be ready for prime time. But the results are intriguing and the direction of the Forrester Google Apps for Work productivity findings is bolstered by other studies. The Google Apps for Work suite bears watching as productivity apps move into the workplace at all levels.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Sister72