In Part 1 of this blog series, I took a look at Chromebooks from a macro level and highlighted eight key features that businesses should take note of. In Part 2 of this blog series, it’s time to switch gears and look at the meat and potatoes – the Chromebook apps. Chrome OS is essentially a glorified web browser (albeit a nice one) and requires you to run cloud-based apps. Given the growth in Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), there are apps for most typical business requirements but are they good enough to replace their traditional desktop competition? Let’s take a closer look at the apps that are available for Chromebook users:
Most users are used to working with Exchange/Outlook to manage their email, calendar and contacts. Google Apps for Business runs purely in the cloud and can replace the dependence on Outlook. We run Google Apps for Business and have never looked back. Refer to our blog posts called Life After Outlook = Email in the Cloud? and Gmail Search – 5 Reasons You’ll Folder Again to learn more about the benefits that Google Apps for Business has to offer. Outlook.com, Office 365 and Zimbra are a few other options when it comes to email/calendar/contacts apps.
Google Drive (formerly called Google Docs and part of the Google Apps for Business suite) allows you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, forms etc. that can be edited in realtime with others. The Google Drive viewer also lets you view a ton of other non Google filetypes. Google Drive can also integrate with other similar document creation apps like Lucidchart (which can create diagrams). Other cloud office suites like Office 365 let you create files through a browser but do not have the realtime editing capabilities of Google Drive and not all features work on Chrome OS. Google Drive also eliminates the need to have any files stored locally on a file server. This means that you can access your files from anywhere – from a Chromebook or any other device. You can also share and collaborate with others without the need to email files back forth to each other. Every Google Apps for Business account comes with 30 GB of shared storage (for email and docs) and you can always purchase more for as needed. Other apps like Dropbox, Skydrive, Sugar Sync, iCloud and Box offer similar services. Working with your files in the cloud has never been easier.
Front Office Sales/Service CRM
CRM (Customer Relationship Management) leaders like Salesforce.com were born in the cloud so they have no problems handling your sales and customer service requirements. There are also countless competitor offerings available in the cloud. In fact, you’ll be hard pressed to find any on-premise CRM solution that is growing their market share.
All the leading marketing apps (including HubSpot) are cloud based. If your business needs marketing tools (including tools for email marketing, social media, marketing automation etc.) or a leading CMS platform for blogging (like WordPress), all of them can be run from a Chromebook.
Back Office Accounting/ERP/HR/Operations Management
Apps for the back office have been slower to evolve but they have picked up steam over the last few years. As a result, you’ll find a lot of cloud offerings in these categories. If you run a small or medium business, odds are that there are several cloud solutions in a given category to choose from and that they integrate with whatever front office solution that you choose.
There are no shortage of cloud app choices in this category either. One of our favorites in Smartsheet.
Most cloud VOIP solutions have an online console that allows you to make changes to your account so Chromebooks are still handy for reviewing voicemails, faxes etc. However, if you want to use your Chromebook as your phone, I have yet to find a softphone client that will work on Chromebooks. We use RingCentral as it is the leading cloud business phone system available. It has softphone clients for Mac and PC. It also has great apps for iPhone/iPad and Android phones. With those apps, you can make and receive calls using your business number over VOIP or 3G/4G so for me the lack of a softphone on the Chromebook isn’t a huge loss. However, if you use Skype or any other VOIP solution, you are out of luck for the time being. Google Talk and Google Hangouts do allow you to make voice and video calls respectively but they have their limitations.
Tools like GoToMeeting, Webex, Join.me etc. require javacript or some kind of plugin. Consequently, they will not work on Chromebooks. Google Hangouts work great but everyone on the call needs to have a Google account. For sales presentations, have a look at Crunched. Your attendees simply navigate to a set URL you provide them. For remote assistance, Chrome Remote Desktop works great but is not as fully featured as the others. It’s free though, so you can’t argue with that. Both computers just need to be logged into Chrome and have the web app installed.
In summary, if your business is moving fully to the cloud, then Chromebooks are an attractive option. If you have users that require access to legacy apps that only run on Mac or PC, perhaps Chrome Remote Desktop is functional for you. For me, it has been. Printing with Google Cloud Print and avoiding printer drivers and installs has also been handy. Even though Chromebooks have some good offline capabilities, you’re going to want to plan on being online most of the time to be the most productive. It’s easy enough to tether to a smartphone if you’re not connected to WiFi. If you’re going to consider using chromebooks for your business, it’s best to stay within the Google ecosystem as noted above.
Perpetual West is a certified Google Apps consultant and Google Apps Authorized Reseller. Contact us today at 1 (877) 388-6400 to see how we can help your business get the most out of Google Apps for Business.