After busy M&A activity, AOL unifies with Google Apps

Editor's note: Today we hear from Steve Coulbourne, technical director at AOL, a global digital media and technology company focused on “Culture and Code.”

I’ve been part of the AOL team for more than 15 years. In that time I’ve seen the technology we use evolve immensely. When I first started, the company had standard desktops and a legacy IT system. Since then, we’ve shifted from clunky hardware and software to “lightweight enterprise” — prioritizing convenient, immediate access and ease of use.

Our CEO, Tim Armstrong, believes that if you keep doing things the same way, you’ll continue to get the same results. We take this philosophy seriously when it comes to our technology. Our global Chief Technology Officer, William Pence, provided clear vision for modern, cloud-based, and forward looking technologies, which propelled our investment and focus in this space. When we decided to start using Google Apps, we were most interested in unifying and improving how we work together across teams — especially between AOL’s different entities.

In recent years, we’ve completed many acquisitions (think Huffington Post, TechCrunch, and the integration of Verizon’s Digital Media Services to name a few). Having Google Apps during the period of potential confusion and chaos has helped us perform due diligence activities even quicker.

We started exploring Google Apps in 2010 and chose it over Office 365 because Microsoft required us to staff a whole team to manage SharePoint and its infrastructure. We also realized that adoption of Google Apps would be easier and more cost effective because of Google’s reputation for ease of use and the familiarity many of our employees already had with its tools.

Over the course of six months, we unified 13 domains into one with help from a third-party integrator to move from Microsoft Exchange to Google. From a set-up perspective, it took about two to three weeks to get everyone up and running with local peer (i.e., collaboration champions) and IT helpdesk support. Employees immediately started sharing their favorite Apps “hacks” with colleagues (for example, we use Google Forms for invite submissions, which alerts employees when events are filled and creates a culture of excitement and inclusion).

As a result, we were able to decommission 18 of our 22 globally distributed Messaging servers (more than 80 percent), eliminating 130 terabytes (TB) of drive space needs. We’re also migrating on-premise file shares into Google Apps, which will allow us to reallocate another 120 TB of file storage.

I led the initiative for company-wide adoption of Google Drive, Docs and Hangouts, and the entire company has been fully migrated since February 2015. With recent acquisitions, we've quickly integrated our collaboration tools to maintain focus on business value and production.

In terms of security (such as granting and denying access to data as needed), we’ve reduced costs. When you’re working in the cloud, there’s no need to bring on a third-party vendor to ensure data is secure. Moving away from premise-based solutions has provided us the flexibility to decrease our acquisition integration timeline from a messaging and collaboration perspective. We’re now able to offer the services of companies we acquire the same day that a deal is signed.

In certain instances, the collaboration capabilities of Google Apps enabled quicker time to market for our products. For example, the content and assets for each morning’s AOL homepage is queued up in real time on Drive. Also, our Business Communications team can edit articles at the same time — greatly reducing time to publication.

With multiple brands under the AOL umbrella, Apps also allows us to be more transparent and give everyone access to files and documents. With Apps, our employees are productive from anywhere — whether it’s on AOL’s campus or on the network — and connected as a unified team.