Fairfax looks to future with Google

LIA TIMSON
Last updated 20:04 04/07/2012

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Fairfax Media continued its announcement frenzy today with the revelation it will switch its internal office systems for all 10,000 employees from Microsoft to Google by the end of the year.

The company-wide switch to Google Apps for Business, an online platform for email, documents, meetings and collaboration will begin in "about a month" and is expected to conclude by November, according to Fairfax chief information and technology officer Andrew Lam-Po-Tang.

It will affect staff in all metro and regional publications in Australia and New Zealand.

The surprise announcement comes as the publisher last month revealed it would be cutting 1900 jobs, closing two newspaper printing plants, reducing the size of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and that it is re-engineering its news rooms and business model to cater for the new, faster, more collaborative, online media environment.

Melbourne-based Lam-Po-Tang, a self-confessed geek, joined the company in January from packaging manufacturer Amcor. He is a former IT consultant with The Boston Consulting Group.

Lam-Po-Tang declined to say how much would be saved in Microsoft software licensing fees, but said the move would provide a conservative 40 per cent saving, accounting for implementation.

The company has been under pressure from shareholders, including from mining magnate Gina Rinehart, to improve its financial performance.

Stuart McLean, head of Google Enterprise Australia and New Zealand said in a blog post Google would take up "the heavy lifting of storing data and managing infrastructure" and would "allow Fairfax to focus on being a media company and not worry about also being an IT provider".

Lam-Po-Tang said the current corporate transformation project – known as Fairfax of the Future – had highlighted the need for greater, real-time collaboration between geographically dispersed staff.

"During the transformation, there's been a lot of work done across business teams. This real need for collaboration is unparalleled in Fairfax's history because people used to work within the constraints of their mastheads," he said.

Staff will continue to use their existing email addresses and will be able to keep a local copy of all files they upload to Google's servers.

They will have access to Gmail, Google Drive, Hangouts, Google Sites and Google Video for Business. They will be able to use Google Talk for voice and video chat with others on the network if they choose, and to "see" if people are online via the green dot next to their name.

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Users whose job depended on certain Microsoft Office products, such as Excel, would not lose their programs.

"It's important to know that power users will keep those tools. We've been very conservative in that.

"We will not be reaching into people's PCs and take Microsoft off them. That would be a waste of resources and a pointless excercise."

He said there would not be a cut-off date by which Microsoft programs would be turned off, but the majority of individual user licenses would not be renewed when they next expire.

He said he was satisfied with Google's data security measures, even though data will be hosted in several data centres overseas.

"We've done a full security and legal review. Google's security practices are best in class [and] we don't think there's any significant disadvantage to us using a global cloud provider."

The term "cloud" refers to computer servers sitting in data centres around the world, holding and processing data from user devices on demand.

When asked if there were any potential problems with Google being asked by government agencies to hand over user data which may include details of media investigations and sources, he said "our information remains our information".

Lam-Po-Tang said he understood Google would have to ask Fairfax for permission prior to releasing any data to law enforcement.

Google's partner Cloud Sherpas will work on the implementation. Training will be provided where needed.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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