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Vista Coaching and the adventure of the Internet

Vista CoachingAs you may know my wife runs her own life coaching business called Vista Coaching and one of the challenges recently given to me was to update her current online presence - ie, the website.

As Liz is already using Google Docs and Gmail for the majority of her business type stuff I thought I'd find out how comprehensive the Google Apps for Your Domain offerings [search] are and what the cost in my time and her money would be. It also tied in directly with an exercise at my work with a CEO directive of "let's be as creative as we can on how we support the day-to-day business activities" ... ie, why host, support and maintain an email system ourselves when it could (maybe) be done as a service.

And so, to prove a point to myself I set myself the following tasks:
  1. Register the domain name 'vistacoaching.co.nz'
  2. Redirect the Vista Coaching blog (Blogspot) to 'www.vistacoaching.co.nz'
  3. Get emails for '...@vistacoaching.co.nz' using the Gmail interface
  4. See how well it all hangs together as 'one system'?
  5. See if any company, irrespective of size, do something similar - could you at yours?

Register the domain name 'vistacoaching.co.nz'
After a wee hunt around for the cheapest registrar here in NZ I plumped for Freeparking. I created an account, registered the domain for a year* and gave up $NZ40 on the credit card. Within 5 minutes there it was, which was much less than the 24 hours they prepared me for.
* A prize to the first person to remind me, in time, to register the domain in 2008


Redirect the Vista Coaching blog (Blogspot) to 'www.vistacoaching.co.nz'
Vista Coaching used to be held as a homepage at Paradise (and might still be if Paradise stiiiiiill haven't got rid of). Liz asked me to set-up a new one and so I used Blogger, simply because I know it and it will mean she can look after the content herself! Whether she uses it as a blog remains to be seen. I have also 'installed' Google Analytics and Feedburner just to keep things ticking over in the background.

Changing from the 'vistacoaching.blogspot.com' address to 'www.vistacoaching.co.nz' was a breeze by simply following the Blogger instructions - one field entry and a click. Whilst some of the terminology was a wee bit different over at Freeparking editing the DNS information was also a breeze and extremely painless - login, edit, save ... wait about 30 mins for it to propagate.

Before anyone points it out - I know that I have work to do on the site - it's not the right colours, not got an inquiry form, not laid out as Liz wants and all that Website design stuff that could take up the rest of my life.


Get emails for '...@vistacoaching.co.nz' using the Gmail interface
Aha, now we're into the Google Apps for Your Domain - snappy wee title isn't it!

As I've said Liz is already in her non-work capacity a Gmail user and wanted something as easy and as accessible as that - hence the decision to give it a whirl.

First of all I had to register for the beta - this means that the service I/she has signed up for can only get better ... or disappear, let's hope it's the first former. The registration was painless. I then expected to a person would get back to me in a few days but 10 minutes later and email accepting my registration was in the Inbox. Sweet.

I set-up Liz as an admin person and created an account for myself.

In order for sent email to know that it's to go to the Vista Coaching (Google hosted) mailbox I had to again log into Freeparking and change some of the DNS settings. This was a wee bit harder as the information supplied didn't match the field names but a few minutes playing and all seemed fine.

Google Apps for Your Domain will happily work without you having to amend any more DNS settings if you're not bothered about the URL's for the start page, mail or calendar ... but I wanted it to be '[sub].vistacoaching.co.nz' all the way (eg, 'webmail.vistacoaching.co.nz' to get into the emails). For this I had to choose the sub-domain names and edit the DNS held back at Freeparking ... all easy to do.

I then had to turn off the old Vista Coaching email address which I've done with a "Forward all to ..." and changing the password so Liz don't use it anymore :-)

Apart from cosmetics (Vista Coaching logo, change the colours and give each employee a standard - yet customisable - start page) I was done.

Did it all hang together as 'one system'?
Yes!

And it all worked first time with no problems except for a clash I mistakenly created by asking both the Blogger site and Google Page Creator to maintain 'www.vistacoaching.co.nz' - I turned off Page Creator and all was fine. However I did contemplate amending the Blogger to 'blog.vistacoaching.co.nz' and then having the Page Creator look after the standard 'www....' - but decided against it as it would confuse the Vista Coaching employees.

What does Vista Coaching now have after $NZ44 and about 2 hours work?
  • A domain name controlling the following ...
  • An interactive web site (blog) that is editable by the employees
    This could be a more 'static' set of pages with a blog linked in if Vista Coaching wants it in the future
  • Google Ads incorporated into the Web site
  • Independent Web site and RSS feed statistics
  • Vista Coaching employee accounts controllable by Liz giving:
    • Customisable company start page
    • Email + Chat
    • Calendar
    • Contacts (shareable between staff if required)
In essence there's relevant and reliable info about Vista Coaching on the Web at the place it should be and people can email her. Liz can, from wherever she is, control what that info is, respond to her clients and plan her work life.

That just leaves one wee item ... how does she maintain her company information? It used to be with Word and Excel but in the move to a life online all the company information moved up onto the Web as well. It's now, like my info, held by Google using it's Google Docs service. This, however, isn't yet integrated into the Google Apps for Your Domain and therefore Liz still has to maintain the Vista Coaching documents using her personal Google account - a pain to be quite honest but no where near the pain if it was all sitting on a PC somewhere. We await the announcement (or is it already here?)

Could any company, irrespective of size, do something similar - could you at yours?
The previous paragraph raises the one point that would probably hold the majority of companies back from attempting something similar. Without the integrated place to create, maintain and find the information needed to run the company it would be a radical organisation that used Google Apps for Your Domain. Having said that I am talking about Google's free offerings and nothing else - Zoho would have a differing view and I urge others to check them out.

I would also expect the majority of companies to be very wary of pursuing this course because of the following 'standard' arguments:
  • We don't want our IP held outside the organisation
  • We can do that internally better/faster/harder - especially from IT Depts
  • It won't do everything we want
The first I will ignore as it is becoming something of a historical reason put forward by those that haven't realised that Web hosted services (SalesForce.com and the like) are becoming mainstream - you're reading one I use right now.

The second ("we can do it") is probably one of, "Wholly fuck, I won't have a job!" - that might be true, and that's an issue for each organisation to deal with in their own special and sensitive manner. I would suggest that most organisations should be like Vista Coaching and focussed on their core business and not on running IT - Liz doesn't want to have to think about the 'how' and expects it all just to work. She also see's these things (email, calendars etc) as commodities to be supplied working and she has to do nothing to look after it - it's Google's (in Vista Coaching's world) that are the IT experts and so let them get on with it.
Maybe it's merely outsourcing but I believe it's far more, we don't talk about outsourcing when we think of roading or electricity, we just expect it to be working and available - hmm, maybe I should start referring to the local bus service as Mike's Outsourced Transportation Solution!

The final issues ("doesn't do everything") is probably the true stumbling block ... probably but not definitely. Whilst Vista Coaching has simple needs they are the same needs that all businesses have (looking after their info, finding it when required, keeping up the accounts etc etc) and maybe the way these needs are serviced can be simplified to a 'Vista Coaching level'. Maybe.
With Google Docs Liz can create her "words" and her "numbers" and that's a large percentage of what the people in multinational corporations also do. Whilst they may have also huge mainframes, costly ERPs and unused Intranets running 'stuff' I would content that most of the day-to-day business is performed by staff using Microsoft Office (email, calendar, tasks, documents and numbers) -for instance, how many finance departments do you know that are run on Excel ... exactly.

So maybe a simplifying of the tools available would force a re-think of the "how we support the day-to-day business" activities and pair it back to the necessities freeing the organisation to get on with it's actual job.

And so, my final challenge is to you. Take 10 minutes to ask yourself, could you do it, could your organisation?
I know the status quo is hard to move however it might mean you concentrate on the actual business and not the multitude of processes and technologies being used merely 'support' it.


The Credits
Freeparking - http://www.freeparking.co.nz
Blogger - http://www.blogger.com
Google Apps for Your Domain - http://www.google.com/a/ - bringing together the following:
Google Page Creator | Google Calendar | Gmail + Chat | http://www.google.co.nz/ig
Google Analytics - http://www.google.com/analytics/
Feedburner - http://www.feedburner.com

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