Consumer Tech Finds Office Role; iPads, Dropbox, Gmail Jump Hurdles in Their Transition to Business Tool; Swiss drug maker Roche is deploying Gmail to its 80,000 employees

Updated April 3, 2013, 8:49 p.m. ET

Consumer Tech Finds Office Role

iPads, Dropbox, Gmail Jump Hurdles in Their Transition to Business Tool


Fueled by tight budgets, more businesses are turning to consumer technologies such as iPads, file-hosting service Dropbox and Google GOOG -0.84% productivity tools that can be easier to use and less expensive than industrial-strength counterparts.

This consumerization movement gathered steam with the launch of the iPad three years ago and its embrace by sales, media and information technology executives. Since then, Google apps have found their way onto desks at drug maker Roche Holding AG, ROG.VX +0.63% which is deploying Gmail to its 80,000 employees, one of the largest corporate Gmail rollouts to date.

In part, the financial rewards of consumer technologies are a big lure. Contract manufacturer Sanmina-SCI Corp. SANM -1.99% has saved $2 million annually since it began moving 21,000 employees to Google Apps for messaging, email and calendar in 2008, said CIO Manesh Patel.Sanmina moved before Microsoft Corp MSFT -0.83% . offered a hosted service, called Office 365. Michael Atalla, director of product marketing for Office 365, says customers save between 10% and 50% of the cost of traditional email such as Outlook.

But a switch isn’t entirely painless. Companies such as Google Inc., Apple Inc.,AAPL +0.51% and Dropbox Inc. may be less responsive to corporate needs than vendors used to selling into corporate information-technology departments. Consumer products may be less secure or lack the stability that corporate users need from their products.

They also are more likely to be changed or pulled from the market without warning, as Google did when it announced in March it would stop offering its news-reader service in July.

Roche, for instance, discovered early on that Google was inclined to change Gmail without first notifying corporate customers, creating problems such as lost productivity, the need to retrain workers and incompatibility with existing software.

“When we bring these issues up, they say, ‘Why do you have to worry about that?'” said Cindy Elkins, a vice president of IT at Roche’s Genentech unit.

That lack of communication has been one reason why some consumer technology has caused problems moving into the workplace. Google Apps has more than 40 million users, but more entrenched rival Microsoft’s Office suite has one billion users and a 90% share in the business productivity market, according to researcher GartnerInc. IT -0.59%

Products that successfully bridge consumer and corporate markets have had to adapt to business uses. When the iPhone was first introduced, there was no way for IT administrators to connect the phone’s email capabilities to corporate email networks, or to ensure that email was handled using their preferred security protocols.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co., PCG +1.22% which allowed employees to use iPads and iPhones at work for email and other apps, discovered the quirks. After some employees downloaded a new version of Apple’s iOS operating system earlier this year, it caused PG&E’s calendar system to send employees endless notifications.

Apple has since released a fix. Over the years it has added security and management features, such as support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync, which lets iPhones connect with corporate email networks. And it added support for software that helps IT departments manage how iPhones and other devices interact with their secure networks. A portion of Apple’s website is now devoted to iPhones and iPads at work and contains resources for IT departments.

Dropbox in February made it possible for IT managers to download employee usage reports and to set controls that limit folder access to company employees. That has helped the document-sharing site better meet the needs of interactive agency Huge Inc., says David Stahl, director of IT at the Brooklyn, N.Y., firm.

Google has sought improved relations with corporate customers, holding invitation-only events to share its product-development plans. When Google introduces new features, it allows companies to deploy them on a limited basis, so the IT department can make sure updates are compatible with existing software before they are distributed with all employees.

That is good news for customers like Ms. Elkins, of Roche’s Genentech unit. “We still do like to test stuff before it reaches our users,” said Ms. Elkins. She says that a change in Google Apps needs to be tested to be sure it works with multiple Web browsers and that the changes are compatible with the languages spoken in the 150 countries where Roche operates.

Gmail introduced a new interface on in late 2011, confusing some workers and leading to a flurry of calls to the Roche helpdesk, she said. When Genentech first rolled out Gmail to employees in 2010 it was difficult to teach them how to understand Gmail’s approach to grouping messages by conversation, rather than chronologically as is the case with standard email.

Still, Ms. Elkins says these occasional problems are worth the money saved and continued innovation that Roche sees from Google. “We believe that Google is going to innovate faster than anything we are going to do,” she said.

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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