Google Chromebooks: Business Tool or Not?

Whenever I discuss the adoption and deployment of solutions leveraging Google Cloud and Chromebooks, I invariably get asked, “Is the Chromebook really a serious business tool?”

The Chromebook is a descendent of the Internet appliances of the 1990s and early 2000s, which were used for tasks like email or stock market monitoring, but ultimately proved to be a market failure.

The lack of capability of these early Internet appliances was never satisfactory in the market (even with their lower price point), and the individual devices failed while the concept lived on. The first Google Chromebooks came to market in 2011 with the promise of delivering personal computing experiences in a hyper-connected world.  In July 2013, JP Gownder of Forrester Research looked at Chromebooks for business and determined there was potential.  In his report “It’s Time to Reconsider Chromebooks,” he noted:

  • Reduced cost compared to laptop maintenance
  • Improved employee experience delivered by Web apps
  • Synergies with growing business use of Gmail, Google and Chrome
  • An opportunity to accelerate cloud computing benefits

In April 2015, Avaya announced Customer Engagement onAvaya Powered by Google Cloud Platform and Avaya Agent for Chrome.  Both of these solutions harness the business value JP forecasted by leveraging the Chromebook as the dedicated host for a customer care agent application.

Some buyers are still wary of the business-readiness of the Chromebook. In this article, I’d like to identify how and when a Chromebook works for business.

When Chromebooks Work

In JP’s report, he cited a few examples of companies using the Chromebook effectively for business. Take a look at Appirio, where the company is adopting cloud-based solutions to eliminate the uncertainty (and cost) of running a data center full of servers.  When talking about optimizing Appirio’s IT spend, their Chief Information Officer Glenn Weinstein said, “I want to get out of the laptop business as much as I want to get out of the server business.”

Another great example is Mollen Immunization Clinic, which offers vaccinations and immunizations at more than 100,000 events, including corporate wellness events, Walmart retail stores and schools. Their goal was to move more than 200,000 nurses from paper- to Internet-based systems. Chromebooks with Verizon 3G wireless service provided a high value solution that met their needs for simplicity, security and reliability better than other alternatives.

One of Avaya’s beta customers for Customer Engagement onAvaya Powered by Google Cloud Platform, Vegas.com, felt the same way about deploying Chromebooks. Chief Information Officer Ryan Notley said, “Deploying Chromebooks was so quick, easy and reliable that it really opened our eyes to the potential of an entire cloud-based contact center.”

Acronis, a Google reseller, has deployed Chromebooks for a variety of customers, including the City of Orlando. The city’s CIO Rosa Akhtarkhavari says, “The devices are quick to start, log in to, easy to use. Our users enjoy the lightweight devices and the ability to connect from available WiFi hotspots.”

How Do You Know If Chromebooks Are Right for You?

Chromebooks may be a good fit for your business if …

  • Your corporate applications architecture is Google-centric. Companies that are already committed to Google Drive, Google Apps or Gmail will have significantly lower hurdles to overcome when deploying Chromebooks. Companies that are moving to a Web-app architecture and leveraging the Chrome browser as their standard operating environment will face even fewer challenges deploying Chromebooks, enabling them to immediately start reaping the lower TCO advantages of Chromebooks vs. standard laptops or PCs.
  • You can control deployment. Some customer-facing scenarios, like kiosks, may not require coordination across organizations within a firm. These stand-alone use cases can be deployed individually and don’t require a larger adoption of Web-based apps or Google solutions.
  • You can control worker- and end-user segmentation. Like the kiosk example above, certain classes of workers (for instance, airline ticket agents that move from workstation to workstation) would easily benefit from the use of Chromeboooks, where they can log into any one of the devices and have their applications, data and ID follow them. If a class of end-users turns over frequently (like students), a standard Chromebook can be shared in the library, computing lab or classroom. Remote and distributed teams with significant collaboration needs would also benefit from Chromebooks, particularly if they are using Google Apps and Drive to share and review the results of their collaboration.
  • Industry- and process-specific requirements are aligned. Industry-specific regulatory requirements like HIPAA or PCI may dictate when or where Web apps or shared storage spaces like Google Drive are usable. These industry-specific requirements, as well as process requirements (like displaying or editing rich media files), may alter the computing landscape to make Chromebooks more or less useful.
  • It helps further your IT goals and metrics. Chromebook have shown that they can reduce TCO, decrease management complexity and improve security/reliability of the end user computing environment.

The bottom line is that Chromebooks are very good at many tasks that are done at work every day… but not all of them.  A graphic designer, a video editor or an emergency room administrator will generally need the added security, local storage or computing horsepower of a dedicated personal computing device. Still, many others can use Chromebooks to access the dizzying variety of cloud services that are able to propel them to excel at their job, while simplifying the IT manager’s job significantly.

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