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Preschools & Daycares Using Google Apps (Part 1): Apps vs. Microsoft Office

Google Apps for Child Care and Preschool

Heard about Google Apps and thinking about it for your child care? Here are some things to consider.

Google Apps vs Microsoft Office

I have talked with numerous child care organizations, preschools and daycares that are using Google Apps for Business. At the end of last year, Google stopped allowing new customers to join its “Google Apps for Business” for free, for organizations with less than 10 people (now $5/employee per month or $50/employee per year).

The question is, now that it is no longer free for small organizations like child cares and daycares, is it still worth it for a child to become a paying subscriber ? (Please note Google does not offer discounts child care centers and daycares, for-profit or, even, non-profit (503c).)

What is Google Apps for Business and Why Is This so Confusing?

Firstly, using regular old Gmail for your child care organization remains free and is not what we are talking about here. In other words, you can still setup busybeesacademy@gmail.com for free and have access to almost everything we discuss in this post. What we are talking about is creating a Google account where you login as queenbee@busybeesacademy.com using your own customized domain name and give your child care professional staff addresses like bestteacher@busybeesacademy.com. Gmail is simply the application you use to read and check you mail and the email server is hosted by Google.

However, Google Apps is much more than using Gmail with your child care organization’s domain name. In addition to using Gmail and creating email addresses with your personal domain name (e.g., @busybeesacademy.com), Google Apps for Business is a substitute for Microsoft Office. It has a suite of web-based programs to do word word-processing and spreadsheets.

Of course, that is an over-simplification. Still, Google Apps and Microsoft Office clearly compete with one another. Google Apps includes Gmail & Calendar (i.e., Outlook), Docs Documents (MS Word), Docs Spreadsheets (Excel) and Docs Presentations (PowerPoint) etc. (Here’s a good run down of everything Google Apps contains versus Microsoft Office)

If you have Gmail now, instead of logging in with your personal Google Account, you would log in with your child care’s email address. You can use the same domain you have now (e.g., busybeesacademy.org ) with Gmail.

Now, I would not say that either Microsoft or Google are going to be winning awards for their clever and intuitive “branding.” I stumble to name Google’s products, Docs, Drive and Apps. (Not to be confused with **Google’s Android Apps**.) Confusing, right?

One of the big differences between Google Apps for Business and Microsoft Office is Google Apps is web-based or cloud based just like BumbleBee. So you will need a computer with a decent web browser (BumbleBee recommends Google Chrome and Firefox). This means that working on spreadsheets, email and documents, while possible, creates some challenges when you don’t have an internet connection. I would say for most child care organizations, this drawback is significantly less important.

Google Apps also includes Google Drive (Microsoft has Skydrive) a place where you can save you files online like PDFs and even images sort of like Dropbox (http://bumblebeehq.com/great-free-child-care-software/)

Now to complicate matters more: Microsoft offers Office 365, to compete with Google Apps. But let’s set that aside for a moment.

How Much Does Each Cost?

As I mentioned before Google Apps for Business is paid for either by the month ($5) or by the year ($50) per user. Microsoft still sells Office, the latest version for PCs is 2013, and it costs $219 for one PC. I would say that most people I know, upgrade Microsoft Office every other release or when they get a new computer, so that would mean every five to six years.

You might be thinking, Google Apps is much less expensive, but it’s is going to depend on how often you tend to upgrade and how much you value having the latest version. I would guess most child care organizations upgrade their PCs every 5-6 years. So that would mean user for user, you would spend $250-$300 over five years with Google Apps at the same time you would have paid $219 for your Microsoft Office license.

On the surface, from a pure software license perspective, Microsoft Office would be the way to go. But there are a lot of things to consider when choosing between the two. For example, who is hosting your email today and how much do you pay for that? Google Apps includes that cost. (We’ll examine this more in Part 2)

Also, with Google Apps, you don’t have to pay for email servers (typically $16-26 per mailbox month) or Microsoft Exchange hosting (usually around $10/mailbox per month). The only thing you need for Google Apps is a connection to the internet. So I would say that is where you would achieve a the biggest savings.

What Does Being In The Cloud Buy You?

It’s not a completely apples to apples comparison (no pun intended) because that single copy of Microsoft Office is going to be locked into one computer. Whereas you could use Google Apps on any computer you own including your laptop, phone or iPad, all seamlessly.

With the traditional model of Microsoft Office where you install the software on one computer, you would have to email the files, use a thumb drive or a network drive. We all know the problems that sharing files that way.

Plus when you use Googles Documents and Spreadsheets, the files are automatically backed up in the cloud, and your revisions are tracked if you have a team of people working on a document. It’s all pretty seamless to collaborate on documents.

Also, if you have everything in the cloud on Google Apps, you might consider Chromebooks when you upgrade your computers. They are low cost (around ~$250), well-designed, stripped down PCs that only work over the cloud and are designed to be used with Google Apps. My local public library has them and they work really well.

What Are The Trade-Offs?

When Google Docs first started providing Documents and Spreadsheets, it lacked a lot of features. Also, it seemed when a spreadsheet started to get to about 200 rows or more, the whole spreadsheet slowed to a crawl (or perhaps a toddle). Not any more. Also a lot of the more advanced features have been added. Google’s spreadsheets now have more advanced features like pivot tables and stock prices.

Still there are some features that Google Apps is missing, and you could find that your go-to feature is missing. However, I would say for 98% of the work you do and most child care administrators and staff do, it will be just fine.

There are many many features of Google Apps that I am not mentioning here like sending out surveys to families and getting the results in a spreadsheet, IMing, video conferencing and many more.

The Bottom Line for Child Care Centers

I find myself using Google Docs more and more despite having the latest version of Microsoft Office, because the sharing is so easy and natural. Files are in the cloud, you can see when another person is editing a document and even chat with them. It’s easy to send those “documents” to anyone. You can email the document to people outside of your organization as “read-only”.

If you budget for regular equipment upgrades and/or have multiple sites or pay for email hosting, I would recommend Google Apps for business. I think your child care center or preschool is going to benefit from the flexibility and the sharing within your staff and with your families. You could also have staff meetings through video conferencing, which may help you with scheduling substitute teachers and care providers.

If you are on a shoestring budget and have a old rattletrap PC that you keep together with band-aids, that multiple administrators and directors all share, I would say you should stick with what works. You are probably still using a simple AOL or hotmail address, and that’s okay. I think more and more you will find the benefits of switching to a web-based application will provide numerous benefits. Plus there will be intangible marketing benefits like having your branding built into your email address.

What about Microsoft Office 365?

Microsoft started offering a subscription based version of Office for $149 per year for small businesses (25 people or fewer) called Microsoft Office 365 for Business. The benefit is you get a lot of the features of Microsoft Office, but you don’t have to pay for upgrades and it’s more accesible from different locations and runs on up to 5 computers. Office 365 offers a number of features like email hosting and web applications. But it is a steep price increase from Google Apps and probably makes more sense for very large organizations and not most child care centers I talk to who are doing everyday documents and spreadsheets.

Are you using Google Apps at your child care? If you started using it when it is free, would you pay for it? Am I missing anything other centers should consider before switching?

Up next: In Part II we are going to talk about how to convert your child care business from yourchildcare@gmail.com to director@yourchildcare.com

For Reference:
In-house vs. Microsoft Exchange Server from Rackspace: The ROI & TCO Story
Google for Non-Profits
Microsoft Office
Forrester Research: Should Email Live in the Cloud: a Comparitive Cost Analysis

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Jeff is the Director of Marketing and Co-founder of BumbleBee Childcare Software. He lives in Cambridge, MA, in the United States. You can hear more from Jeff on Twitter and Google +.

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