Why Ray White, Flight Centre
dumped Exchange for Google


Google this morning fired a broadside directly into the good ship Microsoft, claiming victory over the email platforms of several large Australian companies — Flight Centre and Ray White. But why did the pair choose to dump their incumbent Outlook Exchange platforms and ‘go Google’?

Speaking at an event hosted by the search giant in Sydney this morning, IT chiefs at both companies revealed it was primarily a good cultural match between Google and their own organisations that fuelled the relationship.

The problem of storing data offshore, outside Australia’s legal jurisdiction, is often mentioned as a barrier to adopting Google Apps (especially in the public sector) — and indeed, Google was unable to provide Australian examples of large government customers at today’s event. However, security wasn’t a problem for either Flight Centre or Ray White– although both noted they had closely examined the issue — and both stated they wouldn’t keep sensitive company information such as financial documents on Google’s platform.

Flight Centre CIO Peter Wataman said his company had evaluated a variety of email platforms when deciding to move from his company’s Exchange environment (hosted by IBM) — platforms hosted internally or managed by a service provider, or in the cloud. The choices were narrowed down quickly, and Flight Centre now has some 3,000 users on the platform, with the plan being to roll out Google’s applications outside Australia by the end of the financial year.

“To be brutally honest with you, the key decision was not only around the technology, but [also] the cultural alignment,” he said.

When Flight Centre was evaluating the technology, Wataman said, his team went out to the company’s staff in a survey and asked them whether they had used anything like Gmail before. Somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of the staff said they had.

The second question asked, he said, was whether the staff would use the technology in a work environment — and over 85 percent said yes. “Our people were very excited about it — we were actually being asked when it was coming,” Wataman said, noting that staff generally didn’t get that excited about technology upgrades.

It took Google about six months — starting from 12 months ago — to convince Flight Centre to shift to Google Apps, Wataman said. It was a large decision — the company has about 100 terabytes of data wrapped up in its email systems, and it had disparate systems scattered around the globe.

Other attractive factors around the Google platform included the fact that Flight Centre wouldn’t need to update its systems simultaneously around the globe — with upgrades being slipped seamlessly into Google’s cloud platform. In addition, new, “crazy” features were to be integrated in the next six months, Wataman said — a short time frame which impressed Flight Centre.

It was a similar situation at Ray White, which this morning revealed it had rolled out Google Apps to some 10,000 staff in total, in addition to building a property management system on top of Google’s App Engine. Like Flight Centre, Ray White had been running Outlook and Exchange — although it also provided a much simpler POP-based email platform to its wider network.

Ben White, the company’s director of IT & property management, said the company had never had an ability to merge its culture with technology upgrade cycles. The company’s dispersed model meant it had a culture which was fundamentally about empowerment — with White describing Ray White as being composed of “1,000 businesses, all run by entrepreneurs”.

In comparison, the traditional IT model was more about “command and control … enforcing policies and telling people what to do”.

“In many respects, we’ve sat out IT for the past ten years,” said White — noting that most of Ray White’s offices had invested in their own infrastructure — servers and so on — to suit their own tastes.

As a consequence, the company thinks about Google Apps as less about just an email story — and more about how the company could build a platform for its internal entrepreneurs to building their businesses on. Hence the company — starting two years ago — has built what it calls its ‘Generation 5’ platform based on Google Apps.

The company now has seven different applications built on Google Apps (two of which are the property management system and a new online advertising solution) which comprise that portfolio. “We don’t have a single server any more on that side of the business,” said White. And the exciting thing for the executive is actually the future.

“The ‘To Do’ list is longer than when we started,” he said. “It’s exciting, quick — it’s about ideas. That’s the culture that we have as a company.”

Image credit: Google


  1. Um – you do realise you may as well just redirect this whole website to Google’s “new sign up of the day” blog if you keep this up.

    • Are you accusing me of bias? Because I just reported what they said at the launch today — I didn’t include my opinion about any of it in this article.

  2. Worse – just being boring. Just about every article is outsourcing email to Microsoft or Google. Zzzz.

    Just saying…

      • You need to dilute the number of “press release articles” with actual self generated content if you want to stand out from the other online “news” (blog style) sites. Otherwise you may as well run an RSS accumulator of “tech articles” and soak up Google Adsense money. Just being a bunny for corporates such as Microsoft and Google running their press releases as though it was news isn’t the recipe for long term success I reckon.

        One option is if you want (and it seems you do my perception) rebrand as a “Cloud” news site. But try investigating a bit more – eg challenge some of the statements in the press release rather than accepting them at face value.

        eg the CIO who wants to get rid of desktop phones – how will he deal with emergency situations or even common network outages? does it work with thin client or low performance computers? does it work off site over 3G? (really does it?).

        eg the Ray White guy who says “IT is a command and control enforcing policies and telling people what to do” – how is that different to moving to Google Apps? (doesn’t Google just tell you what can do now?)

        eg when Google says Flight Centre saved 30% on email costs – well that might be true but has it increased costs or complexity elsewhere? eg network costs, integration with the remaining on premise systems, has service levels been reduced (eg check out the Google Apps service levels and see what holes you can find there)?

        • Sorry mate — if you think I just regurgitate press releases then you’re obviously not reading that closely ;) There are plenty of examples on the site of independent journalism — our cloud computing series being a good one. Yes, we have to rewrite some press releases, as everyone does. But we never just regurgitate what vendors say without questioning their statements — ask them what they think of Delimiter if you think we do. I think you’ll find they find us fairly tough.

      • I dont think there is anything wrong with the article. Some of it does read like a press release though.

        On the other hand, its not the type of thing you can read about anywhere else.

        As to your question of what sort of articles I’d like to see.. how about revisiting this article in 6 or 12 months – interview the same players for their retrospective take on the migration and the operational issues they have had to deal with?


        • It sounds like a press release because both CIOs are quite positive on the solutions they just bought :) But it wasn’t written from a press release. It was written as journalists questioned the two CIOs at a press conference.

          I agree with going back to look at old articles and revisiting — it’s something I will be doing a lot more next year as I get another staff journalist on Delimiter. Stay tuned!

  3. Renai, I agree with Thateus. Just because Google holds a press conference doesn’t mean it’s a story.

    Selection of enterprise vendors and product is something IT managers do well and should be respected for, but it’s not news.

    • Tony Healy,

      I rage against microsoft stuff every day, just let me dream that my work email could be as easy as my personal email.

      I’m not asking that you fix it for me, just let me see light at the end of the tunnel.

      Without hope I might just brain some poor ‘respected’ IT manager.


  4. I think it’s news… and it’s been somewhat interesting to follow the Google Apps vs. Exchange “battle” if you will..

    When Flight Centre was evaluating the technology, Wataman said, his team went out to the company’s staff in a survey and asked them whether they had used anything like Gmail before. Somewhere between 80 to 90 percent of the staff said they had.

    As opposed to 100% that have used Outlook?

    The second question asked, he said, was whether the staff would use the technology in a work environment — and over 85 percent said yes. “Our people were very excited about it — we were actually being asked when it was coming,” Wataman said, noting that staff generally didn’t get that excited about technology upgrades.

    Cynic in me again flares up points like this.. but anyway…

    I dunno, as a small business owner/operator my needs are vastly different from these big corps. We use Outlook/Exchange (ver 2010 – hosted externally) for work purposes, and I use Google Apps (using outlook as thick client, which only works averagely) for personal use. The Exchange / Outlook combo is extremely potent – it seems to be far more capable than what Google Appss offers. Even without the think client, OWA (in 2010) is extremely good. Although perhaps it’s just what I’m familiar with.

    • Well I was just reporting what Wataman said about Google Apps — he was the one creating the hype, not me ;) However it does gel with my own experience talking to other companies who have migrated their staff to Google Apps.

      I have found there are a great many people who use Google Apps as the back end with Exchange as the front end — a lot of people want more functionality than can be found in Gmail, and that’s completely understandable. I’ve never needed that functionality myself, but I can understand that some people do.

  5. Don’t sweat the haters, Renai, most of us appreciate all the work you’ve put into Delimiter and find it a great source of tech news. I know I visit every day (often more than once per day!) If people don’t like how you’re running YOUR news site, let them start their own…

    • Hehe cheers — I’m not phased :) I know this article was news and there have been a *stack* of people read it, so I also have independent verification ;)

  6. Some insider info here.

    A very big driver was cost as well as global linkage. For at least the same cost (if not cheaper) we have expanded each users mailbox from a limit of 150mb to 25GB.

    Benefits of Google Docs is highlighted for us around sharing documentation, presentations and information easily around our global busineses without the need to us to invest in the infrastructure.

    In response to Chad – correct. 100% of people in FCL have used Outlook. But when 80% have used a web based email, it’s an easier pill to swallow when you’re considering a fundamental change to a core business requirement.

    Plenty more reasons for us to move over that are more around commercials that would get me in trouble should I divulge them:)

    They hype is real here in the offices. Culturally we mesh very well and the vibe is positive.

  7. The battle obviously overflows into the comments section, interesting reading.

    I wouldn’t couple in Google Docs vs MS Office with the above debate on email. I use both for email, but when it comes to Docs vs Office, I think MS is much better.

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