The decision to adopt Gmail was a result of various factors in the tech world coming together. “People around the business were looking at web mail,” recalls IT Business Partner Andy Yates. “Smartphone use was becoming a lot more common and people were thinking differently about mobile devices. It was crucial we were able to attract people with skills related to mobile and that meant having a stable platform to enable mobile working internally.”
At the time, ThoughtWorks’ core IT was very much focused around physical networks and laptops, and the company was experiencing performance issues with its core productivity suite. The benefits of shared productivity tools quickly became apparent. Instead of sending attachments, and allowing multiple versions of a document to proliferate, colleagues began to share links to Docs, so they could be accessed on smartphones as well as networked laptops. Version control was simplified, network usage reduced, and collaborative working and shared development enhanced.
Quickly, staff across the business sought to capitalize on other tools within G Suite. Project teams were quick to set up Groups, using the forum tools to facilitate discussion about aspects of client needs and possible solutions. “People will frame a question: ‘Hey, I’m looking at this kind of problem. Has anybody done anything similar? Here’s what I’ve tried so far’,” Andy explains. “There will be some discussion back and forth, and at some point, they’ll take that offline and they’ll figure out some things, and they’ll come back and report back what they did.”
For a company where knowledge is dispersed across the globe, these discussions offer a simple but powerful means of accessing the experience and expertise of the wider team. They also serve to nurture ThoughtWorks’ distinctive, collaborative culture – a key part of its employee value proposition – even while its people are based at client sites.
For Andy, this is integral to what makes ThoughtWorks stand out from the competition. “One of the advantages of choosing us over a contractor is the fact that we have people all around the world that we can call upon, and quite a bit of that actually comes from those Groups and conversations,” he says. “It means when someone is working on a problem, they can bring colleagues in, to help solve it quickly.”
Groups have become so valuable to ThoughtWorks that, using App Maker, the company has even developed an app that makes it simple for project managers to create a Group without needing more advanced IT skills or administrative rights.
“We migrated everything from our old intranet into Sites via Google Cloud Platform. From making the decision to completion, it took about 6 weeks, including getting 300 people up and running and creating Sites.”
Andy Yates, IT Business Partner, ThoughtWorks
Cloud search, cloud migration
Importantly too, those Group discussions can be referred to in the future, thanks to the powerful search functionality Google provides. “Google Groups has become our body of knowledge; our history,” Andy reflects. Crucially, that knowledge remains accessible, even as staff move on and individual memories fade: “Cloud Search ties everything together and it’s easy to find everything,” he says.
Alongside Groups, ThoughtWorks also uses Sites for its intranets. The company has around 40 intranet Sites related to different functions, communities, and project teams. This was a relatively recent decision; the company was using a different provider but decided to move. What impressed Andy was how straightforward the transition was: “We migrated everything from the old intranet into Sites via the Google Cloud Platform. From making the decision to completion, it took about 6 weeks, including getting 300 people up and running and creating Sites. Normally, you might expect that to take 6 months.” Again, this has made shared content more searchable and accessible to global teams, while the loose affiliation model for the different Sites better reflects the company’s flat organizational structure.
Supporting a global operation
There are also other capabilities of G Suite that support the global nature of ThoughtWorks’ operations. A simple one that Andy values is the world clock in Calendar: “Many of us work in global roles, so scheduling meetings at a convenient time is a challenge,” he says. “The fact that Calendar has a world clock and it tells me who is in what time zone is helpful.”
With such high numbers of users from different countries, many of whom have considerable technical knowledge, ThoughtWorks was an ideal candidate to join Google’s Trusted Tester program. Its people were influential in the development of the automated room suggestion feature in Calendar, highlighting the importance of enabling its mobile employees to set their location each day so that the room suggestions can be more accurate and relevant.
Sharing information between tools
But it’s not just sharing information between colleagues that makes G Suite a great option for ThoughtWorks: the ability to share information between different applications is also invaluable.
A popular example in the company is around Sheets, which several teams across the business use to collaborate on structured data. Often, project plans, costings, and calculations are developed within Sheets, before sending the data to the finance team who might work in a different environment.
Similarly, users can take spreadsheets from other applications and then convert them into Sheets, which they are more comfortable editing and sharing.
The same applies to data and documents that come from clients. “Clients have their own tooling, so often we’ll choose things that match them,” Andy confirms. The ability to interface with different tools and systems, and to collate information in any format via Drive, is a major advantage in terms of ongoing management.
Benefiting from expert insight
Thoughtworks’ ability to capitalize on these additional tools and features has increased over the years, both through the company’s own familiarity with G Suite and through the input of partners such as Agosto.
Having initially managed everything successfully in-house, Thoughtworks first engaged with a Google Cloud Partner two or three years after the initial implementation. Andy recognizes that as the catalyst to gain more value from G Suite. “Agosto helped us keep on top of the steady stream of new services and features coming from Google,” he says. “As the team came to know our organization and how we use G Suite, they were able to provide a more tailored view of the roadmap, specific to our needs.”
A cloud-first culture
Looking back, Andy now recognizes that the apparently simple initial change of adopting Gmail was the catalyst for a much broader transition in ThoughtWorks’ approach to IT. The effectiveness and flexibility of the cloud working with G Suite led ThoughtWorks to embrace software as a service (SaaS) more widely. While the company naturally builds some essential tools itself, it now increasingly brings in new applications on a SaaS basis to answer different teams’ business needs as they come up. “Even the applications we have built in-house are now hosted in the cloud,” Andy adds.
This move to a cloud-based model has driven down costs and made the business more flexible, not only through removing the need to invest in hardware but also simplifying management and support. The IT team has been freed from constantly dealing with email-related issues, reducing stress levels and frustration from the executive level down, while liberating them to focus on more valuable tasks. New offices can be opened at speed, with just internet connections rather than needing to be equipped with servers and IT support staff as the legacy platform would have required. Empowered staff can work collaboratively anywhere, using a set of tools many are already familiar with, so training is typically minimal.
“The major consequence for us now is cultural,” he says. “People felt liberated by the move to G Suite and would feel constrained if we went back to the old ways of working. We’re very much cloud-first now.”