Anti-Oppression In Business IT
Written by: Sean Foust on July 23, 2017
So let’s think about the traditional IT stack- MS Office, Windows, local networks, and local software. As I researched why these tools have such dominance, it becomes clear that it’s because people are very accustomed to using them, not because they are the most effective. There is a better solution which has the added benefit of increased anti-oppression within an organization.
What is the best option for Business IT? Google. You know, the search company with goats who maintain their business office lawns and whose internal slogan is do no evil– something that is very hard to do when you have revenue higher than that of 122 countries. In my view, they for the most part do no evil, despite what the EU thinks of their revenue from search results for shopping. Some of the EU legal system seems to be predatory toward silicon valley companies, taking billions for arbitrary reasons. The case was antitrust, a topic I am very sensitive to, and I just didn’t see it in my research.
But I digress, we are focusing on how to leverage Google’s suite of tools and Chromebooks as a practice of anti-oppression, as well as to cut your IT costs at least by half, while adding a measurable productivity boost and employee satisfaction.
This isn’t a froofy sales pitch. My interest is in growing nonprofits and social impact orgs. In my personal practice I offer consulting for this transition to Google IT- basic support in two free sessions, and for large organizations with a budget I offer hands-on support at a sliding scale.
Before we get into how to transition in this blog series, I’d like to make a case for how this transition is a practice of anti-oppression.
The tools are web based, offering superior accessibility features for the differently-abled. Having cloud storage and online apps can be an opportunity to work from home, helping parents whose child care fell through or those who have difficulty leaving their homes. The suite of tools are also easier to use after a small learning curve, potentially relieving some agism in the workplace. ChromeOS is free and doesn’t need much computing power to run, making low-cost laptops more available to those with low-income.
Google’s ethics and charitable contributions are superior to Microsoft. A decade ago when same sex marriage was illegal, LGB couples were unable to receive health care for their significant others. Google said no, and allocated extra funds to offset this. They have a large nonprofit wing — Google.org — where their three focuses of work are creating a richer learning experience for children, bringing economic opportunity to marginalized populations, and fighting racial injustice with big data.
An important departure from this, as the saying goes “If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.”
Targeted ads are how Google makes the majority of their income, as do Facebook, Twitter, etc. Privacy is the price we pay for their services. It would be nice to just pay a flat fee and opt out, but this isn’t an option. Far from Orwellian, but traveling down that path.
Personally I’d rather see relevant ads than non-relevant, but many find it invasive, creepy, and unjust. I get that, but if this is your view you might want to decide to stop using these platforms and make sure people in your circles know this is happening.
“If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” – Andrew Lewis
Duck Duck Go is a popular creepy-free search alternative, and for more privacy add the awesome browser extension Ghostery. As for social media, they’re all reasonably progressive companies — just waste Monsanto’s ad budget by clicking like on their page 😉
Making the Transition
First, let’s look at the limitations. If switching to Chromebooks you’ll be unable to use specialized local software such as Adobe Suite (for now) and Quickbooks desktop (it’s the worst).
For the MS Office transition- you’ll lose macro’s and some specialized features of excel. This is a good reason to keep at least one Windows PC.
Also be aware that Google Cloud Print, which is local printing using WiFi, doesn’t work well with some models.
That’s it. There can be some niche issues that could potentially block a move to ChromeOS, though a work around can usually be found. Below is a brief overview of the process, the upcoming blog series will take each topic in depth.
Slowly Moving To Chromebooks
The biggest complaint I hear from non-Chromebook users is that the technical specs are terrible. Yes, they sure are. The operating system (OS) makes up for this, as it is an extremely focused, stripped down and rebuilt version of Linux. Linux is an OS practicing open-source, a beautiful approach– think Wikipedia for software development.
The OS boots in under 4 seconds and some of the best models are $250-$350, and feel about the same speed as a $1,000 Macbook Air or a high-end Windows PC. The low cost often gives people the impression they are poor quality, they are not, just a no frills cost-effective approach which leverages the lightweight OS.
If you’re on an older PC that drags, you’ll be very happy with the upgrade. Get one ASAP and you’ll save money on time that would have been wasted. Again, not a sales pitch, it just really is this good.
There are virtually no viruses on ChromeOS, although never install an app that is not from the official store, and always be aware of phishing attacks. For worry free security simply use dual authentication with ChromeOS, educate your staff on phishing attacks, file sharing and password best practices. No firewall will be needed for your network, just a quality WiFi router. Ransomware begone.
It’s that easy.
Migrating Your Files
If you only have a handful of files, say a few gigabytes, the migration will be quite smooth. If however you have terabytes, it will take a decent amount of time. This is a great opportunity to complete a file system audit and put best practices into place for file management. Even though it’s time consuming, ultimately it pays off in time saved and frustration resolved. File searching is also superior– it is Google after all.
“Your file system migration will take care of most of the work in moving to Google Office Apps.”
Your Admin account is given strong control over file sharing, file revision history and data backups. There are several levels of user control, the editing level are given access to all revisions made to a document, allowing rollbacks and historical data. Quite a few other features are afforded to the admin account which can be used to cater the IT stack to your organization’s needs.
Switching from MS Office
Again be aware of the loss of Word macros and certain Excel features.
Your file system migration will take care of most of the work in moving to Google Office Apps. Learning the quirks of this new office suite, your organization’s app choices, and Gmail will be challenging for some. This tool is great for training and includes videos and on screen direction.
“For larger organizations, I recommend to not change too much at once.”
I’ve developed training manuals for the nonprofit Resident Owned Communities Northwest. It’s catered towards their needs, but feel free to use it to help transition your organization. It’s available for noncommercial reuse with modification, so have at it. A member of the Northwest Cooperative Development Center, Melanie White, translated it to Spanish, feel free to use this as well.
New Features To Incorporate
There are a lot of new features and hotkeys to use but which are noninvasive and not needed for basic work. With the software being hosted remotely, you’ll continue to receive upgrades as they are developed.
Extensions, Apps, and Integrations
This is where the switch really shines. You will be able to do a lot now that your platform is on the cloud. For larger organizations, I recommend to not change too much at once. It’s a lot to take in, so take it slow and allocate time for training and support.
My five recommendations:
- Loomio – democratic decision making made easier!
- Trello – an excellent and free project management platform that makes prioritizing and communicating tasks easy and transparent.
- LastPass – never reset your passwords again.
- Gusto – a payroll company that just knows how to do it. You’ll save thousands if you use ADP and other outdated companies.
- MixMax – a Gmail add on that makes scheduling meetings easier, simplifies decision making in group threads, and adds some nice CRM features.
How Long Will Chromebooks be a Thing?
Support is guaranteed to end no earlier than 2021, and any critical security patches will be released after that, and the browser Chrome will continue to be updated on ChromeOS. So how long is that really? Ten years at most.
“Within 10 years laptops will be completely replaced by plugging your phone into a ‘laptop.’”
Here’s why OS updates may end in 2021. My prediction- within 10 years laptops will be completely replaced by plugging your phone into a “laptop”. This will eventually be replaced by wearables that project an augmented-reality computer into your vision via glasses, perhaps onto blank surface you buy or use at cafes / co-working spaces which give you the same tactile feel of laptops, and as technology furthers it will then move to contact lenses with a small device you carry for computing, and eventually we will have the option of cerebral implants.
A comparison and case study will come, but here is an outline of the costs of using this IT stack.
- Office, apps, cloud storage – $5/month/user or free for nonprofit (you’ll need to register with the awesome nonprofit TechSoup). $10 for an extra terabyte of storage (1000 gigabytes) and $100 for 10 terabytes.
- Quality Chromebooks come as low as $250, and lux models (you don’t need them) can go upwards $500. Google is releasing a new Pixelbook at the end of October ’17, starting at $1k. Good desktops can be under $300.
- If you work with an IT contractor they won’t need to visit as regularly and can do more work remotely. If you have a dedicated IT staff, they will need to reduce hours or find a way to modify their job role.
- If you use Slack, Confluence, or Zoom you can replace them with Hangouts and Google Sites. The quality is lower, but the costs savings can be in the thousands without much loss of productivity.
To wrap it up — a transition to the Google IT stack may be the best ROI move an organization can take to improve employee experience and productivity. The costs of the switch are quickly made up as your team can work a touch more quickly and with less frustration, and as MS Office licenses expire and you begin replacing aging Windows PC’s with ChromeOS.
A note on other options, please don’t use LibreOffice, OpenOffice, etc. They are not effective solutions anymore, I love that they are open source, but they will not serve you in the ways you will need moving forward. As progressive organization we must strike a balance between our values and meeting our end business goals.
Do we want to give money to Google over open-source or cooperative companies? No. Nonprofits don’t have this moral quandary because they are given Google Apps for free. Please always keep in mind when striking the line of values and value propositions– the more able you are to meet your mission, the more impact your mission has, making sacrifices on values can lead to a greater end benefit.
This blog series will cover every topic here in depth, stay tuned.