Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Fidelity Bank Ghana Saves Time, Reduces Meetings and Improves Security With Google Apps

Editor's note: Today’s guest blogger is Suresh K L, Chief Information Officer at Fidelity Bank Ghana Limited, a Ghanaian bank serving 450,000 customers across 45 branches. See what other organizations that have gone Google have to say.

Established in 2006, Fidelity Bank Ghana is the sixth largest commercial bank in Ghana—employing 1,200 people and serving 450,000 customers across the country. As the banking industry in west Africa continues to evolve, we’re seeing growth due to our aim to provide customers with a faster, simpler banking solution so they can focus on building their businesses and living their lives. We decided to move to Google Apps in March of 2013 because of the guaranteed uptime, high security, low operating costs, and the opportunity for better collaboration among our employees.

Our legacy email system would be down for countless hours—wasting time, decreasing performance, and compromising security. As a result of the unresolvable server outages before switching, employees started using their personal email addresses for official communication, which was against company policy. Our old system operated at 30 to 40 percent more downtime than Google Apps and I personally was losing about six hours a week from downtime.

Since Google Apps is cloud-based and updates automatically, we’re now saving 30 percent in operating costs per year versus our previous environment. The legacy email system required frequent costly upgrades and hardware maintenance. And, like many banks, the security of our account holders’ information is very important to us so we were impressed by the SAS 70 security certification for Google Apps Vault and we were comfortable with making the switch.

Employee collaboration from any device, regardless of location, was a big driver in our move to Google Apps. Many of our employees don’t have desk phones, so Hangouts—with the instant chat feature—have really helped the team stay connected. I’ve seen employees with 12 different chats open at once! Hangouts have reduced the number of meetings we have, allowing different stakeholders to collaborate without having a formal meeting. Before moving to Google Apps, we had major issues trying to access our email during trips abroad. We returned home with hundreds of emails and spent days just reading through them. With Google Apps accessible from anywhere, we can check our email inbox from virtually any device, boosting productivity and time savings.

Google Drive is helping our employees be more productive, and the transition was seamless. Since each user has 30GB of space, there’s plenty of room to have all of our documents and we can access our Docs, Sheets, and Slides from anywhere. We use Drive as our intranet—uploading everything from HR policies to compliance documents. We’re also creating microsites to serve as collaborative hubs for individual departments. For example, we have Google Sheets shared across branches and teams to manage our sales activity, our private and executive banking sales activity, our future business pipeline reports and collating weekly operational reports. Company-wide, we can attribute about 15 percent of time savings directly to Google Apps, but some individuals are saving even more time. Our head of ATM card management is now saving two days per week using Google Forms. Previously, she received 44 separate email attachments each week from various branches that she had to manually input into a master document. Now, those updates are collected using an automated Google Form that auto-populates the master Google Sheet.

Overall, I love seeing all the innovative ways in which employees are proactively using Google Apps to be more efficient and productive. We continue to explore new opportunities to leverage Google Apps to make employee collaboration and productivity better.
READ MORE - Fidelity Bank Ghana Saves Time, Reduces Meetings and Improves Security With Google Apps

Monday, August 26, 2013

Google Maps Coordinate Opens Doors for Aussie SMBs

Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is James Anderson, CEO of Architectural Windows & Doors, a small family run business that supplies and creates “upmarket” windows and doors for residential properties across Queensland and Northern New South Wales. See what other organizations that have gone Google have to say.

At Architectural Windows & Doors we supply and install windows and doors. But we take true pride in the work we do with our customers as design consultants to turn architectural concepts into reality. We’ve been in business in Brisbane for over ten years and employ around 20 staff.

Many parts of Queensland are prone to cyclones and extreme weather so we not only work to find the right look when customising designs, but also the highest safety features. No strangers to disaster ourselves, our store was severely damaged during the Queensland Flood in 2010-2011. And like many small businesses, we felt the heat during the financial crisis, so we are always looking for ways to keep costs down while still delivering the same top quality products and customer service.

Our delivery and installation team are always out on-the-go in meetings with clients, doing installations, or picking up materials at the factory. So having a good workforce management tool to see where our mobile workers are is critical; not only to manage jobs and productivity, but also so we can ensure their safety.

We started using Google Maps Coordinate in September last year. Before that, we used a solution which cost $100 per month per vehicle. Since moving to Google we’ve noticed major productivity and service improvements as well as cost benefits. For a start we’re saving about $400 a month.

The productivity and safety benefits have been big too. Because Google Maps Coordinate integrates mapping, scheduling and job detail functions into the one handset based system, we can create jobs and assign staff based on their locations all in one go. We no longer have to worry about duplicating data either. Our team members can look up client information and update their records seamlessly, eliminating pointless trips back to the office. We were a Google Apps customer for three years before moving to Coordinate, so our email, documents and scheduling apps are also accessible from our phones. This means our team can access everything it needs while on the road.

As Google Maps Coordinate is handset rather than vehicle based, we now also have accurate data on where our guys actually are at any given time. Previously we only knew where they parked their vehicle, which could have been a couple of blocks down the road from a client’s house. This would pose a problem for health and safety. Because our teams always have their phones on them, we now have peace of mind knowing where they are when they’re on the job. And they can turn that function off when they’re not working or heading home for the day.

Additionally, some of our site-staff don’t return to our factory to clock in or out, so Coordinate helps us accurately record their hours worked and ensure they have their required breaks (by using the visibility feature) in the absence of a timecard unit.

Google Maps Coordinate is an ideal solution for an SMB like us. It provides us with a world-class mapping and technology solution and scales for our budget and needs. Small businesses should be able to access the same technology solutions as the big boys and by bringing Google’s mapping technologies to modern smartphones, Google Maps Coordinate does just that.

READ MORE - Google Maps Coordinate Opens Doors for Aussie SMBs

Google Apps keeps JUST EAT employees around the world connected

Editor's note: Today’s guest blogger is Martin Russell, Head of IT Services at JUST EAT, a UK-based leading online takeaway ordering service. The company has over 1,000 employees worldwide and partners with more than 38,000 restaurants around the world. See what other organizations that have gone Google have to say.

JUST EAT connects local hungry consumers all over the world with local takeaway restaurants that they love. Through our online and mobile app service, we enable consumers across 13 countries to get their favorite dishes delivered to them with our quick and easy online ordering system.

Since I joined JUST EAT in November 2010, our business has grown from 200 employees to more than 1,000 in a span of two and a half years. But with this incredible pace of growth, our IT services were strained. I needed to give our employees the basic tools they needed to get their jobs done that would scale at our rapid pace, while keeping our data and the data of our customers secure. Since we expanded internationally, giving them ways to collaborate regardless of location was of the utmost importance.

When I first joined the team, we were in the middle of one too many IT outages. The time and resources we wasted dealing with the upkeep of our email solution was getting out of control. I started exploring email alternatives and the cloud was a secure and scalable solution. When I looked into Google Apps, I was really excited about how collaborative, flexible and secure all the tools were. At £33 per user, Google Apps was also the most cost-efficient solution.

We now use the entire Google Apps suite. Initially, we were most interested in Gmail, but adoption of the rest of the apps spread organically across our company. Hangouts have completely changed the way we communicate. Video chat connects our globally dispersed staff, and now I can manage my entire team remotely via Hangouts. Google+ quickly gained popularity within our company for internal conversations—it’s essentially taken the place of our internal social network. As we grow, it becomes more difficult to maintain relationships but tools like Hangouts and Google+ have really kept us connected.

Google Apps has removed a lot of the stress that is traditionally associated with my job. I don’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. anymore to make sure our email is up and running or rush to restart the server because the system is down. Now, if an employee loses a work laptop, I don’t have to worry about lost or stolen files. Having the assurance that all our documents are securely stored on Drive is a relief.

The one thing I recommend to businesses switching over to Google Apps is to do the migration quickly. I wish we had migrated faster as the transition was much smoother than expected and most of our employees were eager to switch. Google Apps have saved us massive amounts of time, made our work environment much more collaborative and flexible, and have taken a lot of the stress out of my job.

READ MORE - Google Apps keeps JUST EAT employees around the world connected

Friday, August 23, 2013

New online tool shows you what individual health insurance costs next year in WA

We've built a new online tool to help you find out what health care plans will cost next year. Simply click on the map -- premiums vary by where you live -- and it will tell you which insurance carriers are offering coverage in your area. You can click on each company to see its rates, which vary based on your age.

A couple of caveats: These rates are mainly for the individual market, meaning people who have to buy insurance for themselves, and don't get it through an employer, Medicare, etc.

Also, the rates do factor in the subsidies that will be available to some people. Those subsidies will reduce the cost of coverage substantially for many people. You can estimate how much you'll pay, with subsidies taken into account, by using this online calculator from the Washington HealthPlanFinder.

Lastly, the list of health plans is likely to grow over the next couple of months. We are still reviewing plans, for example, for multiple insurance carriers that have filed to sell coverage outside the state exchange. And some plans that were rejected for the Exchange have filed appeals. So stay tuned.
READ MORE - New online tool shows you what individual health insurance costs next year in WA

Thursday, August 22, 2013

An open letter from Mike Kreidler about insurance plans filed for Washington's exchange

An open letter from Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler

In January, the biggest changes under health care reform – or “Obamacare” – will take effect. Many health plans, which now have to comply with federal standards, will be significantly better. And hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income Washingtonians will qualify for subsidies to help pay for coverage.

This fall, Washington’s new Health Benefit Exchange will open for business, giving consumers an easy way to compare health plans, sign up, and see if they qualify for the subsidies.

Many kinds of insurance policies, before they can be sold, must be reviewed and approved by my office. This is a very important consumer protection, designed to ensure that prices are fair and that insurers can deliver on their promises.

I’m pleased to report that based on state and federal law, we were able to approve 31 health insurance plans, from four carriers, for the Exchange. People shopping on the Exchange will have broad choice and significantly better coverage, starting Jan. 1, 2014.

Unfortunately, we had to reject applications from five other insurance carriers. These were not decisions I made lightly. I am a strong supporter of competition and consumer choice, and a longtime supporter of health care reform.

As the state’s insurance regulator, however, I have a duty to protect consumers and to hold all insurers to the same standards. There were substantial problems in the plans we rejected.

Health insurers must have adequate networks of doctors and other health care providers. And there were major problems with the networks of most of the rejected plans. One didn’t offer any pediatric hospital.

Another had no approved retail pharmacy. Certain plans didn’t have adequate access to transplant surgeons, or to HIV/AIDS specialists.

One network would have required people to drive more than 45 miles to see a cardiologist, and more than 120 miles to see a gastroenterologist. That would be like living in Tacoma but having to see a doctor in Bellingham.

These were not minor technicalities. They were major problems.

Some people have pointed out that three of the carriers whose plans were rejected are currently serving people on Medicaid. They worry that people whose incomes rise, making them ineligible for Medicaid, will have difficulty moving to a regular commercial plan, or would lose important continuity of care offered by the community clinics. Many of these community clinics offer important services, such as language assistance or transportation.

Rest assured: The plans I approved for the Exchange include a substantial number of community clinics throughout the state. In many cases, Medicaid patients who want to remain with the same clinic will be able to.

The Affordable Care Act requires all carriers participating in the Exchange to contract with an adequate number of “Essential Community Providers,” or ECPs. These are defined as health care providers that serve high-risk, special needs and underserved individuals. Many Sea Mar clinics, for example, have contracts with the commercial carriers who were approved for the Exchange.

My staff and I worked very hard to try to get all carriers and all plans across the finish line in time. We had dozens of meetings, and 14 webinars to try to walk them through the process. I called one CEO after another, laying out the key issues and timelines. On the final night, July 31, we had staff waiting at their desks until midnight, in order to give the companies every possible minute to succeed.

But some carriers – particularly those new to the commercial insurance market -- simply couldn’t meet the standards this time.

We knew this first big year of health reform implementation would be a bumpy ride, and it has been. But I remain optimistic about the future. We will continue to work with all carriers to help them get ready for the next year, when I fully expect more insurers to succeed.

In the meantime, consumers have a broad number of choices. The insurance is meaningful, the networks robust, the subsidies significant. Again, the process has been bumpy. But it’s a very promising start.

Mike Kreidler
Insurance Commissioner
READ MORE - An open letter from Mike Kreidler about insurance plans filed for Washington's exchange