Archive for April, 2010
GAA goes gaga for Google Apps
he Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) has moved its e-mail system over to Google’s Apps Gmail for Business in what has been one of the Association’s most successful projects ever. The new e -mail system went live last year and is just one strand of the Association’s ambitious multi-year technology plan.
By any measure, this project was a huge success. Now, 100% of GAA Club Secretaries and all staff in Croke Park – some 6,000 users in all – use Google’s Apps e-mail service to access their mail in the course of their duties. In any given 24 hour period, up to 2,000 club officials log in to their Goggle Apps e-mail account and 75% of all accounts are accessed at least once a week.
“We are really thrilled at the outstanding success of this project” commented Nickey Brennan, former GAA President and currently head of its IT & Communications Committee. “The GAA is a volunteer-led organisation and as such it has a major responsibility to communicate with all its stakeholders every day on all aspects of the Association’s business”. The switch to the new e-mail system went very smoothly and is testament to Google Apps ease of use, Brennan said.
The GAA previously had an in-house e-mail server to communicate with its Officials. Over time that number grew to around 6,000 users, but individual mailboxes had insufficient capacity to store the required volume of messages. Response times from the server were also becoming unacceptable.
The GAA asked Baker Security & Networks, with which it has a long standing working relationship, to evaluate upgrades to its e-mail system in the Spring of 2008. The GAA had expressed a preference for cloud computing, where the service would be delivered over the Internet instead of an in-house hosted service. Following a competitive tender in Autumn 2008, the Association chose Google’s Apps Gmail service, which has now been implemented by Baker Security & Networks.
“Using the Google Apps hosted e-mail service will reduce support costs considerably, plus the GAA will have no administration in terms of servers and no data centre costs, so it made sense to go with that cloud computing model. Globally, GMail has amassed more than 100 million users, so clearly scale was not going to be an issue,” comments Robert Baker, founder and Managing Director of Baker Security & Networks.
A requirement in the tender was that the winning bidder could one day potentially provide an @gaa.ie email address to the entire GAA membership, which amounts to more than half a million people on the island of Ireland.
The move to Google Apps Gmail has been a major factor in helping the Association to reduce its communications costs. “Once the decision was made to implement the Google solution, work on transferring users from the old system commenced immediately. We migrated every user over the course of a single weekend and we wrote specialist software to allow all users bring their old e-mail records over to their new accounts,” Baker says. The GAA, led by its I.T. Manager Declan Fanning and assisted by Bakers, undertook an active training programme across the country on a county-by-county basis. “The key to the success of the project was having a very strong training campaign coupled with a strong Helpdesk,” says Baker.
Baker’s team put in place a frequently asked questions page on the GAA website for the more technically literate members, as well as creating a series of brief video presentations hosted on the YouTube website. These clips lasted between 30 seconds and two minutes, using screen captures and voice-overs to demonstrate how to send e-mails.
The next step for the GAA is to implement other aspects of Google Apps technology for its members. Document sharing is already available, while Google Sites will allow clubs to set up their own web sites and provide relevant information to their members. These services are also being made available through a managed service from Google. This is a big help to clubs as all aspects of the service is now provided from one source making it easier to manage and operate.
Google’s calendar tool, which can be accessed directly from Google Apps, is a powerful way for people to organise their schedules, but where it really comes into its own is for managing resources such as a club’s pitches and facilities. A calendar, accessible to any GAA member on the Internet, can show when the pitch is free and would allow members to book the pitch for an under-14 challenge match, for example. Players could also subscribe to their team’s calendar and receive a free text message whenever it is updated, or with a reminder about an upcoming match.
During the tender process the GAA was very impressed with Google’s additional services such as Google Maps and YouTube. The attraction is obvious – mapping could be used to show the location of any club in the country, while the Association generates large volumes of video from its games.