Q&A: Martin Russell, head of IT services, Just Eat

Just Eat delivery bike

What are you using Google Apps for?

Our original purpose for looking at Google Apps was for the email tool – we wanted to move away from our legacy on-premise solution and our focus was on migrating to email.

We have been with Google for a year now and over the course of that time we have adopted all the other applications that come with email. We use Google Drive for our local file storage, we use Sites for our internal intranet tools, Google+ is used as an internal social network to organise events. We also use Forms for things like request forms. So we pretty much use the entire suite of Google Apps tools.

Why did you choose Google Apps over any of its cloud competitors?

We compared it when we originally looked at doing this as a project. As you know, the biggest competitor is obviously Office 365, but at the time I reviewed it, it was called Microsoft BPOS and for me it was very restrictive around the systems you could use.

Google was very much promoting any device on any operating system from anywhere at any time. With the Microsoft offering at that time, you had to be running Windows 7, you had to be using Office 2010 and, as a business, we weren’t in the position to do a full refresh of Office or Windows to be able to use those tools.

From that point of view, because it was so restrictive, it didn’t fit with our business model of using any device and any operating system as long as there was a browser available. Google Apps allowed us to do that.

Obviously those restrictions have been removed now with Office 365, but when we reviewed it the product hadn’t quite got there.

What business benefits have you seen since moving to Google Apps?

From the point of view of how we interact with Google Apps as IT, we have seen a huge gain in stability. The on-premise legacy system that we had before was very flaky – I was having to get up at the crack of dawn to ensure it was up and running for the business day. We were also constantly worrying about how we would scale it and all those kinds of things.

Not having those worries any more – having a system that gives us amazing availability and not having had any outages since we’ve been with them – is great for us. We aren’t having to spend lots of time maintaining and managing that system.

Then, from the user’s perspective, they get a really great experience, particularly around the document collaboration stuff. We have seen a big boom in people creating documents, sharing them with each other and collaborating to get the objective done much quicker than the old days of having to edit a file, attach it to an email, send it to someone, then you have two versions of the file. Then, the question arises of how you amalgamate them back together again. Those concerns have gone.

Also, the Google Hangouts have really taken off over here. We don’t use things like Skype or any other video tools anymore; it is all done through Google Hangouts. So we are now seeing teams collaborating more. I have teams in Canada and Denmark that I need to remote manage and I can do that now through Google Hangouts.

How did you reassure yourself that Google Apps was as secure as what you had been using before?

Security of our internal documentation and files is paramount. We have a tool that sits over the top of Google Apps called CloudLock and this monitors all the sharing of documentation – who has edit rights, who has review rights, and are they being publicly shared? We are alerted about those things and take action on any issues that may come up.

We are quite comfortable that Google Drive is a great place to store documentation. It allows sharing and scalability, but we then have this other tool that is sitting outside Google Apps, which ensures we have a watcher to see who is doing what, with what and with whom. That puts us in a really comfortable position.

You are currently trialling Chromebooks and Chromebox, was that prompted by your good experience with Google Apps or would it have happened anyway?

We run quite large call centres at Just Eat and the traditional way of running them was always around thin-clients – so you had thin-client PCs and a large server farm at the back-end running all your applications and pushing them out to the machines.

I thought about that and decided ‘there are Chromeboxes and Chromebooks out there, and all of our tools are web-based anyway, so all I need to put on a call centre agent’s desk is a machine that can run a browser and access these tools. I also don’t necessarily want to have a big, on-premise server farm pushing these applications out’. To me, the Chromebook and Chromebox give me that thin-client without all that back-end infrastructure and if I can push all my apps onto the cloud and serve them from there, then these Chromeboxes and Chromebooks will do exactly what I need them to do.

We were already using them in our social area as well: we popped Chromebooks out in our big social kitchen areas for people to use during their lunch breaks to do online shopping or whatever they want to do. It has worked really well there, but I also think that a call centre running several hundred of these Chromebooks is great. They are very low maintenance – if they break, you put it in the wheelie bin for someone to collect, go up to a vending machine, swipe your ID card and another Chromebook will be delivered to you. You sit at your desk, you plug it in, 15 seconds later you’re logged in and working again. And I don’t have to have a massive infrastructure behind that to keep it running – all I need to do is invest in decent internet connectivity out to these cloud services.

[Widespread use of this] to me is a really great future for Just Eat and I’m looking forward to getting there.

We are trialling a room in our call centre which is all Chromeboxes and that is going very well, so we hope to expand that across the rest of the call centre.

There are lots of elements to play with, for example how the telephony systems fit in – our current solution does require a small desktop client, so I need to find a way of either tapping into the API for that client and presenting it through the browser, or possibly working with that vendor to see if we can get a web based tool.

There are lots of things to iron out over the next couple of months, but the general roll-out is definitely something I am looking to do in 2014 without a doubt. If I can get it done earlier, I will certainly be pushing for it because I really like the idea of these big call centres with very small server rooms, not massive server rooms using massive amounts of power and cooling.

Have you seen any disadvantages since moving?

One of the toughest things for a project like moving to Google Apps for me is not the technical aspect, it’s changing hearts and minds. It is very much a change project, not a technical project. The moment you start talking about using Google Apps to people who have been using Microsoft products for years in their career, they instantly feel they couldn’t possibly run any of the tools in a browser versus a desktop client.

This is one of the disadvantages for anyone thinking of doing this and you have to work really closely with the change management team to change the hearts and minds of people. You have to put users first, put yourself in their world and think how I would overcome these challenges and that is something we really had to focus on during the migration.

And it is still something we have to deal with when new people join the business and they have come from traditional world based around Office products. They don’t think they can do their job with a new cloud solution that they have never seen before and you have to sit down and work with them to get them where you want them to go.

Would you say, given your experience, that using cloud solutions like Google Apps is something all companies irrespective of size or sector should be looking at? And what would advice would you give in this respect?

Every area of technology needs to have that review. I look at all the solutions we use and see if they are the best fit, because some things are going to be best suited to an on-premise solution, some things are going to be best suited to collocation or the cloud. But you have to sit down and weigh up what you are in the business of doing.

Just Eat, for example, is not in the business of running email servers – we run an ecommerce platform that gives our users a great experience when ordering a takeaway. We want them to love that experience and that is what we are developing, so it didn’t really make sense for us to invest in this large email solution on premise because it didn’t help us reach that goal. That’s why we didn’t do it – we looked to companies like Microsoft, Google and whoever else to provide us these services, because that’s what they are experts in. So let’s just adopt their tools and we can use our time, money and power to improve our solution that we offer out to our customers.

That’s the best advice I can give anyone, really. Identify what the objectives are in your business and then relate that back to how these solutions meet that need.

Other than the planned roll-out of Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, where do you see yourselves heading in terms of technology and the cloud?

I am constantly reviewing the systems we use and we have in house and the next big thing for me is probably going to be around telephony. Forthese large call centres, as much as the Chromebooks and Chromeboxes are a wonderful idea and I’m sure they are going to work brilliantly, telephony is a massive part of the way they work.

At the moment, we are running quite large telephony systems on site, but as we grow and expand these call centres are going to get larger and larger, so it becomes a question of how we are going to meet that need and also scale it very quickly.

With an on-premise solution that is very difficult to do, as you are constantly re-designing, purchasing new equipment and ensuring that it scales very well. So around cloud, telephony is the next thing I will be looking at and there are some really exciting companies out there doing some really good stuff [in that area].

Jane McCallion
Managing Editor

Jane McCallion is ITPro's Managing Editor, specializing in data centers and enterprise IT infrastructure. Before becoming Managing Editor, she held the role of Deputy Editor and, prior to that, Features Editor, managing a pool of freelance and internal writers, while continuing to specialize in enterprise IT infrastructure, and business strategy.

Prior to joining ITPro, Jane was a freelance business journalist writing as both Jane McCallion and Jane Bordenave for titles such as European CEO, World Finance, and Business Excellence Magazine.