How Bailey Nelson keeps customers in sharp focus with Chrome Enterprise

Editor’s note: Bailey Nelson is a global eyewear brand based in Sydney, Australia, with retail stores in Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand. The company uses Chrome Enterprise, G Suite, and Chrome Browser to simplify and personalize the process of eyewear shopping.

If you wear glasses or contact lenses, you know that buying eyewear is challenging. Prescription glasses and contacts can be expensive, and you have to sort through a ton of optometry jargon. Bailey Nelson started in Australia’s iconic Bondi Beach to take down those barriers with service that’s down to earth, friendly, and affordable. Our service gets a big boost from Chrome Enterprise, Chrome Browser, and G Suite. Here’s how my IT team and I work behind the scenes to create a stylish tech experience.

Simplified IT management makes opening new stores a breeze

Our bid to make glasses-buying enjoyable has helped our business grow quickly—from one store to 70 during the past six years. But we have to match our rapid growth with consistently great service. 

I’ve got 11 people on my head-office IT team. That might sound like a lot, but in a company rolling out new locations on an almost monthly basis like we are, I might worry that IT couldn’t keep up. But any potential concerns disappear once I log into Google Admin console for Chrome Enterprise to centrally manage our 300 Chromeboxes. 

We have the process of opening stores and onboarding employees down pat. My IT team created a checklist of everything that needs to be done to get a store ready for customers: networking, HP Chromeboxes, policies—you name it. Chrome Enterprise and Chrome OS makes this “get new stores ready” process fast and relatively stress-free.) .

Like many IT leaders, I’m concerned about staying in control. I want employees to have freedom to deliver excellent customer service, but I also don’t want them to install software or go places online that might bring malware into our networks, or result in a bunch of trouble tickets. Since I can set policies in Chrome Enterprise, I decide who can use which apps and how they can use them. Store associates can’t break things, and I can control what I need to control, which keeps us all working safely.

Chrome Enterprise is fantastic because we can manage everything from the web. Since we can be decentralized, it doesn’t matter if you have two computers or 2,000. It’s easy at a large scale to group devices, and assign different policies. It’s very logical and intuitive. Carles Vallecillo
IT Manager, Bailey Nelson
chrome ent x bailey nelson 2.jpg

Delivering a great in-store experience with easy-to-use devices

We’re an innovative retail business, and one that’s more complicated because we’re selling a clinical device. That’s why we want employees to have technology that’s as simple to use as possible, so they can deliver a great retail experience at the same time they write up orders for prescription glasses. 

The process starts when I create a profile for an employee in G Suite. I assign a Google account to that profile, and in about 15 minutes, a new sales associate can start working on any Chromebox that I’ve shipped to Bailey Nelson stores. That short timeframe for account setup is a massive advantage for me and my IT colleagues, and for the business as well. 

While we work our magic in the background with Chrome Enterprise, store associates on the front lines of customer service log in and get started with work in less than a minute. As Ollie, one of our assistant managers, explains, he can start a document on a laptop in Google Docs, switch over to the same document on a desktop computer, and finish it and share it with coworkers from his phone—without a hitch. Every application store employees need—from our optical practice software, and Gmail, Drive, and Sheets—is accessed through Chrome Browser.

chrome ent x bailey nelson 3.jpg

Real-time employee collaboration on design docs

Google Drive isn’t only useful for backing up data—although knowing we can’t lose important company information is a relief. Now that we’re in four countries, we use Drive to share new store marketing campaign materials and updated branding guidelines. It’s incredibly easy to file everything away and share it globally.

In addition to Drive, we share and store important communications for staff in our intranet. Using Chrome Browser and Chromeboxes, store employees access information about the products that will be landing that week, receive direction on how to visually merchandise products in windows and on shelving, and even get training modules focused on the customer experience or policy changes.

chrome ent x bailey nelson 4.jpg

A fast and personalized experience in every store 

As Bailey Nelson grows, we’re very aware that fast and easily managed devices and operating systems are just as important to customer service as friendly, knowledgeable store associates. Chromeboxes and Chrome OS minimize the time that store employees spend on computers, which gives them more time to advise customers on their eyewear purchases. The technology isn’t just something that makes the IT team happy: It’s critical to helping us maintain that hyper-personal touch Bailey Nelson is known for.

Cardinal Group: How G Suite helps us foster a more collaborative culture

Editor’s note: Today’s post is written by Cara Athmann, VP of IT and Data at Cardinal Group, a Colorado-based property management, investment, and consulting company. Cardinal Group recently deployed Google Drive and G Suite to build a more collaborative and productive working environment for their more than 1,000 team members.

At Cardinal Group, we have four distinct lines of business, each of which are critical to our overall company performance: real estate investment, third-party property management, construction management, and marketing. As the VP of IT and Data, one of my top priorities is giving each of our team members across these teams the tools they need to be productive, while also ensuring all of our company’s data is safe, secure, and properly managed. And with a variety of different business units, it’s critical that our team members are able to collaborate effectively across teams. We rely heavily on Google Drive and G Suite to help us accomplish these goals.

Prior to partnering with Google, we relied on a legacy content storage and management solution. Our team members found this tool cumbersome and unintuitive—finding the right file at the right time was very difficult, and it was challenging to collaborate and share content effectively across the various teams within our company. We also struggled with document ownership and version control. One team would start working on a contract, and then share it with a collaborator over email, who would then share it with a third collaborator, and so on. It was never clear which version of the document was the most up to date, who owned it, and who should be working on it. Our team members relied on these tools every day to get their jobs done, and the subpar experience was impacting productivity and morale. 

Moving toward a more collaborative company culture

We began to explore various solutions to these problems, and quickly realized that Google’s approach to productivity was most closely aligned with Cardinal Group’s desire to build a more collaborative and innovative culture. We worked closely with Cloudbakers, a Google partner, to migrate all of our existing content and data to Drive. And most of our team members were already familiar with Drive and found it very intuitive and easy to use, so change management was minimal and we were quickly up and running. 

With Drive, it’s easy for our team members to quickly find and access the files they need at that moment, which saves them valuable time and increases productivity across our teams. Live, real-time collaboration across Drive and our other G Suite apps is a huge selling point for us. For example, if we’re building a marketing plan, our onsite, marketing, and operations teams can all work simultaneously on the same plan, which saves us a ton of time and also eliminates version control and ownership issues. We’re also moving towards a “work from anywhere” model, and Drive is a huge enabler of this transition, with team members able to easily access and collaborate on files, whether they’re working in our main office, at home, or at a customer’s community. 

Fewer support tickets lets IT spend time on more impactful projects

Since we started working with Google a few years ago, our company has grown significantly, from 800 to 1,400 team members. During this tremendous growth, the number of productivity-related support tickets we see has remained flat; this translates to a 43% decline in the number of support tickets per team member. As a result, our team members can spend more time being productive and my IT team can focus less on resolving support tickets and more on creating business value for Cardinal Group and our team members. 

Moving to Google Drive and G Suite has been a big part of our journey towards being a more collaborative and innovative company. We’re looking forward to continuing this partnership with Google and we’re excited to see what’s next!

10 ways Chrome Enterprise helps protect employees and businesses

Editor’s note:Security is top of mind for many businesses as they shift to increasingly digital workplaces. In honor of Safer Internet Day, we thought we’d do a quick overview of the security capabilities available in Chrome Enterprise that can help businesses better protect their end users.

As organizations increase their productivity through the use of cloud and SaaS apps, managing business risk makes IT security even more imperative. They have to guard the organization against external attacks and internal vulnerabilities, while keeping the business moving. According to PurpleSec’s Cyber Security Statistics for 2019, malware and web-based attacks are the two most costly attack types—and companies spend an average of $2.4 million to ward off these threats. Ransomware attacks are expected to cost an estimated $6 trillion annually by 2021.

Each year, we introduce new security features to ensure that organizations and their employees have the resources to be more safe and secure online. Chromebooks help IT administrators protect employees from harmful attacks. 

Here’s a brief look at how Chrome Enterprise keeps your employees and business better protected.

Phishing prevention .gif

Phishing prevention 

Safe Browsing 
Unidentified dangerous sites can harm devices or cause problems when your employees are browsing online. With Google Chrome Safe Browsing, your employees are warned about malicious sites before they navigate to them, helping to deter negligent behavior. 

Password protection
Help keep your organization’s data safe by mitigating phishing attacks caused by password thefts. Password Alert Policy requires employees to reset their password when used with an unauthorized site, thus reducing the risk of a potential security breach.

Security keys
Google’s Titan Security Key helps to prevent hackers from logging into accounts when login details and passwords are compromised. By providing a second step of authentication after your password, security keys help prevent phishing and keep out attackers that could steal restricted information.

Protection from ransomware.gif

Protection from ransomware and other malicious software

Background auto-updates 
Seamless background auto-updates address vulnerabilities before they affect employees and your business—without interrupting workflows.

Low on-device data footprint
Chromebooks are cloud-native by design. Unlike traditional laptops, your files and customizations are primarily stored safely in the cloud, protected from bad actors by Google’s infrastructure.

ClusterFuzz
Chrome OS uses ClusterFuzz to help rapidly find potential security vulnerabilities before they affect users. Employees can focus on what matters most without worrying about breaches and external attacks.

Prevent OS tampering
All Chromebooks use verified boot to confirm the operating system is an authentic, safe, Google-distributed build. With two versions of Chrome OS on every device, Chromebooks can proceed with boot-up even if one OS has been tampered with.

Google Security Modules
Chrome devices ensure stored user data encrypted, by default—no configuration required—with keys stored on tamper-resistant hardware called the Google Security Module (learn more in our ebook, “Cloud-Native Security for Endpoints”). 

Ephemeral mode
With Chrome Enterprise, Chromebooks can be set up to wipe all data from the device at the end of your session. Enabling ephemeral modereduces the chances of any browsing information being left behind on a user’s device.

Block malicious apps.gif

Block malicious apps & URLs

Blacklisting URLs 
By blacklisting specific URLs or sets of websites through the Google Admin console, you can restrict employee access to malicious sites. 

Google Play Protect
Google Play Protect helps detect potentially harmful applications in a variety of ways (including static analysis, dynamic analysis, and machine learning) and prevents your employees from downloading them.

Our vision with Chrome Enterprise is to secure cloud entry so that every enterprise can work smarter and stay safe—and make work easier and more meaningful for everyone. Learn more about Chrome Enterprise security at cloud.google.com/chrome-enterprise/security.

How Sunrun sheds light on efficiency and growth with Chrome Enterprise

Editor’s note: Today’s post is by Joe Romeo, Lead Systems Administrator at Sunrun, the leading home solar, battery storage, and energy services company. Sunrun uses Chrome Enterprise to grow the business and help employees work efficiently.

The solar market is very competitive. Solar providers need to devote an enormous amount of technology and resources toward winning sales and getting ahead, and as the market leader for residential solar, Sunrun needs to continuously iterate, improve, and focus on efficiency in order to grow our business. Chrome Enterprise and Dell Chromebooks have become our go-to solutions for doing what we do better than anyone else.

How can we solve day-to-day business problems?  

We’ve standardized on Chrome Browser, and all of our employees use G Suite. That way, we can be device-agnostic, which works well in a business where people use all types of technology, including Android devices, iPhones, and every kind of computer. Ideally, we’d like everyone to use Dell Chromebooks moving forward, but first we wanted to understand who needs them and why.

We reached out to team leads in every business unit and asked what tools they used to get work done. We got some surprising feedback. For instance, our project coordinators’ workflow consisted of taking pictures of customers’ roofs before and after solar panel installations, then shrinking every picture down to thumbnail size on their Windows laptops before uploading them to Salesforce—a process that took a lot of time. 

We figured out a better way. We gave the project coordinators Chromebooks, which greatly simplified the process. We set up shared drives in Google Drive, with folders linking directly to Salesforce, eliminating several steps. It was a good example of how we can speed up work processes using better tools and communication between teams and our information technology department.

Chrome Browser also inspires us to get creative with homemade extensions. Our Salesforce team built an extension that lets people submit a trouble ticket with just one click, including adding a screenshot of the Salesforce webpage issue. The extension works much better than the old process of opening up a trouble ticket in Salesforce, which was frustrating and a barrier for people when seeking help.

Feb 12670 _ Sunrun hero image v2.png

How can we get devices into peoples’ hands faster?

We’re a lean IT team, with about 35 people serving 4,400 workers. We don’t want to be a bottleneck for employees, like busy salespeople, who need laptops. In the past, we’d collect laptops from former employees and ship them to one of our onsite IT departments. Local IT professionals spent as many as two hours (in between support calls) re-imaging each laptop and installing security software before shipping them around the country to new hires, who may have waited up to a week to receive devices. Employees never liked this slow and costly process. It’s frustrating to show up on day one at a new job and not have the tools you need to work.

Chromebooks completely changed device handouts for the sales team. With Chrome Enterprise Upgrade, we can wipe Chromebooks remotely in five minutes or less—no shipping delays and no time-wasting. We created organizational units for each team’s laptop in the Admin console, each with different policies. It’s a much better IT management and security experience.

How can we onboard and train employees better?

Our overall onboarding process needed work even beyond the sales team. If you’re handing out new devices, training and change management are really important. Fortunately, Chrome Enterprise and G Suite ensure that our “laptop on day one” goal is met.

Our support teams have gone through extensive Chromebook training. Most of them use a Chromebook every day, so when employees call with an issue, support techs can walk them through it using their own devices. 

Google’s training documentation was very helpful, especially the support pages with lots of pictures (we love pictures around here!). In fact, we created GIFs for our monthly “Tips and Tricks” emails, showing employees how to open and edit Excel files in Google Sheets, for example. It’s much more effective than just saying, “click this, then click that.”

chromebook excel.gif

When I came on board at Sunrun, our IT VP’s motto was, “Modernize and simplify.” These should be core values for any business. But in a company whose mission is to “make a planet run by the sun,” reducing wasteful processes and improving efficiency are right in line with what we do. Chrome Enterprise and Chromeboooks help us solve these pain points, and every day, they sprout all kinds of new benefits.

G Suite Pro Tips: How to organize your emails using Gmail labels

A few years ago, I realized that I sucked at email. I was missing important emails or simply forgetting to reply because I got distracted. I was surrounded by many amazing coworkers who seemed to have their email act together, so I started asking them to share their best practices with me.

Today, I’m sharing a couple tips I learned early on: using Gmail’s advanced search and labelling. In this post, I’ll do the following:

  1. Use advanced search to find an email. 
  2. Create a label, give it a color, and set up a filter to apply that label.
In this episode, learn how to create labels for your important contacts so you don’t miss any important emails again.

Using Gmail’s advanced search to find that email from your boss

The average person receives around 120 emails a day. Finding important emails—for example, messages from your boss—can be challenging. Fortunately, Gmail has a simple way to do advanced searches, and it’s easy as 1-2-3.

Let’s say you’re trying to find an email from your boss that was about budgets.

Here’s how to do it. 

  1. Inside the Gmail search box, click the Down arrow. This opens up a window with more ways to filter your search results.
  2. Fill in the form. Enter the manager’s email address and “Budget” in the subject.
  3. Click the Search button to see the results.

Using labels, colors, and filters to help you manage the important emails

Sometimes we can get overwhelmed by the amount of emails coming into our inboxes and miss the important ones. Gmail has features to help you manage your inbox with labels, colors, and filters. 

Let’s say you want to make sure you never miss an email from your manager. You might want to create a label and a filter that makes it easy to identify and find these emails.

Step 1: Create a label.

  1. Go to Settings (hint: the gear icon on the top right).  

  2. Click the Labels menu item (hint: it’s next to General).

  3. Scroll down the page and click on the Create new label button.

  4. Name your new label; for emails from my boss, I use the label “Management.”

  5. Click Create.

Step 2: Give your new label a color.

  1. Find your label’s name on the left hand side of your Gmail inbox, and click the three dots.

  2. Select Label color.

  3. Select the color you’d like for the label; I picked red to make it super visible.

Step 3: Setup a filter to apply the label.

  1. Inside the Gmail search box, click the Down arrow, which opens a window to create a filter.

  2. In the “From” section of the form, enter the email address of your manager.

  3. Select Create filter.

  4. The form will now show actions the filter can take; in this case, we select Apply the label and choose the label “Management.”

  5. Select Create filter and you’re done!

Voilà! You now have a red label named “Management” that is filtering emails from your boss.

I hope these tips about Gmail’s advanced search and labelling help you save time and improve your productivity. For more on becoming a master of Gmail, check out this post from Google Productivity Advisor, Laura Mae Martin.

Admin Essentials: Configuring Chrome Browser in your VDI environment

As a Chrome Enterprise Customer Engineer, I often get asked by administrators of virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) environments what our best practices are for backing up user profiles. For example, many ask us how to minimize backup size to speed up user log-in and log-off into the Windows environment and reduce impact on the overall user experience.

Like any browser, Chrome has cache directories. This is where data is temporarily stored for faster future site loading, cookies are saved in order to provide seamless authentication on websites, extensions cache various resources, and more. Chrome stores all of its caches in folders in the user profile directory. 

VDI administrators may prefer to back up the entire Chrome user profile directory, but the more sites a user accesses, the more the size of the cache folder increases, and the number of small files in those folders can become quite large. This can result in an increased user profile folder backup time. For users, this can lead to slower startup time for Chrome. 

Although we’ll cover different scenarios today, Google Sync is still our recommended method for syncing browser profile data between machines. It provides the best experience for both the user and the administrator as users only need to sign in. However, there are some environments where this option isn’t suitable for technical or policy reasons. If you can’t use Google Sync, there are a few approaches that can be used to minimize the backup size.

Moving the cache folders

One option is for administrators to move the cache folders outside of Chrome’s user profile folder. The VDI administrator will need to identify a folder outside of the Chrome user profile directory where the caches will be stored. Caches should still be in the Windows user’s directory, and keeping them in hidden directories can also reduce the risk of the cache being accidentally deleted. 

Examples of such folder shortcuts would be:

  • ${local_app_data}/Chrome Cache

  • ${profile}/Chrome Cache

The user data directory variables can help you specify the best directory for your caches.

Once the folder location has been decided, administrators need to configure the DiskCacheDir policy that relocates the cache folders. This policy can be configured either via Group Policy or registry. Once the policy configuration has been applied onto the machines, Chrome will start storing the cache directories into the newly defined cache folder location. The administrator might have to do a cleanup of older caches from the user profile folder the first time after enabling this policy as the policy does not remove the old caches.

Then, continue using the standard Chrome user profile directory. This should result in faster startup times for Chrome, as less data will be copied when a user signs-on or signs-off. It’s important to note that this approach will not allow simultaneous sessions from different machines, but it will preserve session data.

Enabling Roaming Profile Support

A second option is to enable the Chrome Roaming Profile Support feature. This will also not allow simultaneous sessions from different machines, and it won’t save a user’s concurrent session data. However, it will enable you to move the Chrome profile into network storage and load it from there. In this scenario, network performance could impact Chrome’s startup time.

To enable Chrome Roaming Profile Support: 

  • Switch on the ​Roaming​Profile​Support​Enabled policy.

  • Optional: Use the RoamingProfileLocation policy to specify the location of the roaming profile data, if this is how you’ve configured your environment. The default is ${roaming_app_data}GoogleChromeUser Data.

  • If you have been using the UserDataDir policy to relocate the regular Chrome profile to a roaming location, make sure to revert this change.

Advanced controls

While the solutions above will work for most enterprises, there are organizations that want more granular control of the files that are backed up. The approach below allows for more control, but comes at a higher risk, as file names or locations can change at any moment with a Chrome version release. A granular file backup could introduce data corruption, but unlike the other options, it will preserve session data. Here is how to set it up: 

  • Set disk cache to ${local_app_data}GoogleChromeUser Data with the DiskCacheDir flag.

  • Set user profile to ${roaming_app_data}GoogleChromeUser Data with the UserDataDir flag.

  • Back up the following files in your VDI configuration:

    • Folder location: AppDataRoamingGoogleChromeUser Data.

    • Files: First Run, Last Version, Local State, Safe Browsing Cookies, Safe Browsing Cookies-journal, Bookmarks, Cookies, Current Session, Current Tabs, Extension Cookies, Favicons, History, Last Session, Last Tabs, Login Data, Login Data-journal, Origin Bound Certs, Preferences, Shortcuts, Top Sites, Web Data, Web Data-journal.

Even though this approach preserves session data, it will not enable simultaneous sessions from different machines. 

There you have it—three different approaches IT teams can take to store Chrome caches in VDI environments. Keep in mind that there are a few ways an administrator can push policies onto a machine. For all desktop platforms, Google offers the Chrome Browser Cloud Management (CBCM) console as a one-stop shop for all policy deployments and it allows the admin to set one policy that can be deployed on any desktop OS and Chrome OS. For Windows, the admin can also use GPO or registry settings. For Mac, they can use managed preferences. These templates and more info can be found at chrome.com/enterprise.

If you’d like to learn more about the management options that we make available to IT teams, please visit our Chrome Enterprise web site.

Bots in Hangouts Chat: How they can help developers change the conversation

With chatbots growing in popularity, more and more teams are relying on them in the workplace to help them communicate and collaborate faster. As teams that use G Suite increasingly adopt Hangouts Chat as a primary communication method, bots represent an opportunity for developers to deliver unique and impactful experiences directly where users are engaged. In this blog post, I’ll provide a brief overview of what bots inChat are, and what you can do with them.

What are chatbots

Chatbots are computer programs that create human-like interaction experiences  primarily through text or voice commands. You might have encountered one while using chat support on a website.  And you likely ‘talk’ to bots via your favorite smart devices at home or on the go e.g. Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa. 

But why should this trend matter? Both as users and developers, bots present a compelling opportunity to significantly improve the way we collectively work. 

For users, it’s the opportunity to blend conversations with actions, to quickly connect with colleagues to accelerate teamwork, to get more done without switching between work streams and tools, and to stay informed right within a core communication tool.

For developers, it’s an opportunity to build solutions that surface where a growing number of users work more and more, to reduce friction between collaborating and performing tasks, to connect a myriad of back ends and processes directly within a familiar and increasingly popular front end user experience, and to capture user mindshare by connecting to their own apps and services.

Changing the way we work

Messaging apps aren’t new; they have been in the consumer space for many years. But messaging apps, aka chat apps, haven’t always been embraced by the enterprise. This is partly due to the fact that enterprise needs—for example, management controls, security, regulation, data protection, and governance—often supersede what many consumer-centric chat apps offer. It’s also partly because email has been so dominant as the de facto form of collaboration in the enterprise space, resulting in less of a need for chat adoption.

However, that’s changing along with users’ expectations. While email may remain the main source of “record” for work communication, chat has emerged to serve naturally conversational, typically informal, expectantly instantaneous and dynamic team-based communications. And as a result, Chatbots in Hangouts Chat are becoming the new frontier for next generation user interfaces for the better connected enterprise.

Bots in the enterprise

So what does a chatbot in the enterprise look like? While the use cases are virtually unlimited (it’s essentially just a new UI paradigm after all), there are a few common high-level categories bots can deliver broad impact for enterprise users.

Enhancing teamwork—If Hangouts Chat is aimed at making communications more fluid, bots in Chat can ratchet that up by making teams even more productive. A chatbot can speed up actions teams need to perform without switching context. For example, imagine your team chatting about a project you are working on, and collectively you want to review a list of outstanding action items or update completed tasks in real time. Why not just do that in-line conversationally as the discussion flows in chat? Well you can! Users can leverage bots in Hangouts Chat that handle common actions like managing task lists, pulling status reports or updating to-do item ownership, all without switching context to another service or tool. The ability to take action as a team, or even individually like request a vacation day or update your HR info from Chat, is a great way to enhance productivity of everyone across an organization.

1070-GS-Bot in Chats-Wrapper-ER-01-01.png

Delivering information—Chat is great for real-time communications between individuals and teams, but it’s also a great way to deliver pertinent information to users without requiring they actively request it or seek it out. Bots can deliver asynchronous notifications that keeps users up to date on topics that matter to them personally, in a format that is easily accessible with a higher probability of being consumed (than say getting lost in email or overlooked on a portal). With users spending more time in Chat, the chance that your information reaches them increases making asynchronous bots really interesting. Here’s just a few ideas that may interest users:

  • Notification of changes to customer opportunities for sales professionals (e.g. Deal Closed! Or Deal Lost!)

  • Warnings about inventory levels or shipping status of products

  • Push updates on milestones for team projects

  • Automated reminders on HR deadlines or policy changes

  • Announcement of new team members (great way to inspire interactive introductions to replace the obligatory, outdated email pushed from managers)

  • Immediate notice of fluctuations in your company’s stock price, or a regularly scheduled update at the close of the trading day

The list is essentially endless and of course varies based on organizational needs. But the common thing about asynchronous bots is that they are easy for users to discover, to opt-in or opt-out, and the entire process can be automated to create a timely, noninvasive, highly efficient channel for connecting users to relevant information.

Connecting systems—If you are a developer or an enterprise technology practitioner, chatbots in Hangouts Chat are ideal for connecting users with your applications. Whether you simply want to enable users to directly query information from your app, update data, or kick off actions and workflows that drive your app(s), bots are a great way to simplify connecting users where they work with your app. Users can reach your apps in context individually or as a team, with a simplified experience from a unified logon to enhanced interaction with natural language commands using driven by Dialogflow. Bots provide a new entry point into your app(s) that will likely increase user reach, engagement and satisfaction with frankly little effort (in most cases—bots aren’t overly complex). 

A number of third party vendors have already built Hangouts Chat bots doing just this and are worth taking at look at for your organization to use or get ideas from. Check them out here.

Looking ahead

This post has been about profiling one of the best kept ‘secrets’ of the G Suite platform. Chat bots aren’t brand new—they were actually available early in the launch of Hangouts Chat itself around mid 2018—but they are totally worth exploring if you haven’t yet.  I personally discovered them first as an ‘excited user’; and now I want to encourage developers to build their own bots. My goal here was to quickly introduce you to the concept of bots though, and of course the details are way beyond this post, so check back here as I cover more about what Hangouts Chat bots can do and how to build them in future posts. 

To learn more, and get started on your own building bots for Google Chat, visit https://developers.google.com/hangouts/chat.

5 ways your team can start collaborating with Google Drive

Google Drive helps teams move faster with collaboration tools like Docs, Sheets, and Slides—all on a secure, cloud-based platform that makes it easy for you to share, store, and access files. And it’s easy to get started! Here are five things you and your team can do today to begin collaborating effectively in the cloud with Drive:

1. Upload content to get started

Getting started with Drive is easy. Simply click the “New” button to upload files (over 100 file types are supported, including Office files and PDFs) or folders, or just drag and drop files directly into Drive. Drive for Desktop, which operates just like a regular desktop folder, makes it simple to manage your Drive files and folders alongside the rest of the content on your device. Any updates you make are automatically synced in the cloud and across all of your devices.

To learn more about how Drive can help your team collaborate more effectively, take a look at our website. And when you're ready to get started, sign up for a free trial.

2. Create a shared drive for your team

Drive has two different spaces for files: My Drive, for personal files owned by you, and shared drives, for files and folders that your team is collaborating on and accessing frequently. Shared drives are owned at the team level and every member of the team automatically has access to any files in the shared drive. My Drive and shared drives give you the flexibility to control where files live and how they’re accessed, based on your needs.

To learn more about how Drive can help your team collaborate more effectively, take a look at our website. And when you're ready to get started, sign up for a free trial.

3. Collaborate in real time with your team

Drive enables you to easily collaborate with team members in real time. Add a comment to any file type, including PDFs and image files, and tag team members into your comment to assign a task or action item. Drive sends email notifications that summarize activity and comments on your files, and you can respond to these items directly in the email, without the need to switch between apps. With tagging, commenting, and action items, Drive takes your collaboration to the next level.

To learn more about how Drive can help your team collaborate more effectively, take a look at our website. And when you're ready to get started, sign up for a free trial.

4. Work more effectively with existing Microsoft Office files

Did you know that Drive supports 100+ different file types, including Microsoft Office files? For example, you can store and comment on Microsoft Word files directly in Drive, and you can edit and collaborate in Office files without converting formats. Drive also features real-time presence for Office files, enabling multiple users to work on the same file without worrying about version control issues. With support for over 100 different file types, Drive empowers you to collaborate effectively with others, no matter the file format.

To learn more about how Drive can help your team collaborate more effectively, take a look at our website. And when you're ready to get started, sign up for a free trial.

5. Keep your team on the same page and avoid version conflicts

With Drive, version control isn’t a problem. Each file has a rich version history, and granular changes are recorded and color-coded by person, so it’s easy to see who made what changes and when. You can see minute-by-minute versions of each file, and you can always copy content from older versions over to the current file, or even restore an older file completely if needed, exactly as it was. All of your collaborators can work in the same document, at the same time, and create a single source of truth for your team.

To learn more about how Drive can help your team collaborate more effectively, take a look at our website. And when you're ready to get started, sign up for a free trial.

As you can see, it’s easy to get your team up and running with Google Drive. To learn more, take a look at our video playlist on YouTube, and when you’re ready to start using Drive with your team, sign up for a free trial of Drive Enterprise.

Admin Essentials: Improving Chrome Browser extension management through permissions

IT teams often look for best practices on managing extensions to avoid exposing company IP, leaving open security holes and compromising the productivity of end users. Fortunately, there are several options available to admins for extension management in Chrome. I’m going to cover one of them in more detail in this Admin Essentials post. 

Several  configuration options are available to enterprises wanting to manage extensions. Many enterprises are familiar with the more traditional route of blacklisting and whitelisting. But a second approach offers enterprises more granular controls. Instead of managing the extensions themselves, you can block or allow them by their behavior or permissions.

What are extension permissions? 

Permissions are the rights that are needed on a machine or website in order for the extension to function as intended. There are device permissions that need access to devices and site permissions that need access to sites. Some extensions require both.

extension permissions.png

Permissions are declared by the extension developer in the manifest file. Here is an example:

manifest file.png

Take a look at this list of the various permissionsto help you determine what is or isn’t acceptable to be run on your organization’s devices. As a first step towards discovering which extensions are live in your environment, consider Chrome Browser Cloud Management. It has the ability to pull what extensions are present on your enrolled machines as well as what permissions they are using. Here is an example of that view in Chrome Browser Cloud Management:

Chrome Browser Cloud Management.gif

If you’re a G Suite customer, you already have this functionality in the Device Management section of the Admin console.  

Once you’ve done a discovery exercise to learn which extensions are installed on your end users’ machines, and created a baseline of what permissions you will (or won’t) allow in your environment, you can centrally allow or block extensions by those permissions. With this approach, you don’t have to maintain super long whitelists or blacklists. If you couple this with allowing/blocking site permissions, which allows you to designate specific sites where extensions can or cannot run, you add another layer of protection. This approach of blocking runtime hosts makes it so you can block extensions from running on your most sensitive sites while allowing them to run on any other site. 

For a more in depth look at managing extensions, check out this guide (authored by yours truly) that covers all of the different ways of managing extensions. Or watch this video of me and my Google Security colleague, Nick Peterson, at Next 2019 presenting how to get this done. Enjoy, and happy browsing!

Code to Inspire brings developer skills to girls in Afghanistan with the help of G Suite

Born in Iran as a refugee during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, I understand the challenges many people face there to get access to formal education. I was one of eight children in a progressive, yet financially limited, family. We left everything behind in Herat to move to a new country. To make ends meet, my mother sold handmade clothing. She invested what little she earned in my education, which made it possible for me to finish high school. 

While opportunities for education in Afghanistan have increased over the past few decades, there are still many barriers that stand in the way of education for Afghan women—familial expectations, socioeconomic circumstances, cultural stigmas, societal norms and even safety issues. These circumstances make it challenging for women to find work and explain why only 19 percent participate in the workforce, 84 percent lack formal education and are often illiterate, and just 2 percent have access to higher education.

2001 marked the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and many Afghan families, including my own, found hope in their motherland again. The next year, I returned to Herat. Seeing my peers —women just like me with so much potential—I felt compelled to do something. But I knew that in order to help others, I first needed to further my own education. I earned a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, and later a Master’s degree from the Technical University of Berlin in Germany. 

When I returned to Afghanistan after school, I hoped to share my newly-minted tech skills with Herat women by teaching at the local university. At the time, few women were participating in the public workforce and there were still many extremist, conservative views in the country. I was vocal about inequalities and faced backlash from the community; because of these threats, I came to the United States as an asylum seeker in 2012. 

After arriving in the United States, I was inspired to start Code to Inspire, the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan between the ages of 15 and 25 that provides free after school education in gaming, web development, graphic design, mobile applications and full stack development. Our goal is to empower women with the skills they need to program so that they can drive change in their communities and gain equal access to opportunities and financial independence.

Determined to make this coding school happen, I found myself faced with an interesting obstacle: how could I build an education center in Afghanistan without ever leaving the US? 

To make this possible, I turned to technology—just as I had hoped my future students would. I took a side job teaching Farsi to pay my bills, and built the blueprint for Code to Inspire from a laptop in Brooklyn. I managed everything from my computer working from cafes in New York: fundraising, shipping equipment, recruiting mentors, registering applicants, and developing the curriculum. To move things forward day-to-day, I use G Suite to communicate and collaborate with my team. I use Hangouts Meet to connect with students remotely during weekly calls and monthly check-ins. We use Google Docs, Sheets and Slides to create essential documents and keep track of our operations. We even used Slides for our first pitch deck, which I shared with my board to get their feedback. This power and connectivity enabled a refugee to make her dream come true, and built up the digital literacy of the women I was working with back home!

Since opening its doors, 150 girls have studied with us, and the students have created so many interesting projects. One inspiring example is the popular mobile game, Afghan Hero Girl, which has taken off in Afghanistan and abroad, and was even recognized by the local government. The girls developed the game to show a female protagonist dressed in traditional Afghan garb, who undergoes obstacles that are relatable to them.  

Over 50 women have graduated from Code to Inspire, and 20 have secured remote full-time employment and freelance projects. Many of these women are even out-earning their male relatives who have become huge supporters of the program.

By 2030, we hope to open two additional schools in Kabul and Mazar that can serve up to 500 girls and provide employment opportunities within six months of graduation. From the ruins of a shattered nation and shattered lives of refugees can come treasure, if we know where to find it. For me, the girls in Afghanistan are the treasure and investing in their education is the future of a peaceful Afghanistan.

Making Gmail’s tabbed inbox work better for you

In 2013 we introduced tabbed inboxes in Gmail, which sorts your email into helpful categories in a simple, organized way. Over the years, we’ve heard from many Gmail users that these categories help keep their inboxes free of clutter so they can focus on getting things done. Recently, there have been some discussions around how Gmail classifies and sorts messages. We wanted to provide an overview of how classification works and share some best practices for both senders and receivers to make sure their emails land in the right tabs.

Gmail tabs use a classification system that applies machine learning to determine where to put email based on a variety of signals. Signals include (but aren’t limited to) who the email comes from, what type of content is in the message and how Gmail users have interacted with similar content. 

Based on these signals, Gmail sorts messages into the following categories: 

  • Primary: Emails from people you know (and messages that don’t appear in other tabs)

  • Social: Messages from social networks and media-sharing sites

  • Promotions: Deals, offers, newsletters and other “call to action” emails

  • Updates: Notifications, confirmations, receipts, bills and statements

  • Forums: Messages from online groups, discussion boards and mailing lists

As a user, you’re free to select one, a few or all of these categories. Gmail automatically adjusts to match your preferences and actions. 

While Gmail takes all of these signals into account, the most important one is your direct input. Your actions teach Gmail how best to sort your email based on your preferences. Here are four things you can do to teach Gmail to sort email from certain senders into specific tabs, so you stay in control of where your email goes.

  • Move a message from one tab to another: Just drag and drop it, or use the right click menu. Gmail will prompt you to remember this preference in the future from email from this sender. 

  • Create a filter: Use this option to create a filter that marks email from specific senders as important and/or directs it to a category of your choice.

  • Add senders to your contact list: This option tells Gmail you’re getting mail from a person you know.

  • Reply to the email: This is another way to indicate you and the sender are familiar with each other. 

And if you don’t find tabs helpful, you can remove them altogether

Sending large amounts of email? Take a look at our sender guidelines for tips on how to ensure that your mail gets delivered to the right place.

4 tips for managing information overload at work

Modern workplaces use many different communication tools to drive work forward—email, instant messaging, face-to-face video conferencing, and more. While multiple channels can make it easier to communicate with coworkers, they can also increase the amount of noise we experience every day. According to research from the University of California, Irvine, it can take up to 23 minutes to get back to a task once you’ve been interrupted. 

So before you reply to that one email or seemingly important chat message, consider these strategies to manage communication more effectively.

1. Set aside time to read and respond to emails and chats

Alerts and beeps from incoming messages can interrupt your focus, so try to designate time each day to respond to email and chat messages. Doing so can safeguard the time you need for focused work and help keep unread messages from piling up.


Pro tip: Both Gmail and Hangouts Chat offer snooze and mute functions to help you manage time and protect your focus. High-priority notificationsare a handy way to quickly note what needs attention, too. You can also change your notifications in Chat to customize what you see.


2. Categorize communications by the action you need to take

One of my first bosses used to say, “When everything’s important, nothing’s important.” The immediacy of modern communications can make it feel like everything is urgent. When you’re buried under a stack of messages, it can help to categorize them by what they mean to you. 

To get started, try asking yourself these questions: 

  • Am I the best person to respond to this? (If you’re not, add that person to the conversation.)

  • Does this require a response, or is it just an FYI?

  • What’s the deadline for a response or action item?

  • How long will a response take? If it can be done in less than two minutes, do it. If not, set aside time to respond later.

As another boss liked to say, “The best fire drill is NO fire drill.” If something feels urgent but you need time to work on it, say so.


Pro tip: In Gmail, you can use labels and filters to organize your inbox and make it easier to categorize and respond to emails. For tasks you can address right away, try Smart Reply to respond even quicker in Gmail and Hangouts Chat. If the task requires others’ input or will take more than 30 minutes, you can always schedule a meeting instead.


3. Managers: don’t be part of the problem

If you’re a people manager, the way you communicate can have a significant impact on your employees’ emotional wellbeing. Here are a few of the best practices I try to follow:

  • Be clear about why you’re communicating. If you’re just passing on information, spend the 1.5 seconds it takes to add a “just FYI” note at the top of a forwarded email. If you need a response ASAP, clarify exactly what you need and assign a clear owner.

  • Don’t send email over the weekend. In Gmail, you can schedule messages to be sent later, so your employees don’t feel the pressure to respond over the weekend (even if that’s when you’re catching up). 

Give context whenever you add people. For example, when you add people to an email thread or Chat room, explain why they’re there (“+Alexa will schedule this meeting, +Matt will do a first draft of the presentation”) so roles are clear.


Pro tip: It also helps to check in with your team and see what’s working (or not). Google Forms is an easy way to do an informal pulse check, and you can make the survey anonymous so team members feel more comfortable sharing honest feedback.


4. Take advantage of modern technology

One of the advantages of using  modern tools like G Suite is that we’re constantly adding features to help you be more productive—like the ability to search your Chat history or enable nudges in Gmail so you don’t forget to follow up on an important email. (Take a look at our 2019 recap for more of the latest and greatest.) 

Want more tips? Check out these. And for even more email tips, check out this post from Google Productivity Advisor, Laura Mae Martin.