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Tuesday, 2nd October 2018

Trying out a new look today - sending on a Tuesday! I've read somewhere that it's a good day to send, because people have got through their post-weekend email backlog by then. However, today's experiment is more down to not getting round to it yesterday.

Also, following complaints from some councils' email filters last week, I shall remove all references to flatulence from this newsletter before I send it. 

Remember - if you enjoy this newsletter, others might too! Please forward it on to anybody you think might like it, or encourage folk to sign themselves up! Got something I ought to include? Mail me!

Google Suite or Office 365?

I've had a few conversations with folk recently about which is the best cloud productivity suite - Google or Microsoft? Sometimes this debate is framed about whether you prefer better collaboration tools (Google) or value user familiarity (Microsoft). But as always things are rather more complicated than that.

I've implemented both at different organisations and hopefully that demonstrates that I'm no zealot. My instinct usually is to go for Google, because it's new and different, and has greater cultural impact when it's rolled out.

Part of the issue though is that it isn't a straight shoot out - O365 and Google Suite are not directly comparable. This is because Microsoft, in their unavoidable Microsoftiness, have made O365 quite a complicated beast. I've found myself saying quite a bit:

  • "The advantage of Google is that it doesn't touch the sides. The disadvantage of Google is that it doesn't touch the sides" and
  • "The advantage of Microsoft is that it touches the sides. The disadvantage of Microsoft is that it touches the sides".
By "the sides" I mean the rest of your IT stack. You can roll Google out really quickly, because it doesn't affect anything else. You just move everyone's email and calendar over, do some training, flick a couple of switches, and you're done. However, you'll find a bunch of systems that previously integrated rather nicely either with Outlook on the desktop or Exchange server side won't work as they used to, which can really annoy users.

Office 365 on the other hand is a continuation of what you probably already had in place. So all those systems will keep working as they did do, the productivity applications themselves don't change so won't need much training with users. On the downside, because it touches the sides, there's loads of work to do around active directory, setting up hybrid servers to deal with various issues and that kind of thing. So while we managed to roll Google out in six weeks at Adur & Worthing, O365 invariably takes a lot longer than that.

You get a lot more stuff with O365 as well, which is both a blessing and a curse. It comes with a host of other tools like Planner, To do, Flow, Forms, Sway, Staff Hub, Yammer to name just a few, which feels like great value for money. On the downside however is the confusion that it brings (I sometimes joke (lamely) that the product is so named because there are 365 ways of doing anything) and users can be left befuddled. Also, a lot of these tools are, well, just so Microsofty. It's like they can't help themselves. Take Planner, ostensibly a Trello clone. Only, when I last created a board in Planner, it created Sharepoint folders, OneNote notebooks and even Outlook groups all over the place. It left me in something of a cold sweat. All I wanted was a kanban board - so I shut it down and opened Trello instead.

[Also on that topic is Teams - what was a Slack clone and now something else entirely. It's being pitched as the "future of work", but I'm not convinced it's a future I'd want to be part of. This deserves it's own article though, probably.]

So, perhaps O365's complexity is a nod towards Google. The cash issue though is probably in Microsoft's favour, although not in a way that makes anyone feel good about themselves. Depending on which of the many tiers of O365 you choose, Google probably does come out cheaper in a straight pricing shootout. But it's not that simple, because Microsoft bundle a whole lot of stuff into Office 365 - and have started to take this further, really pushing their 'Microsoft 365' suite which includes Windows and some other management tools as well. This means that even if you buy Google, you are likely to still have to spend money with Microsoft - unless you're able to be really radical with your IT infrastructure and give all staff Chromebooks and so on (you probably can't). Once you factor in that many services will present fabulous reasons why they really need to keep their desktop MS Office apps (try taking Excel away from Finance!) you'll still end up with a fairly hefty bill from Microsoft - and that needs factoring into your Google business case.

So it's not an easy decision. As I said, my inclination is to go with Google because it's different, and it shakes things up. But you have to make sure the finances are right, and that you have the plans in place to deal with the technology issues that are bound to arise from moving away from the traditional Microsoft approach. For many organisations, Office 365 will be the sensible choice, financially and culturally - but it won't be the exciting one.


  • Paul Maltby, MHCLG's Chief Digital Officer, gets the opportunity to talk to me on video about the work his team is doing promoting good digital practice across local government. Link.
  • Lovely podcast interview with Neil Williams, who is leaving his post as what would have once been known as 'the webmaster' at GOV.UK. He's joining local gov, as Chief Digital Officer at Croydon Council, which sounds to me like a win for them, and the sector generally. Link.
  • Terrific long read from Tom Loosemore about what he thinks government as a platform really is. You don't have to agree with everything he says to find this useful. Link. For local government context, see my thoughts on 'digital civic infrastructure'. Link.
  • The war between technology and democracy is another long read on the complex interplay between tech and society. Well worth a proper read. Link

Tools and techniques

  • Some great notes from DXW on making procurement work better with digital. Link
  • North East Lincolnshire Council are a great example of a team sharing their work really nicely through their blogging. Here's a lovely post about the discovery phase of their web content refresh. Link.
  • The Glitch employee handbook is a fantastic example of open publishing and full of fab ideas to use in running teams, departments and organisations. Link


  • How the UK Hydrographic Office brought their development in-house. Link.
  • Some nice notes on the work at Hackney Council to improve their technology governance - always a tricky nut to crack without being user hostile. Link.
  • An article about Tim Berners-Lee's ambition to create a decentralised infrastructure on the web so that people can control their own data and evil companies can't do beastly things with it. All very laudable, in my view, but the problem is that the vast majority of people have no interest in controlling their own data. Doomed. Link.
  • I wrote a thing on behalf of my chums at Advice Cloud about how change without dealing with your IT isn't likely to work. Link


  • Local Government as a Platform Yorkshire & Humber, Leeds, 18th October. Link
  • Local Government as a Platform South West, Exeter, 22nd November. Link.


  • Surrey County Council are recruiting for a:
    • Director of Transformation
    • Director of Engagement
    • Director of Insight and Analytics
    • and a Director of Digital
  • For all the details: link.
If you're on the lookout for a new public service digital job, then you'd do a lot worse than signing up for Matt Jukes' entirely job-focused newsletter.


That's it for this week. Thanks for reading and please feel free to forward this onto friends and colleagues - and maybe even encourage them to sign up!

If you have any feedback, or an idea for something to be included, please just hit reply and send me an email.

Until next time,

~ Dave
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