by Michele Nachum
Published on 27 August 2012
Since Google Apps for Your Domain first made its appearance more than six years ago, the hub-bub around Microsoft Office versus Google Apps has died down a bit. Not really a fair comparison, but over the past few years many companies are choosing Google Apps for Business either as their primary "office/email suite" or as an adjunct to Microsoft Office.
Google Apps for Business is designed to be your "office suite" in the cloud providing a package that "has it all" from Google Docs to Gmail. You can have calendar tools, shared work spaces and more.
One aspect of Google Apps that has been challenging for some businesses is managing Google Apps and having a broad oversight on all users as well as being able to assign roles and permissions, provide signatures, decommission email accounts when an employee departs, delegate and deliver company-wide announcements. That is where FlashPanel comes in! It is a Google Apps management tool that helps administrators utilize the Google Apps for Business suite and more easily centrally manage emails, shared work spaces, and more throughout the company.
FlashPanel is a tool for IT administrators, small business owners and anyone who wants to keep better track of their employees. In order to use it, you must have "super admin" status. As FlashPanel says on their website: "FlashPanel helps reduce your time spent managing Google Apps by simplifying repetitive tasks. You can add or remove users from multiple Groups with a few clicks, and bulk actions make management processes even easier. You can even apply and enforce email settings or granular permissions by Group or Org. Unit."
FlashPanel has a number of features to help administrators organize and keep track of users and allows them to have a better understanding of what each users is doing. A simple dashboard and ribbon at the top allows you to keep track of users, groups, contacts and more. Here are some of the key features:
The directory offers an overview of all your users, groups, shared contacts, organization units and any users who are suspended, or no longer with the company.
FlashPanel offers administrators several tools to help users work more efficiently and professionally. The Email Signatures feature allows an administrator to setup and control signatures for the company, or even for individual groups of users. And with the Access Control feature, an administrator can delegate that responsibility to a non-administrator (such as your VP of Marketing, for example). Email tools also include: email delegates, aliases, filters and labels. Delegation is available through Gmail itself, although you have to log in to the account. With FlashPanel, an administrator can delegate any user's inbox to any other user, eliminating the need to change a user's password in order to view their mailbox, which has been a big request from companies moving from Microsoft Exchange.
You can also create Auto Replies when someone is out, as well as set up aliases for multiple groups that need specific correspondence.
Other tools include the Apps Butler, installed through the Google Talk feature, which allows you to broadcasts company wide announcements and deliver company directory information on demand via chat.
Another popular feature includes the ability to "De-provision Users" after someone has left the company or is on long-term leave.
Overall, I found FlashPanel exceedingly easy to use. Video tutorials and detailed instructions on their website, as well as within the app itself, can have an administrator up and running fairly easily.
What I like best about this is that it centralizes the Google Apps to administrators and allows just a select personnel to set the rules for email and users - which creates a more secure application for a company. FlashPanel takes the good and the not-so-good of Google Apps and helps a company streamline their correspondence. While it may sound like FlashPanel is being too controlling- in today's world having a centralized IT department or at least one administrator can be a very safe alternative to 30 people just doing their own thing, for instance.
No one can argue that the pricing is not fair. The product is still in beta and will be so until late 2012, therefore, FlashPanel is free. Once out of beta, FlashPanel will eventually move to a free/premium pricing model.
FlashPanel is for any small to mid-sized company that uses Google Apps. If you have more than two or three users within your company having a centralized administrator to monitor emails and such, is a safe alternative for any company.
Ratings: ease of use 5/5, features 5/5, value 5/5 and ease of deployment 4.5/5