Editor’s note: Today our guest blogger is Howard Kolodny, CIO of Z Gallerie. To learn more about other companies “going Google” check out our community map or test drive life in the cloud with the Go Google Cloud Calculator.

Z Gallerie is a Southern California-based home furnishing and accessories retailer with 55 stores in 19 states. We were started in 1979 by 3 siblings as a poster shop and have grown into a national furnishings store with over 1,000 employees.

We started looking at Google Apps to solve a key problem. In our stores, the only computers we have are also cash registers, so data security is definitely a concern. We didn’t want any confidential information stored on store computers. Moving to a 100% web option with Google Apps instantly improved data security at our retail stores. Now we don’t have to install software on hundreds of computers all over the country, and there is no need to worry about data being accessed on those computers, because it’s all safely stored and protected in the cloud. Plus we’re able to offer a greatly improved email service for our employees.

In addition to added security, we’ve also seen improved productivity since moving to Apps. Before we switched to Google Apps, we had an antiquated email system that made it hard to find emails, and word processing software that hindered collaboration and forced us to do a lot of manual work. Because of the lack of functionality of our previous tools, we often resorted to using paper request forms and faxing information back and forth between corporate offices and retail stores.

Supply ordering has completely changed after moving to Google Apps. Each store used to print out a form, fill in what they need for the store, and then fax it in, only to have someone in the office manually add it all up. Now we have a spreadsheet with all available supplies and each store enters what it needs. We use a similar process for our modified holiday hours. Previously each store would send in their updated hours and someone at headquarters would enter them all into a spreadsheet and send it out to everyone. Shared spreadsheets have saved us hours of tedious manual work, not to mention a lot of paper.

Employees have enthusiastically embraced the new technology and their extra time is put to good use. Many already used Gmail outside of the office so the transition was easy. Google Apps partner, SADA Systems, helped with training and deployment to get employees up to speed. Since deployment, we’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much positive feedback we’ve received from employees. They’ve been particularly appreciative of the speed of search in Gmail. Knowing that they can always easily find something in their inboxes has made it easier to follow up on consumers’ questions about promotions that ran months before, or emails from headquarters. Everything is right at their fingertips.

Google Apps provides a more secure way to store and access data, an easier and cheaper way to maintain our information systems and has increased employee productivity tremendously. This change has also improved morale by giving our employees faster and easier ways to do their work and allowing them to work together. With the holidays approaching, it’s comforting to know that we’re ready to handle anything that comes our way because we have the right tools in Google Apps.