Editors note: Today’s guest blogger is Andrew Muroff, CIO of Premier Salons. Premier Salons has over 300 high-end spas and salons and almost 500 beauty supply retail stores across North America. See what other organizations that have gone Google have to say.

Running a chain of hundreds of retail stores and salons requires efficient coordination. We need to be able to quickly gauge inventory and share best practices while also making sure we can easily add new users and keep our data safe in an industry with a lot of employee turn over.

Before switching to Google Apps, we had multiple email systems and file shares across salons, retail stores and corporate – primarily Microsoft® Exchange 2003 and SharePoint. Substantial resources were needed to maintain these systems, yet they still weren’t supporting the level of collaboration we needed. We were dealing with license management, backups and space constraints. Our servers constantly went down. Just running SharePoint alone required a full-time administrator, yet SharePoint was never really well adopted because the check in/check out process was confusing to our employees. We realized that Microsoft’s technologies for collaboration and communication were not serving our needs.

The turning point came when we were installing a new point of sale (POS) system. The process of evaluating newer, more modern technologies opened our eyes to other possibilities. We have 6,500 employees and we realized that rolling out new versions of Microsoft Office to all of them was cost-prohibitive. After years of experience trying to support Microsoft applications at Premier Salons and other companies, we just didn’t see Microsoft as the best option for us.

That’s when we began considering Google Apps. We saw that Google would eliminate our worries about licensing, security, back-ups, space constraints and server maintenance, and adding new users would be easy. We would save hundreds of thousands of dollars in license fees and maintenance costs alone. And we could collaborate in real-time, with everyone on the same page – literally.

We rolled out Google Apps to 1,050 employees and have increased our efficiency exponentially. In order to keep the most popular products in stock to maximize sales and customer satisfaction, we need quick merchandising updates from our locations to determine what the big-sellers are, particularly over holiday weekends like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. We had been using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to track and adjust our inventory to meet demand and we didn’t have the visibility required to quickly transfer excess, in-demand inventory from one store to another. We were also missing sales opportunities because we couldn’t provide instant feedback to our purchasing team. Now we’re able to send forms to our retail locations, see the data in real time, and get a quick update on what’s selling and what’s not across the entire company. We’ll keep our existing Microsoft Office licenses, but we won’t upgrade them. Google Docs is intuitive for our users and allows us to collaborate in ways just not possible with Microsoft Office.

Similar efficiencies are being gained in IT, where instead of managing VPNs, Google Apps lets us make information accessible to anyone – all managed through a secure log-in. With Google Apps, we’re keeping our technical support team in-house to a minimum. We have fewer people in IT dealing with email since there are no longer storage issues, server maintenance and space constraints. We’re also starting to use Google Sites so that various divisions can get corporate news and share best practices, without support from IT.

We’re very happy that we no longer have to worry about dedicating IT resources to supporting Exchange, SharePoint, or Office. The bottom line is that our employees are more productive and we expect to save hundreds of thousands of dollars with Google Apps.