Thursday, June 19, 2014

How Google Apps for Business Turned Cobblestone Into an Even More Efficient HR Machine

Employing client-tailored solutions that are unique in a crowded marketplace, Cobblestone Human Capital is a recruitment and HR optimization firm trusted by some of Canada’s top employers, Fortune 500 multinationals and companies across North America and in Europe. Empowering clients with tools, knowledge, experience and support, Cobblestone ( drives the success of diverse organizations by helping them to recruit top talent and efficiently manage their human resources at a fraction of the cost of traditional solutions.


Information Technology (IT) is a critical part of what they do.

Being highly experienced, knowledgeable experts, Cobblestone’s employees operate independently and remotely, yet still function as a team to deliver the various components of any HR mandate. Keeping a widely dispersed staff continually in the loop demands both real-time access to information and easy contact with each other.

The Dark Ages

Unfortunately, this demand was increasingly not being met. As Cobblestone’s business grew, so too did the strain on their antiquated backend systems.

The company’s technology was old school. Server-based applications, individual user licenses, constant IT fixes: not a cloud in sight.

Specifically, managing client information was a chore. The team accessed their CRM via virtual private network (VPN), which led to constant delays and lost time. Giant headaches were the norm, usually caused by repeated banging of heads to walls. It was such a hassle accessing the shared server that staff sometimes didn’t enter key information in a timely fashion. As you can imagine, for a client-focused business like Cobblestone, incomplete or inaccurate CRM is deadly.

Furthermore, the CRM required individual licenses specific to each employee’s operating system. Not only was this costly, it required constant IT supervision. Not a week would go by without a service call from an IT specialist to fix the latest glitch.

And nothing talked with anything else. Client management, invoicing and accounting, all handled by standalone apps, sat in separate silos. So huge amounts of time were wasted shifting between each system and trying to ensure consistency across them.

IT had become a constant distraction. It was affecting business relationships and the bottom line. Staff were fed up with inefficiencies that were making business and project administration more challenging than it needed to be. Something had to give.

The Clouds Part

Being an HR shop, Cobblestone’s leaders listened to their team. They recognized that growing the business while continuing to deliver maximum value to clients warranted a complete rethink of their IT systems.

Cobblestone expertise lies in HR & recruitment, not IT. Of course, its people have a firm grasp of the technologies that can power an effective backend. But when it comes to implementing specific solutions, they knew it was critical to turn to outside experts.

Enter Blair Collins at His task was to pick up where Sheepdog (a cloud computing consultant) left off. He worked to help Cobblestone redesign their IT systems, with a goal to streamline all their processes, from CRM to communications, to invoicing and accounting.

Blair worked with Cobblestone to build on the foundations of Google Apps for Business deployed by SheepDog. This provided the platform through which various applications now connect and work seamlessly together. He also made informed recommendations on which third-party apps to consider for managing sales prospects, billing clients and keeping track of finances.

Thanks to Blair’s good work and sage advice, Cobblestone’s operations now hum along nicely:

  • Team members connect through conference calls within Google Hangouts.
  • Incoming calls, including those to the toll-free number, are routed through a VoIP system.
  • And through API connections and single sign-on, Cobblestone’s Google Apps link to its other cloud-based applications: Solve360 for CRM; Freshbooks for invoicing; Xero for accounting; and Compas for ATS.
  • A change made in one application is immediately communicated to and reflected in other relevant apps. So for example when a client pays an invoice, the CRM and accounting data gets updated accordingly, and notifications get sent via email to the right team members.

Critically, the ancient server got the boot. Everything has moved to the cloud, ensuring that information is accessible in real-time, wherever and whenever needed.

And just as importantly, costs have dropped significantly. It’s less expensive to use Google Apps and other solutions than the old system. And with the efficiencies made possible by the change, team members spend less time managing information and more time on servicing clients. Cobblestone can in turn pass savings on to clients, who benefit from rates up to fifty percent below the competition’s.

All in all, these changes have given Cobblestone the edge it needs to focus on delivering HR and Recruitment value to clients.

Case Study in Google Doc format

Friday, June 13, 2014

Customer case study: Google Apps and Xero work together to drive efficiency

At, we're Google Apps Resellers with a CPA on staff who noticed that there was a distinct lack of integration between accounting software (specifically Xero) and the wonderful collaborative features built in to Google Spreadsheets. We wondered if there was a way to maybe get the two to work together...

We built our powerful Xero reporting engine called Blink Reports to give users a faster and easier way to produce financial spreadsheets and reports from their accounting data. What we've learned along the way is that we can do so much more with the new Google Spreadsheets and Xero than we ever imagined was possible.

TargetCW is a leading provider of contingent workforce services across the US and overseas. Their corporate Kaizen philosophy of continuous improvement applies to their accounting and financial processes too. Xero recommended that Ryan Anning at TargetCW test out our Blink Reports for Xero reporting engine to overcome the limited number of columns that are normally shown on the profit and loss statement. Ryan's goal was to produce a revenue and cost analysis by worker which requires a report with more than a few hundred columns! It turned out that his need was so unique that initially our Blink Reports engine would produce an error due to waiting too long to receive the data from Xero.

On a standard profit/loss report, it's unlikely that you'd need such a wide spreadsheet, and indeed Google Sheets has traditionally had a 256 column limit. Thankfully, with the new version of Google Sheets (now the default), this limit and a number of others no longer exist. Need to generate a huge 100% cloud-based spreadsheet, with up to 2 million cells and the share it securely in real time with others? Not a problem. Google Sheets will do it for you right from within your web browser.

The technical side of how we fixed Ryan's challenge is quite clever, but we won't go into too much detail here. Mainly, we're using Google App Engine to handle all the hard work between the user's Google Spreadsheet and their Xero accounting data. Due to the flexibility of Google App Engine we were able to adapt our code, test it live without impacting existing Blink Reports users, and then make it the production version with zero downtime.

The solution means that Ryan can now generate large reports like the one you see below (click to enlarge). Note the columns stretch all the way to KJ—representing nearly double the original column limit—and it will continue growing as needed.

Xero's built-in reporting engine has good functionality, but when you need to analyze the data in a spreadsheet you're forced to export the report to Excel or Google Sheets format. This leads to static financial data that becomes quickly out of date. To put it bluntly, Xero simply cannot generate reports to rival what we can do on the Google Cloud Platform with Google Sheets.

With Google Spreadsheets and Blink Reports, all of a sudden you can review this month's revenue and expenses by worker, then change two date fields and see a different month (or even year) for comparison.

Offloading the pain of financial reporting to Blink Reports from means that Ryan at TargetCW can now work more quickly through his finances and focus on the things that matter: generating business instead of generating spreadsheets.