CloudSherpas is a systems integrator and application developer that almost exclusively deals with Google Apps (they’re a high performing Google Apps Partner having moved over 80000 users to Google Apps to date). I spent a bit of time talking to CloudSherpas CEO Michael Cohn about life as a reseller in a cloudy world. This was especially interesting to me given my piece recently abut NetSuite’s new channel strategy.

CloudSherpas are in the lucky position of having built their business based on reselling cloud products – for that reason they are used to a recurring revenue model without the large initial revenue spikes – Cohn agreed that moving to selling cloud products for traditional VARs is difficult.

I also talked to Chon about how much risk he sees with their being entirely dependant on Google – a move by Google to own its own channel would be disastrous for downstream resellers. Cohn was pretty relaxed, rightl pointing out that to sell into enterprise, a presence on the ground is an imperative – he also pointed out that this is a very different situation than with SMB customers where self-provisioning is entirely viable.

In their time spent implementing Google apps for enterprise users, SherpaTools has heard recurring pain points for users – these pain points have often been around administrator’s abilities (or lack thereof) of having both fine grained and widespread control over specific parts of their Google Apps user base. This encouraged CloudSherpas to develop their own application to enhance functionality for both administrators and end-users. SherpaTools is a simple add-on to Google apps and, relying as it does on Google’s own APIs and OpenID, it is a seamless process to initiate – users don’t need to create an account or remember a new password — they simply log in with their existing Google Apps credentials.

So what does SherpaTools do?

SherpaTools-dm-upThe Directory Manager module provides administrators with an interface for creating, retrieving, updating and deleting rich profile information for end users, shared contacts and groups.  It also provides the ability to import and export contact information in bulk.  Without SherpaTools admins would have to write custom code to manipulate these fields or sync Google Apps with a back-end LDAP server.

SherpaTools enables the automation of Multiple Domain Setup. For example, a company that has a number of unique domain names associated with its business would previously have had to instruct its employees on how to set up their Gmail accounts to send mail from those individual domains.  SherpaTools enables admins to push a variety of end-user specified settings to admin-defined portions of their user-base.  Settings include “Send Mail As,” “Language,” and “Time zone.”  More end-user settings will be added over time.

SherpaTools also offers Instant Messaging-based capabilities to end users.  Line-of-business staff can use SherpaTools to retrieve corporate directory information via any Google Talk client, including mobile devices.  This is important since most end users only have access to their personal address book from a mobile device, not the entire corporate directory.  Within SherpaTools’ Directory Bot module, end users can access the entire corporate directory, including end-user profiles and shared contacts, all via instant message.

I put it to Cohn that the sort of tools that SherpaTools is offering are ones that Google could be expected to build for themselves. He admitted that this is a distinct possibility but pointed out that their customers need these features NOW, and hinted that providing these tools is an opportunity to get their toe in the door and differentiate themselves from other resellers.

All in all I like the SherpaTools approach – it’s quick and easy, brings much needed features and is free – a win all around.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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