About a year ago, IT execs at Colony Bank were reevaluating the Fitzgerald, Ga.-based bank's email platform. At the time, the bank with 29 branches (including its headquarters) was using an Outlook desktop client to access an Ipswitch Imail Server, technology designed for smaller companies.

"It was time to go with [Microsoft] Exchange or look at other opportunities," recalls Jim Jowers, senior technology officer at the $1.2 billion assets bank. "We didn't want to have two in-house servers to maintain."

To move to Microsoft Exchange and add an additional server would have cost the bank roughly $80,000 per year for hardware and software. "We decided that outsourcing, or going to the cloud, was the right option," says Jowers. "We didn't want to have two in-house servers to maintain."

As it researched which provider to use, the bank's network administrator David Sheffield recommended Google Apps for Business, a cloud-based productivity suite, as an option.

Colony Bank listened.

The bank converted its roughly 330 employees to Google Apps — which lets staff to do daily tasks like email, calendar and chat — during the second quarter of 2012. In doing so, Colony Bank has become one of the earlier bank entrants to deploy Google Apps for Business. Its migration hints at a slow, but growing trend of banks going to the cloud for email service and other productivity tools as a way to offset costs, among other reasons. Office 365, a cloud-based email service from Microsoft Corp., competes with Google Apps.

During Colony Bank's migration to Google Apps, training took top priority. "It's a completely different look from Outlook," Greg Judy, IT network manager, tells BTN. "Walking through the upfront training and strong communication was key in rolling out the apps."

Colony Bank chose to train staff on Google Apps branch by branch, making sure to appoint one person as the Google guide at each physical location in an effort to prevent the IT department from getting flooded with questions. "A lot of users were familiar with the interface because they already used Gmail," says Judy. "We worked through any issues they had. …It turned out not to be a problem once they adopted it."

Since going Google, Colony Bank has realized a number of benefits beyond eliminating the need to maintain and manage email servers. Among them? Productivity gains from Google App's collaboration tools and strong search capabilities, says Judy. Another one: no longer needing to worry about disaster recovery or storage of email.

Employees have naturally gravitated toward using the tool for daily workflow tasks. "Google Docs is adding more and more benefit in the way we collaborate with spreadsheets and helping people become more productive," says Judy.

The IT team, for example, runs Docs on their iPads during meetings to take notes, a behavior change that has cut down on paper printouts.

Cloud Sherpas, a migration and training consultancy, helped Colony Bank convert to Google Apps for Business. The company also trained the Google guides at each branch location and Colony Bank's IT team.

Why the need for coaching? "Each and every user is getting a new experience," says David Hoff, senior vice president of technology at Cloud Sherpas. "For those having 20+ years of comfort using non-Google email services, that usually requires training."

Google Apps' basic pricing is $50 a user a year, says Hoff.

Cloud Sherpas has migrated 20 local banks to Google Apps.