Making Google Apps work for you: Domain wide customization with *your* Google Add-ons

Google Apps for Work is the most popular office suites solutions for the highest valued startups.  According to product analysis site Siftery 39 of 50 unicorn startups, almost 80%, are using Google Apps as primary platform for email, calendar, storage and more. As well as some of the biggest tech firms Google announced in October 2015 that 50 million students and educators are actively using Google Apps for Education.

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Whether you be a startup, in education or any another business trying to get your job done, making Google Apps work for you is a key challenge. We all have our processes that need to be operationalized and ideally integrated into our workflows. While Google Apps benefits from an ever increasing features list but at the end of the day there will come a point where despite how loud you shout Google will never implement the feature you need. This is where Google Apps Script can really make Google Apps work for you. Google Apps Script allows you easily extend the functionality of Google Sheets, Documents and Forms, creating your own interfaces, integrating with other Google and third party services, making Google Apps work for you.

Hello Add-ons

Having seen Google Apps Script develop over the last 7 years one of the key challenges was distributing custom scripts for others to use in your domain. In 2014 Google released add-ons, a way for developers to package and distribute custom functionality that can be added to your Google Sheets, Documents or Forms through the Google Apps Marketplace or the Add-ons store.

There are a couple of key features of add-ons that are regularly overlooked:

  • Publish add-ons for your domain only – not all add-ons have to be for the world’s eyes. You can publish and maintain add-ons just for your domain.
  • Domain only add-ons do not require approval from Google – Google Add-ons published to the store are all reviewed by Google, which can take time. If you are publishing add-ons just for your domain approval is not required and you can publish in a matter of minutes.
  • Add-ons  for your domain can be pre-install and pre-authorize – usually add-ons selected and installed by the user. Within a Google Apps domain you can pre-install add-ons without the user having to do anything

The bottom line in a couple of minutes you can create and push new functionality to your Google Apps domain.  A great way to get a sense of what’s possible in Google Sheets is to check out the Add-ons store.

Doing Add-ons

If you are interested in findings out more about creating and publishing add-ons this is well documented on the Google Developer site. Here’s my annotated crib of the pages you need for publishing an add-on to your domain:

  1. Overview of Add-ons – If you are not familiar with Google Add-ons there is some important info you need to read first (data is an interest of mine so here’s a nice Google Add-on template for importing data into Sheets)
  2. Publishing Add-ons for Domain-Wide Installation – so this looks like a daunting list of
  3. things to do but if you follow the instructions it’s a relatively straight forward processes. One way to shortcut this is publish a single add-on and keep adding/updating it rather than going through the publication process (there will of course be instances where it is more advisable to separate out your custom functionality into separate add-ons
  4. Deploying Add-ons to users – there are a couple of configurations you can choose which let you either just install your add-on and/or let users install other add-ons.

So if you work in a Google Apps domain I think you should seriously be thinking about how you can supercharge Google Docs, Sheets and Forms with add-ons. If you are already using Google Add-ons in your domain why not leave a note in the comment to help inspire others :)

Update:  I should have also said if you are interested in developing Add-ons you should check out the Developing add-ons for Google Docs/Sheet/Forms G+ Community

[Credit to Ivan Kutil for the opening paragraph, a version of which appearing in his Integrate Google Apps and Slack with Google Apps Scripts (Incoming Webhooks)]