Now that Microsoft has finally embraced cloud computing and taken a version of its flagship Office suite online, pundits have started to question whether Google “has what it takes” to compete in the business world.
Now I have a vested interest in this topic – my company Appirio is one of Google’s partners. It’s that experience working with Google’s largest enterprise implementations that gives us some amount of insight into how Google operates that I wanted to share with this community-here are five reasons I think Google is more than ready for business:
1. Google does indeed know business
When I hear people talk about how Google doesn’t “know” how business works and isn’t “ready” to sell to businesses, I ask them to estimate how much of this “consumer” internet company’s revenue comes from selling to businesses.
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The answer? Nearly 100 per cent, of course. Google’s main source of revenue is advertising, which is sold to businesses. I won’t argue that selling to the marketing department is the same as selling to IT, but it’s useful to remember that contracts, legal terms, IP rights, and purchasing processes aren’t new concepts to Google-they’re at the core of Google’s business today.
2. Google is used to focusing on users, not pandering to buyers
The biggest difference between advertising and IT? Advertising is nothing without an audience. Google’s business depends on putting their users first, and delivering a portfolio of services that attract an audience too big NOT to target with advertising.
IT vendors, on the other hand, have never had the reputation of putting users first. Why should they? Users don’t pay their bills, CIOs do. Traditional vendors have never worried too much about whether the end users actually enjoyed using their ERP system or not (hint: they don’t).
In a slow-moving, static business, IT’s “stick” might be powerful enough to make user preferences irrelevant. But when the pace of change accelerates, people will use the tools they need and they’re comfortable with in order to get their job done. That’s a real problem when those tools don’t match your company’s security or compliance requirements… [Next Page]
3. Google is used to top-class security and availability
Between personal photos, personal email, personal search/browsing history, and personal credit card information, it’s a fair bet that Google already deals with more confidential information than most of the Global 2000. Google literally does security for a living. They’ve invested billions in security at every layer of their cloud stack– physical infrastructure, network infrastructure, and application security.
Plus, Google’s’ security investment dollar goes further than most as a result of simple economies of scale across their consumer and lines of business. From a recent European Network and Information Security Agency cloud computing risk study… “The same amount of investment in security buys better protection [in the cloud]. This includes all kinds of defensive measures such as filtering, patch management, hardening of virtual machine instances and hypervisors, etc. Other benefits of scale include: multiple locations, edge networks (content delivered or processed closer to its destination), timeliness of response, to incidents, and threat management.”
It’s the same reason you trust your money to a bank who has more expertise, resources, insurance, and reach than you do, a controversial analogy I made a couple of weeks ago. It may make you feel better to put your money under your mattress, but there’s a reason why banks are in business.
For the vast majority of companies where IT security isn’t a core competency, working Google actually strengthens the security of their data, and allows them to focus on the core aspects of their business. Genentech (no slouch itself when it comes to security), said at Google I/O: “Google meets and in many cases exceeds the security we provide internally.” In fact, Google’s one of the few companies that can go up against entire nation-states when it comes to security (see: China).
4. Google knows how we work is changing
All of this would be moot if everyone was convinced Microsoft had already solved the personal productivity problem. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. Confronted with overflowing in-boxes and locked-down, dysfunctional Sharepoint portals, many employees feel that prevalent Microsoft technology actually inhibits communication and collaboration instead of enabling it.
Look at how dramatically our personal communication has changed over the last 10 years, and compare that to what’s happened at the office. Does anyone think that traditional, Outlook-style email is going to be the dominant form of communication over the next decade?
Google certainly doesn’t. They’ve made a broad set of bets on how people will work over the next decade, some small (e.g., messaging threading & tags in email), some large (e.g., realtime document editing and video chat), and some revolutionary (e.g., Google Buzz and Wave). Now Google is turning Apps into an extensible platform for the partner ecosystem, allowing Google to be the front-end to all the applications in your business (see a demo of how this works here)… [Next Page]
Which of these bets will succeed? Nobody knows. But it’s a safe bet that Google will solve these challenges before the company whose most memorable contribution to productivity is “Clippy.”
Even if the boomers are slow to adopt these new ways of collaborating (and they’re not slow-look at Facebook adoption rates for this age group), we’re seeing a new generation of office workers for whom traditional business communication tools seem quaint and ineffective.
5. Google benefits from a single, multi-tenant instance
One secret behind Google’s ability to innovate so rapidly is multi-tenant architecture. This means that Google can continuously roll out improvements as they are developed, for a ever-improving solution that doesn’t require massive upgrades or the type of user training that comes with a brand new version of Office. And Google can learn from how people use the service as they use it, so they know instantly what’s working and what’s not.
Microsoft also benefits from this approach with Azure, their impressive new cloud platform (even the recently announced “Azure in a box” will be a logical single instance for exactly the reason above). But their cloud applications are saddled with the baggage of having on-premise cousins — this is the fundamental flaw of Microsoft’s software + services approach for apps. Upgrades and patches are so painful that Microsoft’s core customer base doesn’t actually want to see ANY innovation from Microsoft’s collaboration tools more than once every 3 years. This means that all of Microsoft’s applications are on a fundamentally slower innovation curve than Google’s.
So will Google win?
Putting all this together, do these five things mean that Google will succeed at winning over the business market? Not necessarily — their progress has been impressive to-date in the mid-market, but going head-to-head against Microsoft in their home turf of IT is bound to be a tough battle. Microsoft is sure to do anything to avoid losing its largest enterprise customers to Google.
But Google is in this for the long haul — make no mistake that Google’s mission of “organizing the world’s information” includes penetrating the enterprise where a good share of the world’s information is created and stored.
The message here is that the battle has just begun. Microsoft has maintained a ruthless grip on the productivity market for decades thanks to its cash cow of Windows. Now they may have met their match thanks to an even more powerful cash cow– Google’s advertising business. And the more these titans duke it out, the more enterprise customers win.
Ryan Nichols is the Vice President of Cloudsourcing and Cloud Strategy for Appirio.