Google offers free apps to counter Office 365 popularity

Google has begun a new Canadian push for its business-focused applications, offering free access to businesses north of the border. The cloud giant is giving Canadian businesses a free offer to try Google for Work, rebranded from Google Enterprise last year. The offer is being simultaneously run in the U.S. But should companies participate?

Google for Work is a set of solutions designed for businesses, encompassing its Google Apps suite along with business-focused versions of its other offerings, such as Maps and Chrome. It also features access to the Google Cloud Platform for companies that want to roll out their own applications, and Google Android for Work, which allows them to manage workers’ mobile devices.

The emphasis is on easier centralized deployment and management for larger groups of users with the Google Admin feature, which lets administrators add and group users and manage mobile devices.

The company is courting Canadian businesses that have existing enterprise agreements with other vendors. They can use Google Apps for free until their existing agreement ends, and Google will also cover some of the setup cost with a Google for Work Partner.

Its boost to attract businesses was complemented by Centrify, which offers third-party identity management services. This week, the company announced a single sign-on solution for a raft of Google business services. It rolled out integrated identity and mobile management for Google’s Android for Work initiative, and identity management for Chromebooks.

Ground to cover

Google certainly has some ground to make up in the battle for business users, data suggests. In August cloud access security broker BitGlass, which provides cloud security brokerage services, analyzed its data from almost 120,000 companies globally, and found that Google had grown its market share from 16.3 per cent in 2014 to 22.8 per cent in 2015.

Microsoft Office 365 adoption had surged ahead of Google Apps, though. Redmond tripled its adoption from 7.7 per cent in 2014 to 25.2 per cent in 2015, surpassing Google’s adoption rate for the first time.

Centrify’s offering might help expand Google for Work’s presence among businesses. The Android for Work support enabled companies to support BYOD Android devices in the workplace, the company said, letting companies tie device context and user identity into IT policies, so that users only get access to authorized applications.

The SSO for Chromebooks announcement lets IT departments use Active Directory or LDAP to manage credentials on Chromebooks across the enterprise, eliminating the need to synchronize login details to Google. It also provides multi-factor authentication for added security.

The Bitglass data showed a lack of appetite for SSO in the Google space, though. Just four per cent of North American companies used it. Comparatively, 22 per cent of Office 365 users have some form of SSO in place here.

The lack of SSO among the Google Apps user base reflects its market demographic, though. While Google leads slightly in the smaller, privately-owned business market, Microsoft does particularly well among businesses with more than 500 employees, over a third of which chose Office 365. Barely more than one in five of them were Google enterprise app users.

Microsoft’s strong traditional presence in the enterprise space undoubtedly helps it here. As more services like Centrify appear targeting Google for Work, they may begin to expand its market further into larger enterprises.

Centrify is also hoping to fold Google Apps more tightly into the enterprise workplace by letting IT administrators place users into different groups. They can then provision different sets of features to those groups, enabling them to manage multiple sets of users at a time.

Should companies adopt Google for Work? The benefits are certainly there. In June, Forrester conducted an economic impact analysis on Google Apps for Work, using a fictional organization composed of multiple real ones. The example firm in the report, which had 10,000 employees, made a 304 per cent ROI over three years, harvesting $8 million in collaboration efficiencies.

This all sounds attractive, but the report didn’t examine competitive services like Office 365. Companies may make similar savings with other cloud-based productivity solutions.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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