Google searches for enterprise App Suite users

Early enterprise adopters of Google Apps Premium Edition will face a choice: get their IT departments to customize the product to meet their needs, or work with third parties who hope to ride the search firm’s coattails.

Google on Thursday announced a version of its online hosted productivity tools that will be available for an annual US$50 subscription fee per user. The suite includes Google Docs, Spreadsheets, Calendar and Gmail, among other programs. While free versions of the applications have been supported by online ads, the subscription to the enterprise version comes ad-free with additional customer support. It also includes access to application programming interfaces (APIs) for the programs that can be used to integrate them with other systems.

A customer might want to link the Google Talk instant messaging software, for example, with a unified communications suite. The APIs would allow IT departments to go under the hood of Google Apps and handle the mechanics of that by themselves.

“The term out of the box doesn’t really apply to a hosted service, but we believe the product is simple yet powerful enough that many users can use it straight out of the gate,” said Kevin Smith, head of Google’s enterprise partnerships. “In the enterprise, however, there are organizations with additional requirements. The APIs allow them to create an extension or enhancements to the product.”

The other option is to work with companies that have already created versions of their products that will work directly with Google Apps. These include Avaya, which is offering a unified communications-Google Talk integration, and Postini, which is offering an e-mail gateway and compliance software to work with Gmail.

In Canada, Vancouver-based Sxip Identity said its Sxip Access product could handle identity management, including single sign-on capabilities, the ability to create, modify or revoke user access to Google applications and integration with corporate directories. Sxip has had a similar arrangement with hosted CRM provider since 2005.

“It lets them launch very, very quickly,” said Michael DeSandoli, Sxip’s vice-president of operations. “For a lot of companies, it’s not worth the hassle to take the APIs and do it themselves.”

Although Google has set up relationships with a number of partners, Smith said customers of Apps Premium Edition are also free to use the APIs as they see fit.

“If you went to Sxip you’d have a pre-built solution. Nothing else needs to be built,” he said. “If you’re an organization that prefers to do it all in-house or if you have a different external organization in mind, that’s certainly possible.”

Gerry Gable, an analyst with the Burton Group based out of Park City, Utah, said the decision to tweak internally or move outside would depend on how much enterprises might save in licensing or admin costs. This is assuming they move to Google Apps Premium Edition at all, though.

“You could have a corporate-level decision to switch from the Microsoft suite to this outsourced thing,” he said. “If the company operates as a group of independent business units, it might start there.”

Smith agreed, adding that Google is expecting what he called a “measured conversion” from other products. This could include keeping the 20 per cent of an organization’s “power users” on an existing platform and moving the rest to Google, or offering the Google apps to contract and seasonal workers.

“I don’t’ think we have the expectation that this is going to replace every system out there,” he said.

Google is also working with a number of services partners as well. DecisionOne, for example, said it would be offering help to clients that want assistance with conversion strategies.

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