Google Apps are among the most successful tools ever developed for business, currently used by more than four million companies worldwide. Gmail serves 450 million users, Android is the most popular mobile OS on the planet, and Google’s search engine has a 90 percent share of the market in the UK.
But the search giant’s aspirations don’t stop there. Consumerisation of IT has disrupted the traditional business models, and Google’s Enterprise arm wants to help everyone, from self-employed individuals to large corporations, adapt to the new market conditions.
We met Thomas Davies, head of Google Enterprise in the UK and Ireland, to find how Google is adding depth to its product portfolio.
Enterprise is one of the five core brands at Google, the other four being advertising, search, Chrome and Android, explained Davies. The Enterprise department is further divided into three distinctive fields.
A different part of the Enterprise department deals with geospatial products: Google Maps, Google Earth and the brand new Google Coordinate – the company’s first geo app to provide not just asset tracking, but the workflow management too.
Finally, there’s Google’s Software-as-a-Service offering (SaaS), or Apps for business. All of these services are supported by Google’s devices – Chrome OS and Android-based smartphones, tablets and ultrabooks that are geared towards enterprise as much as they are towards the consumer market.
So why should businesses use Google services? “The landscape has changed in the last 12-18 months, and it’s not a subtle shift,” explains Davies. “What our customers tell us is that there are four trends in the market – cloud computing, social, mobile and big data. And they are desperate to take advantage of these trends. The problem is they have 30 years of complex legacy IT, and they think: ‘How can I make a three-year roadmap with this?’
If at first, Google Apps were seen just as a way to cut costs in a tough economic climate, now CEOs turn to them as a way to actually improve their business and ‘be more like Google’, he says.
“Today’s CEO is saying: ‘Taking 50 percent off TCO [Total Cost of Ownership] doesn’t change my share price. What I need is an organic way to change the way we work, to drive competition,” says Davies.
“Google’s competitive currency is the ability to innovate. With all of these trends, a lot of our discussions revolve around business enablement and transformation. TCO is still important, but what we are looking to do is change how companies are operating.
“We are very good at this, because here at Google we use the same tools, the same software, same devices and platforms – Android and Chromebooks,” he adds.
To illustrate this point, Davies brings up Google’s cloud services. “We are really good at storage, since we build our own servers. We also have our own App engine. But the piece that was missing, and which we now added, is something we have used internally for many years – Big Query.”
Big Query is Google’s own cloud-based Big Data analytics platform, publicly launched in March. It works in conjunction with Google Storage and features a number of proprietary mechanisms. The service has been tested for 18 months, and is targeted at SMBs as well as the large companies.
“Rather than having ‘data warehousing’, when your executive board says ‘I’d like to have these 30 reports in a ring binder given to me the day before the board meeting’, we can offer real-time analysis of customer behaviour,” explains Davies.
“It’s not a ‘me too’ play on cloud services. We have Oracle and SQL products in our data centres, but this is our technology, our APIs and our business logic, which we now license.”
Another product missing from Google’s portfolio was physical infrastructure. At least before Larry Page announced the Google Compute Engine back in June, to rival the likes of Amazon and Salesforce. What it offers is literally the same hardware that the company’s own products are based on.
With this IaaS offering, customers can spin up half a million servers in a matter of minutes, and scale down again after the project is finished. “The economies of scale really work here,” says Davies. The service is currently in Beta, and it’s something the company is investing in “very heavily”.
“Most CIOs that I sit down with want to run SaaS [Google Apps] on any operating system, on any device, on any browser,” says Davies. The company has pretty much achieved this with its cloud app platform, and is ‘very committed’ to creating native applications that run as well on iOS as they do on Android.
However, that doesn’t stop Google from designing other devices that it thinks would be the perfect fit for business needs. “What we really want to do is shrink the TCO. A traditional PC is hugely complex and open to vulnerabilities, which often cost money. What we have done with Chromebooks is take all the insides of a PC, securely put them into the cloud and offer access through a browser. There’s literally no physical data on a Chromebook, and it boots in under 10 seconds,” explains Davies.
“Think about the future – why do you need to carry around these heavy laptops? You can go to the office in the morning, swipe a card, take a Chromebook, do your work, return the Chromebook and go home. It’s like a vending machine.”
Davies is optimistic about the Chromebook rental programme, recently launched in the US: “We believe in simplicity and global frameworks. We will look very carefully at anything that starts in the US.”
Returning to Apps, Davies explains why the SaaS platform remains the cornerstone of Google’s business offering. “We are at an absolutely pivotal time in enterprise IT. For the last 20 years, you had to go to work to get the best tools. Now, we find ways to bring supercomputers in our browser to work.” According to Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt, this is not so much ‘consumerisation’ as ‘democratisation’ of IT.
“We believe that an individual, SMB and large enterprise should all have the same access to technology. A lot of current growth is coming not out of traditional FTSE 100’s, but from entrepreneurs. We are very excited by that,” says Davies.
“One of the reasons we were able to get through the recent economic turmoil is we don’t focus on our top 50 accounts. Education for us is huge – 67 percent of universities in the US are using Google Apps. This notion of having a ‘long tail’, where we monetise different levels of the market, means natural cycles of economics don’t hit us in one go.”
“Our intention is to provide people with a completely immersive, real-time collaborative environment to work any place, any time and in any language. In three year’s time, I don’t see the companies having a digital strategy and an enterprise strategy. I think they will become one,” concludes the Google executive.
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