Last week's news from Google I/O, about updates to Google Maps, a new streaming music service and smarter search, muffled not only a creepy vibe from Google Glass wearers, but also a faint whisper of Google's continued attempt to impress its hegemony on the enterprise. And a surprising new strategy seems to be emerging around Google+, the company's still-shapeless social media platform.
Google Enterprise's president, Amit Singh, blogged a roundup of enterprise news, pointing to several cloud announcements, including the general public availability of Google Cloud Engine and the company's attempt to compete with Amazon Web Services, as well as added support for PHP in Google App Engine and the introduction of a NoSQL cloud database. Some of those moves were expected. And while Google is a long way from challenging Amazon's formidable cloud offerings, a showdown is looming.
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Yet there are still those, including my colleague Charles Babcock, who doubt that Google's cloud offerings will appeal to enterprise customers any time soon. Babcock wrote:
Free Google Apps ended without warning in December, and now many enterprises understand Google's commitment to products is tentative and dependent on their revenue streams, not so different from everyone else. What's Compute Engine's revenue stream going to be two years from now?
Google's enterprise blog combined a few other announcements, such as APIs for building tools to manage Google App administration (user controls and policies across devices), Google Play for Education, and the ability to send money from Google Wallet using Gmail. None of those announcements sparked my interest as much as where the company is taking Google+. Some users will debate the new multi-column user interface, and some developers might like the added ability to use Google+ for application sign in. But this Google statement about Google+ enterprise APIs caught my eye: "Developers will soon be able to auto-provision Circles, read/write posts, and more from the new APIs."
In other words, Google+ is becoming a way to share content and applications inside companies, and it also serves as a user provisioning system, likely tied to directory services. An easy example: A department could create a Circle for itself, and new users automatically get provisioned into the Circle. But I could also envision a scenario whereby users create projects or share spreadsheets within that departmental Circle, or even with specific users within that Circle. There's not much information on this development just yet, so it's unclear whether it would apply only to apps written within the Google ecosystem (say, Google Apps or Google Drive-enabled applications).
But for developers to exploit these APIs, there must be users. And for users to move to Google+, there must be compelling reasons. So far, Google hasn't made Google+ an attractive place to post, share and discover content. The new version of Google+ unveiled last week attempts to make it so, and in my own recent experience with the new version, it's becoming pretty compelling.
During a session about Google+ at the I/O event, one attendee asked a panel of product managers whether Google is attempting to give enterprises an alternative to Yammer. Unfortunately, the panel members never really answered the question, but I will ask it again of Singh during our chat at E2, because if you can use a social network as both your personal and professional tool of choice, and access it through applications you use every day, it could become a formidable alternative to existing social platforms. The caveat: Just as critics are questioning whether Google Compute Engine is too late to the party, one could ask whether Google+ is as well.
The question for me isn't whether Google is too late, but whether it's serious enough about catering to enterprise customers. Most of Google's enterprise strategy can be summed up thusly: Take an existing, successful consumer product and see if it sticks in the enterprise. It's difficult to find a Google product that began life solely for the enterprise.
Google still has to prove its mettle with CIOs. Late last year, when two of Google's enterprise honchos spoke at the InformationWeek 500 Conference, they elicited some contrasting opinions from audience members. One CIO wrote the following after the session:
Consumer products such as Hangouts do little to address the network load implications and the change management required to truly engage an entire organization in videoconferencing. I could ignore the cultural reality and blame those who don't "get it" for resisting change, but marginalizing employees has ugly consequences. Google, you have some great products. You have market share, cash and the ability to innovate. You also have the opportunity to change the world in many other ways, but it will take some adjustment in thinking and approach to conquer the enterprise. An attitude adjustment wouldn't be a bad start.
But another attendee, CIO Jonathan Feldman, saw things a little differently:
I think Google has some work to do to be adopted in the enterprise, but it's not about the five-year roadmap or fashioning Google into a Big Enterprise Software Company. Google has work to do, for sure, but simultaneously, IT leadership has work to do, and lessons to unlearn as well. It's about playing from a new IT rulebook, but it's even bigger than that: There's a new business playbook to be learned. There are lessons about agility, stopping the overplanning (guessing) processes in our organizations, being constantly in beta, and aiming for less perfection. As IT and business leaders, we need to be on board with that if we want to continue to help our organizations succeed.
My discussions with Google during the past year reveal a company that wants to be a legitimate enterprise provider. It is listening and making interesting moves. Hopefully, Amit Singh, who spent a couple of decades at Oracle, will reveal more next month on stage at E2, giving enterprise decision-makers more confidence in Google's direction.
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