Google's CIO Dilemma

CIOs are torn between wanting to back a company that represents the future and needing predictability. Google execs must now ask CIOs the right questions--and be prepared for stubborn answers.

Fritz Nelson, Vice President, Editorial Director InformationWeek Business Technology Network

October 16, 2012

7 Min Read

Google thinks that it could earn $10 billion in enterprise revenue some day. Michael Lock, Google Enterprise VP, speaking at the InformationWeek 500 conference along with Clay Bavor, Google Enterprise head of product management, said that there are 5 million businesses on Google Apps, and 40 million users. (You can watch the entire discussion in the video embedded at the end of this article.)

But Lock and Bavor also said that almost every part of Google's enterprise business will simply follow the company's success in the consumer space. The enterprise business, Lock said, will "stand on the shoulders of the giants at Google." The strategy, he said, is to "bring the consumer goodness to the enterprise."

For CIOs, this must be a difficult dilemma. On the one hand, Google represents the future. Its products--from Gmail to real-time collaborative apps to Google Drive to Android--are the embodiment of the consumerization of IT era. CIOs dismiss Google at their own peril.

The typical customer Google wins is sometimes simply making a statement about how that company aims to do things differently, Lock asserted. It signifies an internal cultural shift, Bavor added. "When I talk to CIOs about products, they ask about Google Glass, about self-driving cars . . . there is almost this philosophical approach: I want to transform the way my employees think, to be more collaborative."

In many environments, Google comes to stand for something that's new and fresh and different.

On the other hand, Google has to come to terms with an enterprise mentality that demands a strategy, a roadmap, a commitment to some measure of predictability. Lock admitted that changing the perception of Google as "the search company" is hard. I pointed out the perception among many CIOs that the enterprise seems often to be an afterthought at Google, challenging Lock and Bavor to name a Google product that started out life as enterprise only. Bavor named Google Vault, an archival and e-discovery system.

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No, I hadn't really heard of it either. But to be fair, there is also Google App Engine and Google Compute Engine. Bavor also said that when Google first began working on Google +, the company's management team saw Hangouts (video chat) as an enterprise product.

Regardless, Lock made it very clear that Google is "not sitting around thinking: let's go disrupt this marketplace." Specifically, he mentioned customer requests that Google tackle CRM, and Lock thinks is doing just fine. He said Google Chairman Eric Schmidt told him: "Be careful not to become what you're here to replace."

This is precisely where Google has its challenge. For some organizations, this consumer-first focus has come through too loudly, too clearly. Many CIOs complain about Google's support, for example. I asked Lock and Bavor what grade they would give themselves for enterprise support. They didn't, but Lock said that Google's enterprise customer satisfaction scores were above the industry average. Most CIOs I talk to have found Google's enterprise support wanting.

Some CIOs are willing to live with it, maybe even embrace it. Others run away just as fast. There seems to be no in between.

Two of CIOs addressed both sides of this Google-in-the-enterprise dichotomy on these pages. John McGreavy said, simply: Google Enterprise, I'm Not Impressed, whereas Jonathan Feldman wrote: Why MBAs Hate Google--And You Shouldn't. The title was a reference to Lock's quip: "A lot of MBAs at Google are frustrated because they want the five-year roadmap, and we're just not that way." To which an audience member with an MBA said: "When I'm going to commit hundreds of millions of dollars, I really do want the five-year roadmap."

Many readers--other IT decision makers--responded to the columns these two CIOs wrote. Those responses were typical of the divide Google elicits:

-- Joe Tierney wrote: "Workers shouldn't be marginalized. Why don't you poll them and see if they like Outlook or Gmail better? You might be surprised." In other words, don't dismiss the power of your user base.

-- But MrCynical responded (to a few responders) with vigor: "Your responses don't come with an enterprise mindset--and that's a shame. There is much more to getting the latest 'innovation' the end-users [want] than a 3 to 6 month roll out. How about support? How about maintenance? How about upgrades? Oh wait, we don't have to care because Google says so. Google is SaaS? Upgrades are seamless and issue free to the end user? Right. Again, Google says so … Having a 3-5 year roadmap is essential. Having our business units and users work with us is essential. While I can't predict what the world is going to look like in that time, I can dang well provide a direction. Road maps are not written in stone, they are a guide for the entire organization to reach the goals of the business. For the Jonathan Feldmans of the world who think that we should just take every latest fad and run with it to prove we are 'agile IT', good luck to you."

-- And then there was Dianejhuff: "As a company that moved to Google to replace our customer portal collaboration (email, shared media, meeting spaces) after two years, we are happily returning to an Exchange infrastructure. Although Google truly believes that it is enterprise worthy, I can assure you, it is not. Google lacks the collaborative and support infrastructure to maintain a large enterprise group. They worked well with a small group of users and, as a consumer product, they are second to none. But for our customers, their 'collaboration' features were poor, their support was weak, and their shared spaces rolled to three different names and products in the three years we were customers. I love my Android phone, but I'll stick with Microsoft for my enterprise services."

If Google believes its advantaged by leveraging the development work it does in the consumer space, then it should continue to pursue that strategy, and while doing so its executives should embed themselves with enterprise IT: Make it their mission to ask the right questions--the ones they need to hear, not the ones they want to hear, and to be prepared for the stubborn answers CIOs will provide. And then do what Google does best: adapt. run-of-site player, used to publish article embedded videos via DCT. The same ads will be served on this player regardless of embed location.

About the Author(s)

Fritz Nelson

Vice President, Editorial Director InformationWeek Business Technology Network

Fritz Nelson is a former senior VP and editorial director of the InformationWeek Business Technology Network.

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