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Research Details

Google in the Enterprise - Look Past the Brand, Focus on the Apps

Published On: 4/6/2011
Analyst Name: John Brand
Geography: Global
Technology: Services,Software

“Google Apps”, a suite of online productivity applications developed by Google, has remained a curiosity for the majority of business users in Asia Pacific (AP). While mainstream media frequently highlight examples of competitive churns from Microsoft Office, the reality is that the vast majority of switch-outs and trials are short-lived. However, Springboard Research believes that the interest in Google Apps is not so much about Google (as a vendor), or the applications they are delivering today. It is more about the new category of applications that Google is creating that will eventually transform all aspects of enterprise information management as we currently know it.

Google Apps is clearly central to Google’s strategy for growth in the enterprise market, with regular releases that continually improve on features, reliability and performance. However, it is still considered a “beta” product by the majority of AP organisations – even though its beta status has been officially removed. The attraction for organisations to evaluate Google Apps is typically driven by three ideals/desires:

  • Lower software licensing costs;
  • The ability to enable real-time collaborative document editing and sharing;
  • Cloud-based access (e.g., reducing technical complexity and removing location dependent access to applications and information).

Google has attempted to create a new class of applications based on internet-specific attributes of pervasive broadband connectivity and “light-weight” distributed computing (meaning code executing on the client is kept to a minimum). This allows the traditional view of a “document” to be morphed and extended into a real-time, data and interaction driven application environment (refer "The future of document sharing: collaborative online document editing").

Already, Google has a large number of developers using the base platform to develop their own custom applications and utilities to deliver vertical and/or usage specific “micro-apps”. This is exactly the scenario that helped drive Microsoft Office to prominence in the 1990’s.

Google has been careful though not to pitch itself as a direct Microsoft Office Suite competitor for the enterprise. It has simply taken the core attributes of a pervasive network (the internet) and built a platform and applications that capitalise on that platform’s core strengths. While comparative functionality remains limited, Google has attacked some of the more basic Microsoft Office use-cases and augmented them with additional features not possible in the traditional Microsoft Office environment (such as real-time collaborative document editing and integrated forms based collections for spreadsheets).

Springboard Research currently views Google as only a minor threat to Microsoft’s dominance within the enterprise. However, we believe that the class of applications embodied by Google Apps are not only significant, they are profound.

The underlying Google Apps technology is not particularly innovative or unique. In fact, it will likely surprise many to discover that both IBM and Microsoft have had similar technologies under their own research and development programs for almost a decade.

Google’s prominence in the real-time collaboration market though is somewhat of an anomaly. Their perceived market leading position is a direct result of their strong mindshare in the consumer space combined with the failure of either Microsoft or IBM to commercialise their own similar technologies. Nonetheless, Google certainly has a first-mover advantage that, with an appropriate amount of market momentum, will be very difficult to counter. We believe both IBM and Microsoft will increasingly – but not quickly – rollout Google Apps-like functionality. This will likely be as extensions to their existing base products rather than a wholesale replacement, which would likely cannibalise their existing revenue streams.

We advise organisations to consider Google Apps as a suitable solution for targeted applications within the enterprise today. No alternative offerings from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, or any potential emerging players are likely to be any more valuable or viable as an enterprise solution with similar capabilities for the immediate foreseeable future (3-5 years). In fact, we believe solutions from IBM, Microsoft and to a lesser degree, Oracle, will most likely be far less discrete (as isolated applications) and will likely have implications in terms of integration and software version dependencies.

Google Apps provides a working, “best effort” reliability approach to enabling real-time collaborative document editing. However, issues of data governance and information sovereignty will force many organisations to look for more “on-premise-friendly” solutions such as those provided by incumbents. For this reason we expect to see “cloud-friendly” (but not cloud dependent) solution offerings from the likes of Microsoft and IBM. This may ultimately include solutions that separate cloud application delivery from cloud data storage (which are intrinsically linked today).

Springboard Research believes that organisations should evaluate and experience Google Apps-like solutions to determine the benefits that these types of environments may have on their businesses longer-term. Enterprise users can also not assume that a non-practical evaluation will reveal the full benefits. Therefore, targeted proof-of-process projects should be included in any technology supported strategic planning initiatives (refer "What's wrong with a proof of concept?")

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