If I was Google…

Google is I giant, there’s no denying that, but one area where they are only just beginning to make inroads is enterprise IT.  It’s pretty obvious this is where they want to be, after all there’s a huge market to be had there.  A market currently dominated by Microsoft and the thousands of partners that the MS ecosystem supports.

On the face of it Google have a pretty good suite of products for business.  It covers pretty much everything you would need in terms of messaging (email, Calendar, Instant Messaging, Conferencing, email security and spam filtering) and collaboration (word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, video) with large storage allowances and very competitive pricing at $50 per user per year.  Certainly if you were a new business you’d have pretty much everything you’d need for very little up-front cost.

The pricing of the Google services is key.  $50 dollars per user per year for the fully suite of apps, a mailbox, and 25GB of storage for mail and documents is very cheap.  As a comparison MS’s current hosted Exchange model is $10 per user per month just for a 5GB mail box.  You can bundle in SharePoint, Office Communications Server and Live Meeting for a cost of $15 dollars per user per month, but you’d still need to buy MS Office (or equivalent) for each user.

To my mind there are two main obstacles that Google will need to overcome in order to quickly gain some of the enterprise market. 

First the the concept of having everything in the cloud.  Traditionally companies will have built and managed their own systems for mail, storage, etc.  It’s a big jump to start giving that up and relying on services you can’t see or touch in the cloud.  Fortunately most companies are now becoming more open to this, at least for things that can now be considered as ‘commodity’ services like email.  The current economic climate is, if anything, helping cloud services gain some traction.  Companies will be very reluctant to go spending Capex on new servers.  If a service provider can offer the same or better service , with no capital outlay and vastly reduced operational costs (you don’t need to manage servers you don’t own or host) then that’s a very attractive option.  The arguments for and against cloud computing have been done over and over so I won’t go into them again here. 

The second obstacle for Google, in my view at least, is that most people working for companies now will simply be used to Microsoft Office.  Like it or hate it, Office is the probably the single most important app in many companies.  I know from experience that any suggestion of changing it – even just for a new version – has a very serious change management exercise ahead if it’s going to succeed.  Moving from Office is going to put a lot of people off of going to a Google Apps solution. 

So what would I do?  Well I think Google has a lot going for it in its search for the enterprise market.  Strangely one advantage is that MS themselves are about to change the way people can buy Exchange.  As well as a boxed version you’ll buy and install yourself they’ll be selling it as a hosted/managed service.  So once Exchange 14 arrives people will have to start considering cloud services anyway.  Google need to get themselves positioned in peoples minds as the natural alternative to Exchange 14.  Not only in terms of functionality and cost, but in terms of ease of migration.  For some they already are, but it’s not yet an obvious decision.

To do that I think that they need to do a few things.

  1. Make using Google Mail on the backend completely transparent to Outlook users.  Provide a MAPI interface into Google Mail, and make Outlook on Google Mail supports all the same functionality as Exchange.  Things like delegates on mailboxes and calendars may not be used by most, but those that do use them are likely to be important people and their secretaries.  If your project is going to be seen as a success you want to keep the PA’s happy.  I understand that a MAPI interface is coming, but quite how fully featured I’m not sure.
  2. Provide native support for mobile devices.  Whilst the web and Google mobile clients are good, people are used to using the native inbox, contact and calendar tools on their phones.  POP and IMAP support helps, but ‘Push’ email is often seen as important and support for the MS ActiveSync protocol would tick a lot of boxes, especially for Windows Mobile and iPhone.  Again, I understand it will be available for mail, calendar and contacts at some point this year.
  3. Improve the out-the-box tools that are available for migration and ongoing operations.  Whilst Google’s API’s are very good, and will allow you to do most thing you’d want to do, there don’t seem to be many fully featured tools to help migrate hundreds or thousands of mailboxes or calendars.  Whilst changing Exchange isn’t always simple, it is a known quantity.  Personally I’d like to see Google provide a good toolset and not refer back to API’s.  It’ll help them gain the support of the IT guys on the ground.  Maybe these things exist and I’ve not stumbled across them yet?

If Google can become an accepted host for mailboxes with an Outlook client, it’s then a much smaller jump for companies to start using the wider Google Apps package. 

If as part of your $50 a year mail solution you’ve also got access to 25GB of collaborative document storage and some office apps to work with, you’d have to think very seriously the next time you MS licensing agreement come around. 

Whilst Google Apps isn’t going to be a 100% fit for everyone (even within Google!), there’d be a lot of savings there if a subsection of the user base could get by with Google Apps rather than MS Office.

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