Google Apps: hired or fired?

While Josh Greenbaum offers robust support to Mary Jo Foley over her review of the Burton Group Report: “Google Apps in the Enterprise: A Promotion-Enhancing or Career-Limiting Move for Enterprise Architects?” I'm torn.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

While Josh Greenbaum offers robust support to Mary Jo Foley over her review of the Burton Group Report: “Google Apps in the Enterprise: A Promotion-Enhancing or Career-Limiting Move for Enterprise Architects?” I'm torn. The overall market is not as black and white as some commenters suggest.

Even taking Google's limitations and blanket disclaimers into account, Google, (along with Zoho and others) represent a viable alternative for people whose work is primarily word processing or spreadsheet based and who need lite collaboration. GAPE is a definite boon for those working in small, distributed teams. Report author Guy Reece is not blind to the questions some are raising:

While Google's offering does not have the “big boom” seismic impact of Microsoft SP2007, it adds to the rumbles in the market that are unsettling both enterprises and vendors, and makes both constituencies question some long-held beliefs: • Does a collaboration and content solution have to run locally? • Does a collaboration and content solution have to be expensive? • Why pay for features many employees don't use? • Why pay for internal resources if you don't have to?

While Reece is right to say that history broadly repeats itself, the implicit assumption that Microsoft always wins is not a slam dunk. Unless Microsoft's Steve Ballmer has a Damascene experience, the software and services model remains their chosen path. That was confirmed earlier in the year when I was told that any development partner supporting the desktop will likely receive favorable attention.

Reece thinks IBM is a loser in this emerging market because of customers leaving the Notes platform for Sharepoint and because of the "lack of a SaaS based content and collaboration solution." I see plenty of cases where people dabble with Sharepoint, only to walk away because it's a an expensive development toolset and not a solution. I've also seen cases where Microsoft is buying its way into organizations. In one situation it offered $200,000 to get into a department of a large outfit. Does that sound like a winning strategy? Lotus Notes 8 is an order of magnitude better than that which went before so could do surprise. I am also encouraged by cases like NYK, where the old is given a new lease of life by mixing with the new. Don't write off Big Blue just yet.

Reece dangles the tantalizing prospect of Salesforce.com coming out of this a winner, despite its relationship with Google: "slipstreaming past Google" he says. It's an intriguing prospect but then Josh thinks Salesforce.com has enough on its plate. Hard to disagree with Josh's logic, even though recent results suggest otherwise.

Unlike those who concentrate on cost, I see online alternatives having the added benefit of convenience. That is very different from the user community that Josh envisages:

The reason Google Apps is limiting at the corporate or enterprise level is due to something I’ve blogged about before: the rise of Microsoft Office as the new interface to enterprise applications...

It’s so much easier to get users to use the interfaces they use all day long – such as Outlook and Excel – then to try to train them up to a proprietary set of screens or portal-based windows that may be functionally “perfect” but still present a daunting learning and adoption curve for many users..

And herein lies the career-limiting, company-limiting aspects of Google Apps. So far as I can tell, Google Apps isn’t designed to fill these roles, and so far Google has no announced intention to do so.

It's an interesting point but only true for those that need access to integrated, process based applications where the experience is seamless. The last figures I heard suggested SAP has sold Duet into 4,000 customers. That's about 15 percent of the available customer base (excluding BusinessOne customers.) Many, many organizations, especially the millions of SMBs don't need that level of sophistication but are cost aware. These are Google's target and it is here where I see them having the most success because GAPE is 'good enough' for this group.

While I certainly don't give Google a pass on functionality there is a market that Microsoft can lose, but where multiple vendors could gain traction. that is based on the idea that modern freeware opens up new opportunities for SMBs to participate in technologies that did not exist just five years ago. There does not need to be a winner take all scenario. Google however will want the lion's share. It will have to do a lot better if it is to move up the food chain.

Would you be hired or fired for suggesting GAPE? Right now, it depends on a variety of factors:

  • Where your business is in the growth cycle and its need for integrated applications
  • Your attitude towards 'good enough' functionality and the need for collaboration
  • Your attitude to risk versus cost management and
  • The extent to which you rely on Microsoft technologies.

There's plenty to think about.

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