We live in an era when any of us with an Internet connection can converse and do business instantly with strangers on the opposite side of the planet. Yet when any of us experiences a problem with one of the largest providers of that very technology, we might as well live on the Moon. Yes, hey, Google, I'm talking about you. We're here, on the outside, knocking on your door. Is there anyone at home?
IDG reports today (via PC World) that an unspecified number of Google Apps users were locked out of their accounts by a Gmail problem for around 15 hours yesterday and today. Google left them tearing their hair out for lack of information, as IDG reports:
In the main Google Apps Discussion Group thread devoted to this incident, administrators complained loudly about the length of the outage and the lack of status update details offered by Google officials ...
"Seriously... It has been two hours. Can you provide us with another update? For a company with your reputation, I'm absolutely shocked at the apparent absence of customer service," wrote a Google Apps administrator on the discussion forum on Wednesday. "This amount of down time is unacceptable."
Sooner or later, Google will realize that if it aspires to be a business-class SaaS provider, then it's going to have to take customer service seriously — and disprove the suspicion that its company culture can't do enterprise-strength.
A few months ago Amazon — finally — got serious about the enterprise and launched two enterprise-class paid support options along with a Service Health Dashboard. Two months earlier I'd predicted it was Time for a Bezos trustworthy cloud initiative, and made this complaint:
"What I can’t understand is, why do providers only understand this after they’ve suffered a major outage? Salesforce.com learnt its lesson two years ago ... Why on earth Amazon couldn’t have invested in a similar system to keep customers informed is beyond me."
Google has to takes similar steps before the end of the year (I'm confident that it will, despite this mis-step and its penchant for disowning customers). If it doesn't take suitable action, the snowballing subscriber volumes of businesses that are signing up for Google Apps are going to get a poor introduction to SaaS, which is no good for Google and bad for the industry as a whole.
Back in December 2005, in response to the Salesforce.com outages back then that ultimately resulted in the creation of the provider's pioneering trust.salesforce.com status page, I set out a five-point code of practice for on-demand providers:
It's not rocket science, it's sound business sense, and it's finally becoming established as best practice in the industry. Is anyone at Google actually paying attention? Let's hope so.