I write this blog in partial defense of my friend and fellow blogger Mary Jo Foley, who had the temerity to post a blog claiming that recent analyst research may call into question the value of Google Apps for enterprise architects and other managers responsible for corporate-wide strategy. In her blog MJ cites a Burton Group report (which I unfortunately don’t have access to), and summarizes its main points, pro and con.
What follows are more than a few comments that are notable for their vindictiveness and just plain meanness. And more than a few exhibited an impressive inability to actually read and comment on MJ’s blog, though they were quite capable of launching ad hominem attacks on MJ in defense of their, mostly anti-Microsoft, position. And, more importantly, most of the critics, intemperate or not, were just plain wrong.
Indeed, the Burton Group only spelled part of the problem. It’s even worse than what MJ reported: Relying on Google Apps could be a company-limiting, not just career-limiting, move.
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. This capability got its first big boost two years ago with the announcement of the joint SAP-Microsoft Duet product line, which was quickly followed by Microsoft’s own Office Business Applications (OBA) initiative, which similarly intends to front-end a tremendous amount of back-office ERP and enterprise apps functionality with Excel, Outlook, Word, and the rest of the Office gang.
But this trend has been building for a while, and is a fact that numerous start-ups have latched on to as well: providing an Excel or Outlook-based user experience isn’t just a good idea, it’s a recognition of where the market is moving with regard to expanding user acceptance and limiting training costs. 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. And even if they did, it would require doing a lot more than just posting a me-too suite on the Web. Linking Office to the back-office is a non-trivial task, and, in particular requires precisely the enterprise software chops that Google simply doesn’t have. And may never have….
So, you mean old MJ bashers, listen up. We all have reasons to hate Microsoft, some may even be valid. But Google Apps is not a one for one replacement for Microsoft Office, and to think, and act, as though Google Apps can fulfill that role is to be blind to the realities of Office in the enterprise. Providing productivity to the back office, as opposed to productivity on the desktop, is a lot harder than many, including Google, might realize.