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Google eyes the enterprise market

Martin Veitch | Sept. 3, 2008
We should know better having seen the likes of Lotus Notes and SmartSuite, WordPerfect Office and GroupWise, Corel and Novell fail to topple Microsoft, but it's hard not to get excited by the latest challenge to the Microsoft hegemony, Google Apps.

"Having one document in one place seems to be a very large advantage," says David Bradshaw of analyst IDC. "It's useful to be able to collaborate and share documents without them being everywhere."

LMU's Colledge has plans for shared calendaring. "We intend to use it for timetables, alerts for exams and to help manage the student life. The next big thing is to think about staff," she says.

Usability and familiarity are also attractions, especially when compared to some legacy systems. "Tools have been built on a business process rather than the way the human mind works," says Dave Armstrong, Google Enterprise head of marketing. "Most of us are not schizophrenic. We have a personality at home and we have the same one at work."

Despite all these advantages, there are risks involved in stepping out of the Microsoft umbrella, one of them being the fact that everybody will be watching to see any signs of failure among the new pioneers.

"Changing desktop platform is one of the highest-risk moves you can make as a CIO," says David Mitchell of research firm Ovum. "Changing ERP is a business risk but changing email directly affects the CEO and CFO. It's a bit like unplugging the telephone system."

But buyers appear sanguine. "We know we'll be watched but the question mark hanging over Windows Vista made this an easier decision," says TMG's Cheesbrough. "People in my position have some doubts as to when it's ready to run your business on. It's not something you would bet your business on just because of stability and the hardware you need. All CIOs probably agree that there are two main challenges in their jobs: cut costs and do more innovation, although these can be contradictory. Email touches everybody so it's a brave man who changes that but we're a company that's changing and it's an interesting point in time. We've eliminated most of the risk by having quite a long trial period."

Other potential snafus? Internet access is becoming ubiquitous and for those that need offline working, the Google Gears local caching system offers this. Service levels are frequently raised as a gotcha but, as TMG's Cheesbrough notes, this has to be compared against an honest assessment of downtime in in-house systems.

Early gains

Just how important are these recent wins for Google Apps? Experts say it's worth keeping them in context.

"It's still pretty early," says Ovum's Mitchell. "These are two biggish deals but if we compare the number of enterprise deals Microsoft has, it's pretty small stuff. Taylor Woodrow was less of a surprise because it's for an industry dependent on collaboration but TMG is interesting because it's for a professional writing organization and I've been critical of Google Apps for being not particularly writing-friendly in terms of layout, formatting, outlining and grammar checking," he says.


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