Our search and findability guru, Sue Aldrich, characterized Google’s latest enterprise software additions as the camel’s nose strategy. First, Google offered search appliances for the enterprise and the desktop to make it easy for employees to “Google” the information within their companies the way they use Google to find external resources. Then, Google offered consumer email, which many business people quickly adopted as an alternative personal email service. Now, Google is providing “Google Apps for Your Domain” which offers good-quality email with integrated calendaring, chat, VOIP and other features that will appeal to small businesses and to end users within large enterprises as well. Google Earth for the enterprise is picking up traction as more and more companies use the app for strategic applications from construction to oil exploration to logistics to environmental applications.
Will small businesses and mid-size companies begin to question the wisdom of paying a full-time email maintenance staff to keep their email lifeline flowing, when they can avail themselves of “free” (easy-to-use email, calendaring, Web page creation, and hosting, etc.) from Google? You bet!
Will large companies move their employees off of Microsoft Exchange or Lotus Notes to Google Apps and Gmail? Probably not.
But will large companies allow employees to use Gmail as a back-up email alternative for situations in which their corporate email is compromised by virus attacks or inaccessible? Absolutely!
And, will people who work together in businesses, educational institutions, and not-for-profits of all sizes use Gmail, Google Calendar and Chat, VOIP and Writely (the Web page creation software Google acquired) as the default platform with which to coordinate the work of groups of people across organizational boundaries? Absolutely!
Using free Google apps as your back-up email platform and your easy-to-use cross-organizational collaboration platform is a no-brainer; or a camel’s nose. Once you find yourself doing most of your cross-organizational work—e.g., the work that involves collaborating with customers and partners to get things done together—using your Google platform, where will you begin to gravitate for your “real work?” That’s the camel’s nose. Soon the camel is sitting comfortably inside your corporate tent and you’re serving it tea and crumpets!
Inobtrusive Ad-Supported Software Services
What works about the “Google Apps for Your Domain” and the other Google services’ business model is that many of these services are absolutely free to the business and to their end users, yet the services are funded by the revenues derived from ads that show up on the search results pages from searches launched. Since we’re all accustomed to seeing ads on Google results pages anyway, this doesn’t degrade the quality of the user experience.
If you insist on a non-advertising-supported model (which I don’t think most small businesses will care about), Google plans to offer that model, as well as an upgrade path for fee-based services if you want more hand-holding, more storage, and more stringent security functionality.
But remember that Google doesn’t need to charge for software in order to make money. The more information Google can access and mine, the better it can tailor the search results you’ll see, and the more relevant and therefore the more valuable the ads it serves up when you choose to search the Web.
Company-Branded Business Applications and Landing Pages Google is happy to provide corporations, educational institutions, and not-for-profits the ability to run Google apps and to co-brand them as their own. The look and feel of your company’s email and applications and that of your business starter page (read “portal”) from which employees will access all of your Google-branded and third-party applications is under your control. Right now, you have minimal choices: colors, your own logos, which widgets (e.g., portlets) you want to make available to all employees—you can lock down one of three columns as “required” apps and content. The rest can be completely customized by your end users.
PREDICTION #1: Fast Adoption of “Google Apps for Your Domain” by Small Businesses
The fastest adoption of Google Apps for Your Domain will be by small- and medium-sized businesses. (Right now the beta accounts are capped at 25 users.) This is a sweet spot for Google and a no-brainer for just about any small business.
PREDICTION #2: Google Apps for Your Domain Becomes a Defacto Collaborative Platform for Cross-Organizational Teams
Google’s “openness” and its existence as a defacto standard makes it the easiest choice for cross-organizational groups to set up domain names to use in order to create their own “virtual organizations” through which to coordinate just about any project. Today, many people do this through Yahoo! Groups and other consumer-oriented platforms. But Google’s ability to be the common denominator in our business and our personal lives makes it a better bet. Since you can only get a Gmail account by being invited by another Gmail user, it’s a great way to grow the user network, and so far, knock on wood, Gmail is spam and virus free.
Granted, there are lots of collaborative features that workgroups need and that the basic Google applications don’t yet provide, but I’m assuming that groupware functionality will turn up faster in the Google applications world than it will in the Microsoft and IBM relatively “closed” worlds. (Ray Ozzie is racing Google on this one.)
I’m assuming that Gmail becomes the common platform that links all my different personas. While different people may use different Gmail domain names to reach me for different purposes, these are all automatically organized in my Gmail inbox based on the domain names/project identities that are associated with each one.
PREDICTION #3: Google Becomes the Winning Platform for Customer-Led Innovation in Business Application Development
Everyone is writing and blogging about how Google’s small business and enterprise application strategies adversely impact Microsoft’s Enterprise Office and OfficeLive strategies. It goes without saying that Google has thrown down a gauntlet to which Microsoft will need to respond ASAP. But I don’t believe that the battle is really over OFFICE applications. The current battle that’s being waged is the battle over who will “own” (and monetize) the innovation platform that business end users and their customers will use to co-design their work together.
For example, what intrigues me the most about Google’s current implementation is how easy it is for end users to create and/or customize Google Gadgets they can put on their Google home pages and/or on their new business home page (Personalized Start Page) powered by Google.
The current ever-growing set of Google Gadgets is very seductive. They range from the extremely useful: show me my last 20 Google searches; to the personally appealing: show me the nearest Starbucks; to the business-strategic: show the current locations of every delivery truck in real time. Think of this as your “poor man’s intranet or company portal.”
To be fair, Apple and Yahoo! were first in creating a vibrant ecosystem of customer-generated gadgets and widgets and they have thousands more than Google currently offers. But Google has been the most aggressive in promoting end user-created Gadgets for business applications. For example, the new Personalized Start Page that comes with Google Apps for My Domain lets me create and select a set of content and Gadgets as a default set for all employees. But I can also have a group of company-approved Gadgets and content and a larger set of “you find or create anything you want and share them with all of us” Gadgets. Today, my employees and co-worker/colleagues will be able to access our Google Start Page as the launch pad for just about anything they need to do or to find in our company. Tomorrow, I predict that Google will realize that customer portals can be quickly built using the tools that are now being offered to small business users. Business customers will gravitate to organizing their work around projects and availing themselves of the content and Gadgets that help them do their jobs. Customers may “come to” a PSGroup Web page blog or portal, or they may subscribe to a syndicated feed of those Gadgets and content they care about, and/or they may collaborate with us and with one another through common domains and services.
That’s the point. Google is doing what Yahoo! and Apple are not going to touch—business applications, business portals, syndication of business information. Google is offering businesses the opportunity to let their end users create and syndicate content and Gadgets that other employees and customers can use. It’s easy and seductive to create a customized company portal, complete with company and Google co-branded applications, into which your employees and soon, your customers, can add any application functionality they need and can create, copy, and/or reuse and customize from any other user’s Gadgets. Stay tuned…