As SAP tries to become more Google-like by launching Business Objects Explorer at its Florida event this week, Google Enterprise says its becoming more like Facebook. “We've looked at how people share information and developed our approach. It's collaborative, it's all about collaboration,” says Robert Whiteside, Google's Head of Enterprise UK & Ireland in London. “It's about new and powerful technologies that enhance the user experience.”
Google's remit, says Whiteside is “to organise all the Web's information”. However Whiteside repeatedly echoed the mantra that today's Google is all about collaboration and connecting people. The implication to be drawn perhaps is that search is merely the window to it. If so, then the problem for Google is that search remains largely a solitary activity and businesses prefer to connect through social networks and other platforms in the cloud.
While acquisitions such as YouTube are growing their social networking and business capabilities, a “collaborative” mantra from Google suggests that a shift in business model is bubbling up through the ranks – in much the same way as innovation does from Google Labs ('Google Squared', spreadsheet-like forms of factual data, being the latest such example).
If Google is now about collaboration and connection, as Whiteside suggests, then the logical way ahead would presumably be to buy more collaborative platforms in both the business and consumer spaces rather than just grow them from, say, Google Groups or Google Earth. Whiteside refused to be be drawn on any speculation about takeovers and new acquisitions.
He was also tight-lipped on the suggestion that today's start-ups plan to sell themselves to Google rather than work out how to generate revenue themselves. YouTube is a good example of this. Despite an estimated six billion video views in January alone, its revenue model remains uncertain. Google bought the revenue-less start-up for $1.5 billion in 2006 less than two years after it was founded. It can be argued that selling to Google remains an exit strategy of choice for venture capitalists who no longer need to worry about how fledgling companies make money
Monetising The Cloud
It's an increasing trend. Facebook, Twitter and Wikipedia. are all era- and behaviour-defining platforms, but ones whose brand capitalisation has no connection with revenue. This may suggest a market in which ompanies can employ thousands of people and be worth notional billions because what they do is useful rather than profit-making. Or even an economy built on service: an old-fashioned idea reborn for post-capitalist times? Certainly, Google.org, the company's philanthropic arm, is as much about useful applications as it is useful donations. “Clearly you can be innovative and then afterwards help monetise a service,” Whiteside responded. “At Google we put a value on powerful technology. The first priority is the user experience, then monetisation comes second.”
That is not an approach that would sit easily with a hardcore business applications company, such as Oracle, for example. So where does Google Enterprise fit into all this consumer innovation, connectivity, collaboration and social responsibility? “The rate of innovation is greater in the consumer world than in the business world,” says Whiteside. “Google started as a consumer brand and we're not quite a teenager yet.
Google Enterprise began four and a half years ago. Our remit within Enterprise is to keep an eye on the consumer technology that Google develops, and then adapt those products for Enterprise when it makes sense to in the business world,” he added. “We're not a usual company. A lot of what we do comes from the bottom up and is socialised from peer to peer. For example, we've adapted consumer search to fit the enterprise to create the best of both worlds.”
There's the rub. Business thrives when people are free to communicate and innovate – something that on-premise enterprise technology has often been an obstacle to. But does the idea of consumer apps bubbling up from the basement and having a business label slapped on them not act as a potential obstacle to Google being taken seriously as a business applications provider?
“Enterprise software has often dealt in complexity: too much investment in too many upgrades,” says Whiteside. “Enterprise software has added layer after layer of functionality and called it 'sophistication'. Consumer behaviour suggests people want the experience to be better and to have that complexity taken away.
“CIOs know that their role is to support the business agenda, facilitating business benefits through IT. [With Google] give-year roadmaps are no longer important as you no longer have to manage change and upgrade cycles. It's a transition to a 'versionless' approach to technology. It's the difference between a five-year roadmap and a market where innovation happens every day.”
Stepping up to business
Microsoft has always straddled both worlds by owning everything inside the desktop. Google's strategy is revealing itself as owning every service you can search and connect to and that inevitably means moving deeper into collaboration. Google has also seen consumers change the way they use enterprise technology at work. They want it to become more Google-like, more Facebook-like. So a step deeper into enterprise business markets (beyond search) would be a smaller one for Google today.
But just how 'Cloud' can Google claim to be? “There is space in the market. We deliver Cloud Computing through Google Apps,” says Whiteside. Possibly stung by criticism from some other vendors that Google has little to do with The Cloud, Whiteside positions Google Apps as evidence of its Cloud credentials. Like Apple's App Store and Salesforce.com's AppExchange, it's all about on-demand, third-party apps built on the company's branded, collaborative platform. "The great thing about Cloud Computing for a worldwide market is that the next killer app might come from a one- or two-man company. And we've looked at how people share information and developed our platform.”