The Google Enterprise Collaboration Story +1

Google Enterprise leader Amit Singh talks about how Google+ is changing the company's enterprise collaboration story.

David Carr

April 2, 2012

5 Min Read
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The Google Apps story has always been about collaboration, and over the next year it will become a lot more about social collaboration, according to Amit Singh, VP of Google Enterprise.

"We built Apps on the foundation of collaboration, and the sharing model is inherent in Docs," Singh said in an interview. What's coming next is a tighter alignment between contacts, Docs, Gmail, Hangouts, and Google+ streams, he said.

Google Apps for Business is the suite of Web-based applications that includes Gmail and Docs, Google's office productivity suite, integrated with a business's own Internet domain and supplemented with the administration tools required for business use. With a Web-based word processor, spreadsheet, and presentations tool, Docs is meant to be "a complete replacement for [Microsoft] Office in the cloud," Singh said, although he admits it has some catching up to do in a feature-by-feature matchup for things like document formatting. That was particularly true in presentations, he said, although a new presentation editor narrows the gap.

"We updated Spreadsheets late last year, with pivot tables, so we're starting to catch up on features--maybe not for the power user use case but for the casual user," Singh said. "Really, the core principle behind these things is sharing--sharing on the Web, from any device." The power of Docs is more obvious when the focus is not on fancy formatting or advanced spreadsheet manipulation but on collaboration around a document, particularly the kind of realtime group editing Google Docs pioneered. That's the feature that still tends to wow people who have never seen it before, he said.

"Co-editing and seeing each other's changes appear on the screen is still quite a magical experience for a lot of people," Singh said.

While Google Apps customers don't necessarily run around uninstalling Microsoft Office in favor of Docs, Singh predicted the use of Office will "recede over time," provided only to users who need its full set of capabilities, while Docs will become the productivity solution for everyone else. When Genentech, a marquee Google Apps customer merged with the pharmaceutical company Roche, Roche wound up as a Google Apps customer, too, Singh said. The global bank BBVA recently became the largest enterprise customer for Google Apps, creating accounts for 120,000 users, he said.

Docs may be about sharing, but sharing is increasingly about social media. The merger of Google's enterprise and social initiatives is still a work in progress. When Google finally captured the social media world's attention with the introduction of Google+ last summer, it initially snubbed Google Apps users, restricting access to consumer accounts. Google Apps integration materialized with a Google+ update in October. Even then, Google Apps users were left waiting for a promised Google+ migration tool.

I admit I have an ax to grind here, given that I'm finding it awkward to transition from the consumer Google+ account I set up originally to one associated with the Google Apps account I log into on a more regular basis.

Singh had no particular update to offer on this front, other than repeating the message I've heard elsewhere that Google has found reconciling consumer and corporate identities more complicated than anticipated. "Phase one was offering Google+ in its current form to Google Apps customers. We're working on how to integrate it closer and provide more controls, specific things that are required in an enterprise context," he said.Google+ also has potential as an enterprise social network, and Google says it is working on a configuration that would support secure, private enterprise social collaboration. No definite ETA on that, either.

Enterprises haven't necessarily been waiting, however. "Companies I wouldn't have thought would be ready for it" without more enterprise-specific security enhancements have started using Google+ and Hangouts for business collaboration, Singh said.

Google is starting to promote the business applications of Hangouts, the popular video chat service built into Google+, by making Google Docs integration a standard component. This means you can hold a video conference that switches between showing other participants as the featured image or showing a document that Hangout participants are collaborating on. In addition, Google recently introduced a half dozen third-party apps for use with Hangouts (of which SlideShare for co-browsing presentations is probably the most business-oriented) and threw open the doors for other developers to create integrations using the Hangouts API.

One remaining missing feature is a built-in ability to schedule a Hangout and invite participants in advance the same way you would set up a WebEx Web conference. "I think that's a top most requested meeting feature, so that will definitely be on our priority list to look at," Singh said.

Google Enterprise has also dabbled in cloud storage and file sharing and promoted the Google App Engine for application development in the cloud. Last week, Google added the Apps Vault for preserving a searchable archive of messages for e-discovery and regulatory compliance.

"We have more of a pull model, where we've been pulled into the enterprise, rather than a traditional enterprise selling model," Singh said. Before the advent of Google Apps, the enterprise division got its start promoting the Google Search Appliance, which was a way for enterprises to take the search technology they saw Google using on the consumer Web and bring it inside their companies. Google+ is following the same path, he said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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About the Author(s)

David Carr

Editor, InformationWeek Healthcare and InformationWeek Government (columnist on social business)

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