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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 Gmail.com 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 gmail.com 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.