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Google's Enterprise Communications Play

Enterprise IT professionals have reputations as curmudgeons who can cite 32 reasons why deploying a particular codec won't work on a particular link, or why choosing that particular application isn't the smartest thing to do (aka a really dumb thing to do). But have we missed the mark by being skeptical of Google's communication revolution? Surely you've had to field questions like "Why can't we just use Google Docs?" or "Can't I just run GTalk inside the firewall?" But there's good reason for the IT curmudgeon to hold off on adopting Google as a Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) provider, at least for now.

Google has been really good, even excellent, in collecting bits of technology across the collaboration and communications spectrum. It's a strategy that's worked well, what Mike Dolan over at Fierce VoIP calls the "shotgun approach" to winning. Consider Google's voice play, which includes Google Voice for call forwarding and call management and the Gizmo5 acquisition for voice infrastructure. They're going to be integrated into a single application as shown here. Throw in IM and video conferencing provided by Google Talk, office productivity applications with Google Docs, and you've got a feature-rich UCC package.

Indeed, a recent report from Frost & Sullivan notes that through acquisition and internal development, Google is putting into place the components needed to deliver an enterprise-grade UCC package. "Although Google has not officially announced this strategy," says Dorota Oviedo, industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan's UCC group, "it is evident that, by continually adding new UCC applications to its portfolio and focusing on integrating them, the company is effectively entering the UCC market."

Switching to Google as your UCC provider should fill any IT manager with angst. There are all the standard concerns around security, privacy and uptime that come with adopting a service. More importantly, where in today's Google portfolio do you see any kind of virtual PBX function?

Enterprises need to support users groups. Calls need to roll over when people aren't available. Skills-based routing is useful to direct calls to the right person. IVR and auto-attendant functions are the bread-and-butter of today's virtual PBXs. None are available today from Google. You'll need a third party application, like the Virtual PBX from OnState for those capabilities. Backend integration with LDAP and corporate directories is also necessary for Google to be adopted in large enterprises. Do you really want to be the person that types in 5,000 user identities? 

Sure, that specific scenario probably won't happen; a CSV import or a self-service feature would be used for native signup. Still, the sheer transition to a cloud-based service is still a significant headache. And what about UI touch points? Google has tied calendaring, mail, chat and docs together into a common interface, but the rest of the applications could stand for tighter integration. Is my chat integrated into my forms? Is my presence accessible from every other app? More cohesion will be needed going forward as Google competes with likes of Microsoft and IBM, if it competes at all.

In all likelihood, Google's sights aren't set so much on the enterprise, but those markets left underserved by Microsoft and IBM's collaboration platforms, including consumers, small businesses and other niches.

Enterprises should still keep an eye on Google's UCC play. After all, free apps and free storage are enticing, but there's a long way to go before Google adds the back-end features that enterprises needs,  if Google adds them at all.