Google Preparing to Enter Business UC Market
So you can throw away your phone system? Not exactly. But keep an eye on Google Voice.
The prospect of Google Voice heading to the enterprise has been predicted for some time. Last May, Google announced it was working on its next generation Google Apps. Google Apps is the Google suite of email, Office type apps, and more aimed at business customers.
"Later this year we'll dramatically accelerate customer access to innovation, and give users the convenience of using any Google service allowed by their administrator from a single account affiliated with their organization," Google announced at the time.
Yesterday, Seth Weintraub at Fortune wrote that his new Apps account offered Google Voice, and he suggested that organizations could throw away their phone systems.
Well, not quite yet. Though this does appear to be one more indication Google Voice is headed to business users, it’s not quite prime-time yet. The new infrastructure is still in testing. More likely, Google will launch a new Google Voice for business rather than simply port over the existing consumer offering. Google Voice Premium would be a consistent name and would likely be different than the current version in several ways:
* Unlikely to be free and unsupported (as with Apps vs. Gmail).
* Will likely include a portal so an administrator can manage phone services and user associations.
* Will likely support inbound number porting
* Potentially could include an SLA.
Nor is it likely Google would encourage phone system replacement. Google Voice and Apps, combined with a basic phone system, would offer a reasonably powerful UC solution. The basic phone system would provide intercom, paging, 911, and a host of other basic services (transfer, music on hold, etc.). Google Voice could be positioned for voice applications which are typically sold at a premium by the CPE vendors.
The current Google Voice offering includes features such as a conferencing bridge, call recording, unified messaging, simultaneous ring, voice mail transcription, call screening, click to dial, call logging, and mobile phone clients. Additionally, Google Voice includes free domestic calling and low-cost international rates. Google Voice represents an interesting set of features that typically come from both the CPE vendor and the carrier (or hosted service provider).
If Google repackages Google Voice for its new Google Apps, could it become a compelling unified communications solution? Consider this:
* Google already offers messaging, presence, video, calendaring, and collaboration at a very low price. Millions of businesses have gone Google.
* Google Voice applications exist for most smartphones. These apps add control to some features, and also create a single number appearance on all outbound calls.
* Android phones recently received advanced features such as a remote wipe and security parameters designed for business customers.
* Last August, Google integrated its Gmail application with Google Voice and Google Chat, enabling Skype-like desktop calling. This Call Phone capability from Gmail is similar to both Skype-In and Skype-Out, but without the cost. It also makes it possible to initiate calls without a phone as can be done with Skype and other softphone services.The plugin required for softphone also includes video calling capabilities to any other user with the same client (cross company).
* Google Apps has a distribution channel with more than 2,000 resellers. This includes value added resellers, managed service providers, web developers, web hosting companies, Internet service providers, and system integrators. Google requires prospective partners to successfully implement Google Apps at a client as a prerequisite of becoming a partner.
* Google Apps is a customer paid service, it is not subsidized by advertising.
* Google Smartphone applications are location aware. Presence can report city. Phone can be set to vibrate or silent based on calendar and/or location.
* Google delivers the entire Apps portfolio without any financial commitment or on-site hardware. All services are platform independent and remotely accessible.
* The Google Apps Marketplace continues to grow with integrated third party applications ranging from accounting to CRM.
Google Apps could indeed become a compelling UC proposition with the addition of voice. But it should be noted that just this month, Google Voice experienced two outages.
Although calls can be initiated directly from a browser, Google Voice is inherently a virtual number service designed to work with an existing phone service or system. That could be all cell phones, POTS lines, or an existing PBX, but it is unlikely Google would position Google Voice as the sole solution for an organization's telephony requirements.
The fact that a reporter got the option to set-up Google Voice within Apps does not mean any of this is happening (yet). There has been no word from Google about rolling out Google Voice to its Apps users, and the new Apps infrastructure is not in general availability. Google rarely releases information about its plans prior to launch, which is typically the same date as availability. It doesn't need to do this kind of pre-publicity; for example, Weintraub's single post set off a flurry of activities on well respected web sites, blogs, and Twitter, including the New York Times. One thing for sure is that when Google decides to jump into the water, it will make a big splash.