Google's Two Enterprise Buckets
What can Google to do become relevant in enterprise communications?
There was a time when I got a regular stream of inquiries about Google's role and relevance in the enterprise communications space. Those inquiries slowed to a trickle as the company consistently declined to build a solution or service that in any way resembles what businesses are used to buying, comms-wise. Unless something changes radically, we can count Google out entirely. But before nailing shut the lid of this particular coffin, let's take a quick look at what Google can do to become relevant in this particular market.
Google's enterprise stuff falls into two buckets. Let's call the first bucket "Serious Stuff." This is a set of software and solutions that have been formally productized for the business market, are actively sold to businesses, and generate money for Google here and now. Look inside this bucket and we find:
* Apps, which provides end users with email and office productivity software whose main virtue seems to be that it's not Microsoft's email and office productivity software
* Maps, which helps businesses visualize geography-centric data and manage mobile workforces
* Search, which finds stuff on the corporate intranet or extranet
* Chrome for Business, which sets work-related policies and preferences on the browsers that IT deploys to employees
* Cloud Platform, which stores corporate data, as well as provides tools for developers to develop apps and for analysts to analyze data
These are apps that Google provided first to consumers and decided to keep investing in, rather than building out a base of end users before killing them off. (Killing off the apps, that is, not the end users...at least as far as I know.) Google then tweaked them to meet the high availability, security, and (at least theoretically) privacy standards that businesses require. Google also built out a formal reseller program that actively sells them to businesses and created a pricing structure praised as being considerably less byzantine than other business software developers'.
Google certainly has the attention of enterprises, thanks largely to its success selling Apps to businesses. WebRTC--the open source software project based in part on technology from Global IP Solutions (GIPS), a company that Google acquired in 2010--has only increased the company's reputation in the enterprise space. But this is thanks mainly to developers of SBCs, video conferencing systems, and UC software, who are scrambling to make WebRTC relevant to the enterprise. Meanwhile Google seems more interested in WebRTC as an enabling technology for video games and other decidedly non-business use cases.
Then there's the second bucket. Let's call this one "Fun & Games" because it contains stuff that's designed to be enjoyable for consumers to use, but at this point has more potential than actual relevance to the enterprise. Inside this bucket is:
* Google+, the social network that is Google's answer to Facebook
* Google+ Hangouts, the cloud-based video conferencing service that is Google's answer to Skype and Facetime
* Google Talk, the cloud-based IM platform that was Google's previous answer to Skype and that now, in a bit of recent housekeeping, has been lumped in with Hangouts
* Google Voice, the mobility service that is Google's answer to...well, I'm not sure if it was an answer to anything consumer-wise, but it's also getting lumped in with Hangouts
Google has long dreamed of positioning these for enterprise use. Three years ago then-Enterprise President Dave Girouard said Voice would get a business version, and two months ago now-Enterprise President Amit Singh said Google+ is an enterprise social networking platform competitive with Yammer and Jive. But Voice didn't and Plus isn't.
If Google put its mind to it, the company could shake out the stuff in the "Fun & Games" bucket and build something that resembles an enterprise communications solution. By integrating Voice and Talk with Hangouts, Google is already in the process of building a cloud-based platform that unifies text-, voice-, and video-based communications within a single social networking environment. This could be a big deal in the enterprise space, given that Jive, IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco are in various stages of delivering just such a solution for their business customers.
Looking specifically at Microsoft--since that's really the only enterprise comms developer that Google has in its crosshairs--integrating Yammer with Lync and Skype seems to definitely be on the roadmap. If Google plans to continue engaging Microsoft not only on the consumer battleground but also in the battlefields of the enterprise market, this would be a good time for Google to take the next step toward releasing enterprise-grade versions of its social networking, video conferencing, voice communications, and mobile voice services. Here's what that next step entails:
* Make Google+ and Hangouts part of the Apps suite
* Publish and abide by an SLA that guarantees uptime for Google+ and Hangouts, ideally the same SLA that's associated with Apps
* Provide customer support for Google+ and Hangouts, ideally covering them under the Apps support terms
* Build out a channel sales program for Google+ and Hangouts
* Let business customers upgrade to new versions of its communications software when they are ready, not when Google tells them to.
In enterprise-izing Plus and Hangouts, Google needs to ask itself, "What's my motivation?" I mean, Cisco's motivation in entering the enterprise comms space was clear: Sell more networking gear. Microsoft's motivation was also to bolster its core business, namely selling more Windows and Office licenses. For Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, ShoreTel, and the rest, the motivation is simply to sell comms systems. That's what pays the bills, put the employees' kids through college, fuels the CEO's yacht, and keeps investors investing.
But only about $584 million of Google's anticipated $50+ billion in 2013 revenues is expected to come from Apps. Keeping with my bucket theme, the phrase "drop in the" springs to mind. Whether enterprise-izing Plus and Hangouts doubles its enterprise revenue or, through some blunder, cuts it in half...either way Google's CFO's radar will barely register a blip. And with the bulk of its revenues stemming from advertising, there will be limited opportunities for pull-through sales of anything resembling a Google core business.
Google's motivation in bringing Voice, Hangouts, and Plus to the enterprise will be--as I mentioned earlier--to add another front to its battle against Microsoft. In the enterprise space this has consisted of positioning Gmail against Outlook, Docs against Office, and so forth. Now with Microsoft talking about integrating Office 365 and Lync Online with Skype and Yammer, Google's grand plan could be to present businesses with an alternative in the form of an Apps-Plus-Hangouts trifecta.
This is assuming that there in fact is a grand plan, and that said grand plan doesn't change from month to month. Because when it comes to the enterprise communications market, Google has consistently been its own worst enemy, presenting businesses with a regularly changing strategy that is poorly articulated and based on services that are not specifically geared to the enterprise market.