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Google Boosts Collaboration, But Still Enterprise Enigma

With G Suite updates announced today at Google Cloud Next ’19, Google has narrowed the gap between it and many of the mainstream enterprise communications and collaboration vendors. The focus of these updates is employee empowerment, allowing teams to work faster, smarter, and more collaboratively through better integration of its products and a number of new capabilities.
Product highlights include:
  • Google Assistant integration with Calendar -- allowing use of voice queries to get up-to-date meeting information; in beta. Consider this the starting point of “Hey Google” integration into G Suite, with more features coming in the near future.
  • Live captions in Google Meetings -- delivered via a text stream that runs under the user’s video stream. This currently provides live captions, but action items and transcript capabilities are coming.
  • Connected Sheets -- integrates Google’s spreadsheet application with its BigQuery managed cloud data warehouse for analytics; in beta. This makes it possible to use Sheets to analyze the massive amounts of data in BigQuery, up to a whopping 10 billion rows worth of data. This means anyone in a company can now analyze data in a spreadsheet without having to be a BigQuery expert.
  • Hangouts Chat integration into Gmail -- This integration has been available as a consumer feature for some time but is now in beta for the corporate version. This gives users access to email, chat, and bots in a single, unified experience.
  • Google Voice generally available -- users get a single phone number across all their devices; transcribed voicemails and spam filtering included. Google said pricing will be in line with that from other UCaaS providers. Google Voice will initially be available in 11 markets, with more coming.
  • Gmail security enhancements, including proactive phishing and malware protection -- Gmail will provide warnings against phishing attacks and virtually execute attachments in a sandbox environment to prevent malware’s spread. Other notable security enhancements include access transparency and new mobile device management features.
  • Currents -- provides a way for workers to share information and engage in discussions with others in the company; currently in beta, this is the enterprise version of Google+
  • G Suite Add-Ons -- provide a way for workers to access workplace apps in the side panel of G Suite, simplifying workflows with informatoin immediately available; beta to come soon. Integrations include Cisco Webex, Copper CRM, Workfront, and Box, among others.
Even as Google narrows the cap in collaboration, it remains perhaps the biggest enigma in the collaboration industry. G Suite initially started with five apps and has grown to 20. Two of the apps, Gmail and Drive have more than one billion users, and in the past 12 months the number of paying customers has jumped from four million to five million, Google shared.
Nevertheless, Google remains well behind most of the competition in terms of enterprise mindshare. Also, while the adoption numbers are impressive, Google is rarely the primary collaboration vendor within an enterprise. Businesses are more likely to be using another vendor and augmenting their collaboration strategy with a handful of G Suite applications. This is true for all collaboration vendors but many companies I have talked to refer to themselves as being a “Cisco shop” or “Avaya shop.” Rarely do I hear “Google shop.”
One reason why is that, despite Google’s massive resources, it always seems to be playing catch-up. During a pre-brief analyst session, Google noted that with the updates it now has a full UC solution with meetings, voice, and chat. To that I say, well whoop-de-doo, as almost any of the many UC and UCaaS vendors can offer this. The big question is, what can Google bring to the table that will enable it to lead the industry instead of seemingly constantly chasing it?
Toward that end, here are three areas to watch:
1. Integration of G Suite products -- This “differentiator” is something that could be said about all the large collaboration vendors but rarely comes to fruition. For example, little integration exists between Microsoft Skype for Business and Teams or Cisco Webex and BroadSoft. From what I saw at the event, Google apparently has been working diligently to ensure what happens in one product is known in others so the more G Suite application you use, the more productive you’ll be. Google emphasized the importance of email, the value of which many feel is falling with the rise of team collaboration. Despite the rhetoric, email is still kicking and will be around a long time. Given the size of its installed base, Gmail can be the focal point of Google’s integration strategy.
2. Artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities -- Google, one of the leading AI companies, is working to infuse AI features into every aspect of G Suite to make users more productive by finding the right information faster, generating high-quality work in less time, and empowering teams to be better. One area that Google should excel in is search, as nobody does that better. Google Cloud Search enables employees to search and find information across documents, CRM information, emails, and other data sources. During the analyst event, one of the speakers cited a stat that workers switch tasks every three minutes and the combination of search and AI can virtually eliminate that and let people stay on tasks better.
Some examples of AI infusion can be seen today with grammar checking and suggested responses in email. For those not familiar with the latter, when you start to type a response in Gmail, Google will provide suggestions on how to finish your sentences. Success here would come from increased personalization, with your auto-response suggestion being different from mine. Over time, Google’s AI should get better at understanding what a specific person would say versus a generic email.
AI features also depend on integration across the suite for maximum effectiveness. As an example, when five of the employees invited to a 10-participant meeting decline the invite, Google could recommend that the organizer book a smaller room, for a more effective meeting. The possibilities for AI infusion are limitless, and Google does AI arguably better than any other company.
3. 360-degree personal view -- One of the more interesting aspects of Google is that its services are so well adopted among consumers. YouTube, consumer Gmail, Maps, Translate, and other services are de facto standards. It’s possible Google could marry the consumer information with company data and create personalization that’s beyond what any other vendor can provide. It’s debatable whether workers would want their personal and professional data mixed together -- but I believe if doing so makes life better, most will opt in. For example, Google can automate the process of rescheduling a cancelled meeting. If Calendar knows that an attendee has a personal engagement, such as a school event, it will avoid rescheduling the meeting at that time. The potential is there. The question is whether Google can make the value compelling enough.
So here we are again. Google is once again that disruptive vendor to watch. It has a strong, broad product line and a ton of potential. The announcements at Cloud Next ‘19 need to be the starting point of continued and accelerated innovation to achieve a leadership position in the enterprise.