Google's Place in the UCC Ecosystem
Going into Google Cloud Next, held late last month, I was especially interested in hearing what Google had to say around G Suite, as Google continues to add functionality and position it as a true alternative to Microsoft Office 365.
In our UCC research studies, typically more than 85% of participants rely on Office 365 for email, calendar, and file storage. A growing percentage also use it for unified communications services such as Skype for Business, and more recently, we've seen a great deal of interest in Teams for workstream/team collaboration. IT leaders I speak to often tell us of their desire to find a credible Office 365 alternative that would allow them to conduct head-to-head evaluations and improve their negotiating positions with Microsoft. Those currently using G Suite apps like Docs, Gmail, and Calendar are increasingly looking to integrate Google with the rest of their UCC portfolios.
Google's G Suite-related announcements were mostly incremental with one big exception. Feature enhancements include improvements in the ability of customers to triage security incidents, support for GDPR, and quick response features to save time responding to common messages in Gmail and Hangouts Chat.
The G Suite team also piggybacked on the extensive discussion of Google's AI efforts that dominated the broader sessions and keynotes by introducing an AI-powered grammar tool. Additionally, Google announced AI-related capabilities to support voice control of Hangouts Meet hardware, enabling customers to start, end, and control meetings using voice commands.
Google's Voice Calling
Google's biggest UC announcement was the addition of Google Voice to G Suite. Google Voice isn't a new product. On the consumer side, Google Voice sprung out of the 2007 acquisition of GrandCentral. Millions of individuals (including me) have used Google Voice for years as a virtual gateway, enabling calls made to our Google Voice numbers to be routed to a variety of endpoints, including PSTN calling services, mobile phones, and computers running the Google Voice client.
Rather than solely positioning the enterprise version of Google Voice as a clone of its consumer service, Google is offering PSTN connectivity, integrations with Google Hangouts Meet and Calendar, the ability to sync phone numbers with Google Contacts, and the prospects of applying Google AI to improve call handling and potentially deliver features like real-time language translation. These capabilities offer the potential for Google customers to replace, or supplement, existing phone systems with Google Voice.
Two Ways to Google Voice
Google Voice is likely to see two pathways to implementation. The first will be much like Google Voice's use by consumers. Companies will provision virtual Google Voice numbers that employees will use to provide single-number reach to their existing desktops and mobile phones. This approach eliminates the scenario of workers having separate mobile and desktop numbers, and enables workers to receive and send texts via their desktop browsers. In this approach, users can continue to make outbound calls from their existing phones, or they can initiate calls from their Google Voice client.
The second scenario is much more disruptive: using Google Voice as the enterprise phone system. With its own PSTN connectivity, and tight integration into G Suite, some Google customers are likely to investigate the possibility of using Google Voice as their primary calling platform. At this point Google hasn't released a telephony feature set, supported desktop phones, or management capabilities that would make this scenario viable for most other than very small organizations with limited telephony needs. Still, Google is likely to build out its feature set over time, creating potential competition for its own partners like Dialpad and RingCentral.
Also missing from the announcement are details around APIs that would allow for integration of Google Voice into other business apps. Such APIs are necessary for enabling click-to-call from third-party apps or capturing inbound call information in a CRM, for example. Again, expect continued development as time goes on.
Finally, Google's approach represents a stark contrast to Microsoft's strategy of centering cloud-based communications in Teams. Unlike what Microsoft is doing with Teams, Google continues to maintain a broad set of distinct applications, including the still highly relevant Gmail, in its portfolio. It hasn't made its own team collaboration app, Hangouts Chat, the center of its collaboration universe, nor has it provided integration across the portfolio (for instance, it doesn't yet support the ability to move an email-based discussion into Hangouts Chat). It will be worth watching over time to see if Google too re-centers its collaboration offerings around a team collaboration-first approach, or if it continues to maintain separate apps.
Existing G Suite customers should begin to evaluate Google Voice through the Early Adopter Program (EAP) beta. And those seeking an Office 365 alternative should take another look at Google as it continues to strengthen its enterprise collaboration portfolio.
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