Google's Curious Approach to UC
Odd as it is, company's strategy of mining consumer business for solutions it can position for the enterprise does seem to be working -- at least for now.
Google has long been an oddity in the UC space. While it has had the opportunity to develop a business communications service more comprehensive than Hangouts, it has steadfastly declined to do so. And the company could easily -- with what by Google standards would amount to spare change -- buy a provider of cloud-based UC services. But this appears to interest the company none at all.
Perhaps this will change if Microsoft starts showing significant success with its still very new Cloud PBX-PSTN Calling add-ons to Office 365 and Skype for Business Online. More likely it won't change until Google Apps for Work customers start demanding native UC, rather than having to turn to partners such as Dialpad, Halloo, and the various providers offering integration via gUnify, such as Ancoris, RingCentral, and Vonage. (At least I think Vonage has a telephony-for-Google Apps service. It used to, right? Before it bought gUnify? But I'm danged if I can find reference to it on its website.)
Until then Google pursues its curious "what's good for consumers is good for businesses" approach to business communications. And, equally curious, it seems to be working -- at least with businesses going all-in on Google in the workplace.
Polishing Chrome for Enterprises
As you recall, a while back Google worked with Avaya to make Chromebook -- a laptop intended mainly, though I suppose not exclusively, for consumers -- the centerpiece of a... dare I say it again?... curious contact center solution. Google also took Chromebox, which was initially just targeted at consumers as a low-cost alternative to traditional PCs, and added a camera, speaker, and remote, and -- presto! -- it's now a video conferencing endpoint for businesses as well. Shipping now for a couple years, Chromebox for Meetings is now available from Acer, Asus, Dell, and HP -- so pretty much all the same companies selling Chromebox devices into the consumer space. That's enough competition to drive the cost of the solution down from $999 list to about $750 street.
Now the same sort of thing happened with Chromebase, which has been shipping for a couple years as Google's PC-in-a monitor thingamajig. Last month Google tweaked Chromebase to become an all-in-one video conferencing endpoint. Whereas Chromebox for Meetings is designed for huddle spaces and corporate conference rooms, Chromebase for Meetings is for individuals' desktops and shared meeting spaces.
As far as I can tell Acer is the only developer with a Chromebase for Meetings device available today. It lists for $799, but sells for about $550. And as was the case with Chromebox for Meetings, Google will waive the dreaded $250 annual maintenance fee for the first year for new Chromebase for Meetings customers.
Chrome at Motorola Solutions
Honestly, I have mixed feelings about Google positioning all this Chrome stuff in the workplace. I mean, I get it... the consumer market is massive and Google derives a huge amount of revenue from it. But turning Hangouts into Google Apps for Work's comms app and Chromebook/box/base into endpoints for serious use within the enterprise makes the business market seem like something of an afterthought in Google's development process. It's as if the company can't be bothered to put together a proper set of solutions for business communications, so enterprises get the warmed-over scraps of Google's consumer group.
But this sentiment is certainly not shared by all business buyers, particularly those who have chosen to walk the Google path. Case in point -- Greg Meyers, CIO at Motorola Solutions, who spoke at Enterprise Connect and who I caught up with a bit later.
Motorola Solutions transitioned all of its employees -- thousands of them -- to Google Apps last year, which included walking away from a company-wide deployment of Lync Server 2010 for IM, presence, and point-to-point voice and video. The company is now replacing various Centrex services and PBX systems with Dialpad's cloud-based telephony service that's tightly integrated with Google Apps. I wrote a bit about that here at Ovum's syndicated service (paywall for the full report, sorry!).
When it comes to video conferencing, prior to Google Apps this mainly took place in 40 or so meeting rooms decked out with Polycom gear. In a company with more than 160 offices worldwide, this meant few employees had access to video-capable conference rooms. And, according to Meyers, those who did didn't use them much. This was in part because the Polycom systems could connect with each other, but weren't set up to support desktop video participants. It was also comparatively complicated for employees to set up video conferences and manage them, and Motorola Solutions had no standard application or service for easy-to-use desktop video conferencing.
Google Apps changed this... or rather the purchase and deployment of about 500 Chromebox for Meetings endpoints changed it. Deployed throughout Motorola Solutions's 160-odd offices, Chromebox for Meetings makes room-based video conferencing readily available throughout the company. Compared with the Cisco- or Polycom-based video systems normally in conference rooms, Meyers says Chromebox for Meetings is:
- Easier to use - The same underlying technology (Hangouts) powers video on the desktop and in the meeting room. So if employees know how to use Hangouts on their PCs they know how to set up video conferences in meeting rooms.
- Easier to set up - Chromebox for Meetings devices are so easy to set up that Motorola Solutions had interns install many of them, Meyers says. Most conference rooms already had flat screen monitors to display content, "so we just needed a power source and an Ethernet port," he adds.
- Less expensive in terms of audio conferencing - Rather than opening an audio bridge, employees in a meeting room use Hangouts to conference in other participants from within Motorola Solutions. "Every time audio conferencing minutes drop it's money in our pocket," Meyers says.
- Less expensive in terms of video conferencing - Not only was the Chromebox for Meetings hardware much less expensive that traditional video conferencing end points, Motorola Solutions incurs no separate service fee since Chromebox just uses Hangout.
I failed to ask about the Chromebox for Meetings maintenance fee, which at $250 for 500 units adds up to $125,000 annually. Has Motorola Solutions gotten some kind of discount on that? Does $125,000 per year still come in below what Meyers would expect to pay for a non-Google video conferencing service? I wonder because it seems like a lot of money.
Regardless, for Motorola Solutions, ubiquitous availability of Hangouts both on desktops and in conferencing rooms revitalized employees' use of video conferencing. "We effectively went from 40 video conference rooms that were barely used to 500 rooms that are used every day," Meyers says. "We've seen the use of [traditional video conferencing systems in conference rooms] fall off to a very large degree, and we've been debating whether or not it's time to get rid of them."
I've said this elsewhere, but it's worth mentioning again. When it comes to UC, Google is playing a different game.
Microsoft spent years developing a viable alternative to traditional PBX systems, and is now well along the way in doing the same for hosted PBX services. Google, on the other hand, isn't trying to match what UC developers deliver tit for tat. It's mining its larger, more lucrative consumer business for services and solutions it can position for businesses. It will appeal -- and, given the Motorola Solutions example, already is appealing -- to companies that have already standardized on Google Apps for Work and are exploring ways of expanding that investment.