Google at Work

I was at the Google offices in London, UK yesterday for a Google at Work roadshow hosted by one of their premier partners ‘Cloud Solutions’.

Google at Work is the rebranded Google Apps for Business containing cloud based apps like Gmail for Business (Email), Calendar (Shared Diaries), Drive (Cloud storage), Docs (Spreadsheet, Word Processor, Presentations) and Hangouts (Remote Desktop and Conferencing).

After being greeted by various young, attractive Google employees, or ‘Googlers’ as they are called, a group of us were ushered into a small part of the chocolate factory – tin foil wallpaper, captain nemo style doors, strange sculptures hanging from the ceiling, rather like being in some 1960s Beatles acid trip. Pleasing but slightly disconcerting!

Having been suitably lubricated we were then given a brief run-down of all the Google apps with Q&As after each session.

A number of the participants seemed to be able to answer questions which the panel of speakers could not – it seemed a number of them were already using Google apps within their companies so quite why they were there I wasn’t sure. I did start to get the feeling that they were perhaps ‘plants’, brought in the beef up the message and show how you can become a Google evangelist too.

It quickly became apparent that Google do have something to offer. But they are rather delusional about how much impact they can make in the SMB market which is where we were all coming from. You see, with Google it’s an all or nothing approach – if you decide to use Google apps then their impression is that you will want to move completely to the Google platform, there is no hybrid state.

None of the Googlers could bring themselves to utter the word ‘Microsoft’ – the corporate training is obviously very effective. What they don’t seem to realise is that most companies, and especially SMBs, do use Microsoft products, extensively, and they will carry on using Microsoft products for various reasons – familiarity, adversity to change, cost of migrating but more importantly functionality.

There were many questions, after the Gmail run through, regarding how you could use Microsoft Outlook with Gmail. Apparently you can through the IMAP interface but you don’t get the full functionality. Another question asked was regarding whether you can connect Google Sheets or any of the apps to back end databases or web based data services – the short answer was no, not out of the box. If you want to do something like that you have to delve into the programming (Javascript) API and possibly import your databases into Google’s cloud database service – Google Engine.

The viewpoint was that anything beyond the basic functionality was considered to be a separate self-contained application that you would need to create with programmers and application designers. This is in stark contrast to Microsoft’s approach where, for instance, a typical user may only use 5% of the functionality of Excel but, the difference is, that functionality is available straight away when they do come to need it. And invariably they don’t need to involve programmers or the IT department. Microsoft have also created self-service business intelligence portals into their office products – again providing further functionality that the users can tap into out of the box and enable the IT department to control access to backend systems. The reality is that most applications are not self-contained and have to fit into a wider company eco-system.

Imagine the scenario a short time after your company has embraced the Google cloud mantra and started solely using Google for Work: a user approaches the IT department requesting the kinds of functionality described above only to be told ‘well, you can’t really do that in Google for Work, you’ll have to use those old programmes that we were told were legacy and redundant and the old way of working or you could hire a bunch of programmers to create it from scratch for you’!

However, there were many good aspects as well – document collaboration and live editing by multiple users is impressive. Google Hangouts looks like an excellent tool for conferencing and remote support. The Vault with archiving and versioning offered excellent backup. These are the kinds of apps that fit naturally into the cloud but what Google fails to realise is that they also need to fit in with existing systems.

The fact is that most companies want systems that are as flexible as possible. Enlightened ones will realise that they should not embrace one technology completely replacing another. They will use the best tool for the job – that might be local apps on desktops and/or cloud apps on tablets. They will use Google apps as an extra tool not as a replacement.

Companies like Google need to cater for this reality. Gmail with full functionality via Outlook – yes please. Document collaboration, archiving and versioning with native Excel files stored on a companies’ local storage system – yes please. Google mapping for SQL Reporting Server – yes please. They need to offer extra functionality that fits seamlessly with existing software – Google need to embrace Microsoft technology and enhance it rather than trying to replace it.

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Author: James

IT Manager - Network, Web coding, MS SQL and Online Mapping expert

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