The slow, steady progress of Google+, Cloud, Maps and more in the enterprise

By Fritz Nelson , written on July 22, 2013

From The News Desk

This is Part 2 of our inside look at how Google is starting to compete in the enterprise. Read Part 1, "Google wants to own enterprise, but it’ll do it Google style.

Most of Google’s visible activity around the enterprise has centered on Google Apps for Business, which has gone toe-to-toe with Microsoft Office and made admirable progress, with some 5 million customers. Nevertheless, Microsoft Office maintains a 90 percent market share. Google’s less visible work-in-progress revolves around the success of Google+, Android, Google Maps, and even Google Drive in the enterprise; and of course, the newly available Google Compute Engine (GCE).

In each area, save for GCE, Google begins with a consumer-focused offering, and when it reaches a certain size and scale (see Gmail, Apps, Android, Chrome), the technology naturally invades the enterprise, or Google creates an enterprise package around it, or both. In other words, Google doesn’t specifically create products for the enterprise. It relies on customer pull, rather than Google push, and this can create a wary relationship with enterprise IT, for better or worse.

The good news for Google is that it’s doing just fine without the enterprise; and when the enterprise gets on board, no matter how slowly that happens, it’s really just more frosting on the cake.

Sweet tooth, anyone?

Amit Singh, president of the Google enterprise division, says Google+ is the world’s second-largest social network, at 190 million active users, with 100 brands garnering 100 million followers. So it’s not surprising that the company was talking about Google+ as an enterprise phenomenon at Google I/O, its annual developer conference.

The Hangouts part of Google+ has been, so far, the most appealing piece for the enterprise. Dan Petlon, CIO of Enterasys, a provider of enterprise technology infrastructure, says that he actually took the landline telephone out of his office; all internal calls are starting to happen on Hangouts, and even externally, where he'll use Google Voice to make a Hangout call. He conducts at least three Hangouts a day, he says, communicating with the Enterasys supply chain and finance teams in Ireland "at the click of a button." Externally, he thinks it can also be a good platform to do things like broadcast training videos for the company's supply chain, or prospect base.

Here too, Google has first proven the concept by building it for the masses. Google conducts 20,000 Hangouts each day, according to Singh.

There’s more to Google+ in the enterprise than Hangouts, though. Singh calls Google+ the "social layer underlying all of our products." Petlon says that his company is starting to see it that way too. Plus is integrated with Google Calendar and Gmail, and the addition of hashtags is creating what he hopes will be an automated knowledge base internally.

Google also announced a Google+ Enterprise API during the developer conference. The company says that it's early days, so it won't share specifics on any enterprise adoption. The potential is there for developers to push content into the Google+ stream, to auto-populate Circles from within apps, and to pre-build networks inside of companies (for example, Circles for the accounting or marketing department).

During a discussion with the Google+ team at Google I/O, one enterprise technology leader asked if Google planned to take aim at companies like Yammer and Jive -- an excellent question that Google deftly sidestepped. (Singh tap-stepped around it it, too, but he certainly wasn’t ruling that sort of challenge out, either.)

Beyond productivity apps and enterprise social networks, there’s Google’s cloud infrastructure, and specifically Google Compute Engine, the company's Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). Google announced GCE at the 2012 Google I/O conference, and made it officially available this year.

Singh calls GCE is "an externalization of Google." APIs will allow the use of Google services like translation, machine learning and prediction. "We're giving you all of Google, not a data center," he says.

A Google spokesman would not reveal GCE’s adoption rate (if the numbers were impressive, surely he would have, but here, too, it’s the early going), but Singh says SnapChat is built on GCE (if frenzied teenagers can’t break it, clearly it has arrived!), along with voting on Eurovision TV content. Singh says that GCE experiences a peak load of about 50,000 queries per second with that voting.

Google App Engine (GAE), the company’s Platform-as-a-Service offering (PaaS), has been around for a while, has 300,000 developers and millions of applications, according to Singh, and enterprise customers like Best Buy are using it to do things like build customer-facing loyalty applications.

With GCE and GAE, Google can take aim at the likes of Amazon and Microsoft, but as with most of its “enterprise” offerings, Google has an uphill battle: Both competitors have entrenched customers and growing mindshare, not to mention more fleshed out offerings.

There are other areas of progress, too. Tim Smith, Vice President of Digital at Imagination, a content marketing agency, is thinking about whether some of his company’s knowledge workers should get Chromebooks, another product that Google is pushing for enterprise adoption. For now, the progress is happening in the education market, Singh says, but retailers are also using them in kiosk environments.

Google says car companies, utilities and sports teams, for instance, are using Maps Coordinate and Google Maps Engine. BMW is a marquis Maps for Business customer, and Google says BMW will also be using Google Places and Street View in their cars. GE's SmallWorld technology uses the Maps API.  Fedex uses Google Map Engine as a platform for real time store locators.

With increased Google Apps uptake, Google Drive is likely to become a popular personal cloud storage and collaboration tool. Drive is more than just personal storage and a central hub for Google Apps; it also includes a Google Drive SDK, which thousands of developers have used to create or integrate web-based applications with Google Drive.

The business tools section of the Google Chrome web store is littered with Google Drive applications, including more enterprise-ready ones from companies like ZOHO and ZOHO’s project management app, for instance, uses Google’s APIs to integrate tasks with Google Calendar and Gmail. Some of the apps take advantage of the real-time collaboration capabilities built into the Drive APIs (the same ones available in Google Docs, for instance).

Imagination’s Smith told me how his company's developers managed to use Google Drive APIs to connect document scanners through a .Net SMTP server to push large scanned images to Google Drive for storage purposes. Imagination built this in just a couple of days, he says.

It’s exciting, but Google is still learning about the enterprise. Take mobile, where Android, despite its more general, wildly popular success, has been a bastard stepchild in the enterprise until recently, after Google added support for ActiveSync, encryption, a private, curated app store, and deeper mobile device management (MDM) support. Even here, Google has relied on (and worked closely with) enterprise partners like Samsung, which created robust enterprise offerings SAFE and KNOX.

And that is Google, willing to place bets, learn as it goes, change as it learns, grow as it changes. For some CIOs the learning part isn’t just slow, it’s arrogant. For others, like Imagination’s Smith and Enterasys’ Petlon, the agility Google projects to its consumer customers is a welcome breath of fresh air.

[Original image via 1027kord]