Google Apps for Business: This decade’s disruptive technology?

Over the past two years I have “gone Google”. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened as more and more of the stuff coming out of their labs was just so “cool”. My email is Gmail, my browser is Chrome, my apps are Google apps, my share portfolio is on Google finance and I store all my photos on Picasa. My extended family uses Gmail and Picasa. My son watches Youtube incessently. I carry an Android phone.

From once a Microsoft “sympathiser” I am now well and truly a Google Apps and cloud computing “evangelist”. Increasingly, I find myself promoting Google Apps to my friends, colleagues and acqaintances.

My experience with “cloud computing” goes back to when I first used Microsoft’s Remote Desktop Web Connection in 2002 and realised its true potential for the first time. The advantages of dumbing down the client desktop and centrally managing apps and data on a remote server over the internet were obvious to me. I have been promoting thin client desktops since. Google Apps is just an extension of the same thin client computing principle – relocating the servers to Google’s data center and making the apps work in a browser.

The typical enterprise I.T. network environment has become overly complex. What started as a few PCs on a LAN sharing files and printers has evolved to include web browsing, email, instant messaging, voice, video, intranet, wikis, wifi, publishing, biometric authentication, smartphones, remote access, firewalls, VOIP and so on. At the same time, the number and variety of security threats to corporations has increased exponentially. Scarce corporate I.T. resources are therefore spent on just protecting and keeping basic systems and functionality up and running.

Often, the end result is an unusable mess of policies, security protocols, downtime, poor response times and brittle systems and services. Enterprises can take years to rollout new systems and software (e.g. IE8, Office 2007) due to the complexity and interaction of the underlying infrastructure. So rather than being lead by their I.T. department in the application of new productive tools, companies are held back; unable to react and be as flexible as they would like.

The industry and I.T. departments have reacted by further centralising the desktop environment using technologies such as virtualisation and terminal services. Desktop systems are starting to resemble the inflexible, brittle, centralized mainframe systems they usurped all those years ago. It irks me to see central I.T. departments slowly but surely taking the fun, flexibility and innovation out of computing – all in the name of security, control and risk. I have seen corporate notebooks that take over 10 minutes to boot and then be completely bogged down by the malware protection and VPN software needed to just access the coporate network. Traditional enterprise applications require users know way too much about the underlying architecture – “What is an N: drive?” “Why must I archive Emails?” “Why do I have an inbox size limit?” “Where did my document go?” “Why must I save an attachment before editing?” The whole essence of personal computing has been completely eroded.

We have now come full circle – centralised mainframes to de-centralised PC networks and now back to centralised virtual desktops. Users are frustrated they can do more on their smartphones than they can on their corporate desktops or notebooks.

The desktop environment is ripe for change. The advent of cloud computing and Google Apps specifically, will prove to be the disruptive technology of this decade – just as PCs were in the 1980s and for much the same reason. Users need simplicity, speed and anywhere, anytime access. Security and storage should be invisible and not their concern. Finding and sharing data should be fast and simple.

Google Apps simplifies everything. All the basic functions used by every enterprise are there – email, documents, spreadsheets, presentations, intranet and storage. While some power users would argue the current functionality of the apps is limiting, I see this as an advantage as some documents are overly complex (think word docs with custom fields or a spreadsheet with multiple macros) and can only be maintained by the original author. So in my view, if a document cannot be supported by Google Apps, then it probably shouldn’t exist at all.

The advantages of Google Apps over a traditional “Wintel” environment are obvious:

  • Price
  • Generous storage limits
  • Anywhere/anytime access
  • Integration to smartphones – at no additional cost
  • Platform independence
  • SPAM and email security
  • Real-time collaboration
  • Integration with gmail
  • Search
  • 99.9% uptime guarantee

These advantages are so overwhelming that it’s a no-brainer for individual users, small groups and non-profits. It is for this reason I believe the adoption of Google Apps will be different to previous I.T. revolutions and will start in the homes of savvy users and end up in the boardrooms. Corporations will be slow to move this time but that’s mainly due to the vested interests at work. Eventually though the business case will be so compelling and the use of Google Apps so prevalent, they will be forced to move.

Conversely though CIOs who embrace this change will more likely end up becoming more of an integral part of the organisation. The migration of this functionality to Google Apps will free them and their departments up to focus on adding value to what made the organisation successful in the first place.

Migration to Google Apps for enterprises will not be without its challenges but I believe that given the right support from Google, more and more enterprises will like me “go Google” and Google Apps will become the disruptive technology of the decade.

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