Google's impact on the enterprise market may not have been obvious at its annual I/O developers conference in San Francisco last week, but the implications of the company's growing involvement and interest in business applications are strong. Google's suite of apps for work and education continue to help organizations cut costs while improving communication, productivity and collaboration across teams.
Some CIOs and IT leaders have already transitioned large workforces from legacy systems to Google for Work, while others are just starting to introduce the cloud-based tools. Here's how three IT professionals whose companies use Google's tools every day gauge the company's current impact on business, and how they expect to see Google progress in the future.
Google as the de facto provider for non-traditionalists
Mark Hansen, systems administrator at SolidFire, says Google is trying to be the de facto infrastructure provider for companies of all sizes that don't require traditional infrastructure, he says.
"I believe they recognize how important their role is for companies, and because of that are constantly making preparations to handle the growth needs of their environment," says Hansen. SolidFire uses Google for Work, and though Hansen says the company hasn't experienced any serious issues, it identified some pain points around real-time reporting, calendar and email logs for help-desk administrators, a lack of granular delegation for things such as help desk or reporting administrators, and delegation of administrators on a per-organization-unit basis.
Despite those shortcoming, Hansen remains confident in Google for Work's future and is pleased with how responsive the company has been to concerns and requests from the IT community. "The release of features and response times to cases and issues is a testament to Google's dedication to making this product work," he says.
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When it entered the enterprise services space, Google took on a huge responsibility to make sure critical data is always available and accessible to its customers, says Hansen. He believes the momentum is shifting toward cloud providers such Google, as more of his colleagues become convinced of its viability. Whether companies take their business to Google or elsewhere is trivial though, he says, because of the IT industry's general shift to new standards -- cloud, mobile, rich data, user-friendly and intuitive -- for email and other business applications.
Google Apps for Education making inroads in K-12 classrooms
Google's foray into the business world runs alongside some of its similar, but less profitable, initiatives in education. Google Apps for Education, a free suite of applications for schools that contains no advertisements, is having a major impact at the K-12 level, says Mike Daugherty, director of technology and information systems at Chagrin Falls Exempted Village Schools in Ohio.
Many school districts across the country are looking to grants and other funding initiatives so they can purchase a computer or mobile device for every one of their students. Apple, which has a long history in education, is now competing with Google and others as the transition to digital classrooms progresses. Despite its early lead, Apple is slipping on the education front; during the third quarter of 2014, more Chromebooks (715,000) shipped to education customers than iPads (702,000), according to IDC.
Daugherty's school already purchased more than 1,700 Chromebooks in 2015, and many recent conversations he's had with colleagues in education and IT have centered on Google, he says.
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The applications that ship with Google's Chromebooks are an important determining factor that helps explain why Google is making inroads in education, according to Daugherty. He gives Google the "highest marks from a K-12 perspective" and says real-time collaboration, continued and rapid enhancements based on customer feedback, and cloud storage with automatic save functionality are the platform's real strengths.
Google's suite of applications still isn't as robust at Microsoft's, mainly in the presentation area, according to Daugherty, and the platform's primary weakness stems from this somewhat unavoidable comparison. Longtime Microsoft Office users fear change, and that makes implementation difficult.
"The key here is to lead by example, with company executives using it first," says Daugherty, who also blogs about technology challenges in education. Overall, the platform is maturing at the right pace and Google will continue to deliver on its promise in education and the enterprise, as new generations of students and workers come of age, he says.
Google for Work's reach stymied by lack of marketing
Google also played an integral role in VIF International Education's decision to move to the cloud, according to Arne Plum, the company's manager of strategy and innovation. VIF International Education is a global provider of professional development products and curriculum for education.
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"The seamless implementation, intuitiveness of the interface and rich offering in functionality" are the core strengths of Google for Work, says Plum. However, he and his team would still like to see a more robust built-in backup solution across all of Google's apps, as well as more auditing options for Google Drive.
"We believe that Google's commitment to Google for Work is reflected in the quality and availability of the product," including the number of updates and features it rolls out to the platform, Plum says. "We consider Google for Work a fully mature product at this point."
Still, there is a lack of awareness among smaller companies about Google's enterprise offerings, he says. Plum is surprised Google for Work hasn't received more attention from Google's marketing team, considering how much effort it puts into promoting Android and Chrome.
Google's legacy and focus on the consumer space means its products and services are primarily perceived as solutions for individuals, Plum says, and a greater sense of urgency and promotion on Google's part could expand the company's reach into the enterprise sector.