Google may have begun life as a company focused on delivering the best results to search consumers, but over the years the IT giant has dipped its collective toe into mobile solutions, hosted applications and collaboration — areas of critical importance to business. Google's global vice-president of enterprise, Amit Singh, sat down to talk strategy, products and the changing nature of the CIO role.
Tell us about Google's strategy for enterprise IT
AS: Google's enterprise strategy is really built around three pillars. There's the cloud, and we've been in that business for several years bringing forward consumer-based Cloud products, but with features, controls, et cetera that businesses care about along with service level agreements and support and a partner ecosystem. There is mobility, which is an area that really works to the advantage of people who have requirements of devices... and the last is around social and bringing social and collaborative concepts into the enterprise.
So, it's cloud, social and local. We increasingly live in a world where applications are web-enabled so you can start to build a new platform for IT using the building blocks of the internet. It starts with core and simple capabilities like Gmail, a Gmail cloud service is now more reliable, has more functionality and is cheaper [than] any enterprise can run by itself.
It is an example of a cloud service at massive scale. However, we have other parts of the Google Docs suite where we are seeing very high adoption. The idea is if you're living in the cloud you can collaborate on documents. Think of it as a replacement for Microsoft Office.
The functionality being delivered on an online platform is very fast. The analogy is Salesforce compared to Siebel, there was a time when Siebel functionality was so far ahead and then, because it was on-premise, with different version releases and really long development cycles, innovation is just not as fast. [In contrast], we have a release a week for some of these products.
What innovations will you be rolling out to your enterprise customers?
AS: More products are coming in the geolocation space where businesses and governments can move their geospatial data into the Cloud. We're essentially bringing all of Google's Cloud services, Google Apps, Google Earth and geo products, Google Commerce Search, to business.
Google's Cloud platform is starting to emerge as an option for companies and businesses and education institutions. It started out with Google App Engine, which is now our fourth largest Web property. We have 200,000 developers on it and, you know, examples like the Royal Wedding, which had a peak query usage of something like 200 million queries per second.
Who do you compete with in that space? Is it Amazon Web Services?
AS: To some extent. It's actually mostly proprietary stuff to be honest. People still want to buy servers and buy the licences upfront and really they're doing themselves a disservice by not looking at new online platforms.
We are in a similar category as Force.com with Salesforce, although they sort of appeal to a different audience. We appeal to when you're looking for scale and reliability, really big systems. Just don't buy any more databases and servers. I mean we're well past that now.
The trouble is once you move out of cities and regional hubs you are very limited in terms of connectivity. How do you see overcoming that issue?
AS: A lot of our products aren't very bandwidth intensive, so Gmail, Docs work fine over a broadband connection. It doesn't need to be a T1 connection or, you know, and we've found some customers have actually seen the bandwidth usage go down by using the products.
A large percentage of email that we get every day is spam and we capture that at source, so it doesn't come down the pipe to you. Most traditional on premise solutions capture it on premise, so 90 per cent of the bandwidth used is mail that you don't actually want. We've actually seen it the other way, which has been quite interesting.
CIOs are really trying to make their organisations more mobile. How does it fit with your strategy?
AS: We've built mobility into the fabric of all our products. The whole idea of the web platform is all the information is available. In terms of mobility, we have been really focused on manageability to try and take the devices that are proliferating and providing layers of security and manageability.
Part of that is included in the Google Apps Suite so you have some simple controls and password protection. Two-factor authentication is a core part of the Google Apps Suite. The latest release of Ice Cream Sandwich in Android has enterprise encryption, so you have a great platform now that is an encrypted device.
Android also has the ability to build apps, it's an open source system and the whole idea is that we want people to build a new generation of applications, mobile applications.
Imagine you're in an enterprise. You have all your data locked up in the backend, and you are trying to get it out and deliver it in a simple manner. You can obviously buy the apps from those vendors and that's a good thing. However, you want to connect the dots for people and you want to do so in the visual interface. The Android development platform allows you to build a new generation of apps which really enhances the productivity of your employees.
We will continue to make investments in mobility and in manageability. Our cloud products are inherently mobile and that's our big advantage. Fundamentally, other platforms are designed for desktops and they're trying to extend, but we live in a post-PC world.
How do consumer platforms such as Google Plus fit into an enterprise strategy?
AS: The whole idea of Google Plus is it's really a new platform for fine grain sharing, so it has the concept of Circles and where you can share within a group. Imagine doing that with a team; you have search built in, so it becomes a knowledge base. You can search for all the organisational history as people are talking to each other and find the experts that are out there based on their profile as well as based on what they're saying about things.
It's basically Facebook for enterprise, but with better features and more controls. Along with that, we have built into this platform a multi-bay video conferencing facility. It is video conferencing from any device at any time integrated with Google Apps with a calendar. You can share documents and webcast them in real time. You can watch training videos together and 'hang out'.
We feel it's the next thing in broad enterprise productivity because I think most people say the time of individual silo-based process oriented efficiency has run its course. That was the PC era of individual productivity. The next set of innovation is coming from teams and so our products are built for teams.
So, do you see the Google Plus product as being an enterprise product rather than for individuals?
AS: I think it's both. That is the beauty about all our products. And what's interesting is a lot of CIOs actually know that. They see it in their enterprises, but their last gen infrastructure, the PC-based infrastructure doesn't lend itself to these things. So, we are providing that next generation architecture.
Talking of mobile, where do Chromebooks fit into this strategy?
AS: If you live in a post-PC world you either live on the web or you've virtualised your apps, either professionally through Citrix or VMware, et cetera. Really, why do you need a PC? It's expensive to manage and maintain, and we think that over time the PC will be replaced by different kinds of things, smart phones, tablets and yes, Chromebooks.
We've built a device that costs $1 a day available on a monthly fee basis supported, provided directly from Google, which can dramatically change and it comes with a 3G plan and all that stuff, so it's highly mobile. You can take it anywhere and it's a first class experience. It's very fast. Boot up time is less than seven seconds, so you're always online.
How do they fit into a desktop virtualisation strategy?
AS: A Chromebook comes with a Citrix receiver so it's perfect if you virtualise your desktop. You can run web apps or you have a virtualised desktop for legacy apps that you may need occasionally.
Enterprise IT is not just about the products, it's about the services. How do you see that for Google?
AS: I have a team of deployment folks, but the goal for us is to build this ecosystem, so we have eight to 10 qualified, certified product experts in the partner channel that comes in and implements the products and gives advice around change and so on.
We've also built a lot of tools over time that just can obviously take your old data and convert it into the new data.
Our clear strategy here is to continue to grow that ecosystem at a pace that can sustain them. And we are doing the same thing on the Cloud platform side, we are training them on delivering really great outcomes with our platform because that is a build option.
There is a perception that the Google Apps platform is for small and medium enterprises rather than the big end of town. Do you think that is justified?
AS: It certainly started out that way. If you're a small business today, there is no reason for you to like to buy anything and that business actually for us is moving the fastest, accelerating.
[Last year], 5000 businesses joined the Google Apps platform, so small businesses get it. They move fast.
But, interestingly enough, we're seeing that move in large businesses as well. Obviously, their cycles are longer. They have broader concerns around data or they want to do a pilot and those kinds of things. But we are starting to get more large companies such as Ray White and Flight Centre and Jetstar. These are 15, 10, 12,000 users. They aren't small. The level of service has gone up. The cost has gone down. What is there not to like?
As more of those come online, it becomes a movement. So, last year we acquired 10 million new users to Google Apps. It's a very scalable big platform and the more people come on the better it gets and so we continue to see very large governments also adopt it.
The education market is really important to us. There, we provide our products for free and that's just part of the culture of Google, it's a young company and we want the young people to have the best technology and not have to worry about the cost of it.
We are against upfront agreements; pay for what you use, right? The whole idea of lock-in is not us. We're an open system. You should be able to get in as easily and you can get out as easily.
It's not just about data, however. There's a lot of change management associated with a move to the cloud. How do you deal with that from Google's perspective?
AS: It's really two questions, the first is what will change things?
[And that will happen] as more large clients move to the cloud and realise it is a better option. There's the total cost of ownership equation and the hidden benefit is the usage of Docs and Sites and collaboration and the social stuff and mobility.
Then there's the change management question. The beauty of the product is that you shouldn't need a manual. We need to make our products really consumer oriented and this is the consumerisation idea that everybody talks about.
When people say 'consumerisation of IT', they mean [taking the] simple, fast, beautiful products that we use as consumers and using them in businesses. That's not to say that you don't need complex functionality, but hide it. Hide it from the user and manage it.
[A lot of enterprise applications] are bloated software that you pay an arm and a leg for, that moves at three-year cycles. That's the problem with traditional enterprise IT.
People hunger for the consumer experience. They're delighted to be given the tools to do it themselves versus having to go to IT, so the role of IT actually is changing. The early adopters are making it about enablement and empowerment of business communities versus the control.
How will that affect the CIO role?
AS: Information officers have an option to become innovation officers. They sit on the intersection of business ideas and technology. There are very few executives in companies who understand that and the progressive ones are saying, "You know what, I can change the culture of this company and really unleash innovation and productivity."
There has been a lot of talk about Chromebooks for a long time. Do you see that competing with an Apple product like the MacBook Air or something like that?
AS: It's a different vision. The vision is of a device that doesn't have a hard disk, so it's a cloud device versus a MacBook which is still a PC, very elegant PC replacement. I love my MacBook Air, but in the end it has content on the device and inherently makes it hard to manage, [is] costly, less secure; the things that, frankly, enterprises care a fair bit about.
In the case of a Chromebook, you have a verified boot. It also is sharable, so you can outfit it. So, it works really well with virtualisation. We plan to have them in all sorts of different form factors for businesses and we think it's going to be a very interesting next 18 months as tablets and Chromebooks and all these new devices come out.
What are the differences between the Chrome OS and Android?
AS: [Chrome] is mostly built for a keyboard experience for the type of users who are creating content. A tablet is great for consumption and it's great for short things and for short time periods and it's not really great for authoring and stuff.
So, we feel like there is a place for both. We're absolutely committed to both platforms.