Microsoft and IBM feel heat from Google Apps

Microsoft and IBM executives have admitted feeling the heat from Google, now that the web search giant is trying to make inroads into the enterprise market with its hosted suite of communication and collaboration tools.

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Microsoft and IBM executives have admitted feeling the heat from Google, now that the web search giant is trying to make inroads into the enterprise market with its hosted suite of communication and collaboration tools.

Rob Curry, director at Microsoft's Office business platform group, said during a panel discussion at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston that hosted Google Apps is gaining traction primarily in universities. He claimed it is a welcome addition to enterprise software because of its simplicity and ease of use.

"We actually see [Google] as a great competitor in this space," he said. "And they bring a good spirit in terms of simplicity, ease of use and things we're trying to leverage as we go forward in our development cycle."

Forrester analyst Erica Driver described Google Apps as a "direct shot at Microsoft Office" when Google released an enterprise version of the tool in February. The application offered customers email, instant messaging (IM), a calendar tool, a web page creator, support for email on BlackBerry mobile devices and integration with Google Docs & Spreadsheets.

IBM, which offers the Lotus Notes set of email, calendar and collaborative applications, as well as selling Lotus Sametime, an IM and web conferencing tool, has partnered with Google. But it still sees the company as a potential competitor.

Ken Bisconti, vice president messaging and collaboration software at IBM, said during the panel discussion: "We're a key partner of Google's ... hopefully for the good of our customers. I also fully expect them to become a competitor to us in the business space."

Bisconti believed Google executives were busy trying to understand the requirements of enterprises, a learning process that would be crucial if the search company hoped to gain real market traction for Google Apps.

"Most of our customers tell us they're talking to the Google enterprise team," he said. "Google is doing a good job of collecting information to understand enterprise requirements. ... I don't see them as a near-term competitor but as a long-term potential substitution."

No Google officials participated in the panel. The session also gave the vendors a chance to discuss the broad trend in which employees expect the types of instant communication available to them in their personal lives.

"The role of instant messaging has completely transformed and it has become a business expectation," said Akiba Saeedi, IBM's programme director for unified communications and collaboration products.

He said that a number of years ago, people questioned whether email would become a necessary business function, but that today noone would question it, and IM seems to be heading in a similar direction.

Bisconti at IBM cautioned against getting caught up in industry buzzwords such as ‘enterprise 2.0’ but admitted that the desire for collaborative technology has created a huge business opportunity for software vendors: "I have never seen so much senior-level interest in companies in improving the way they communicate, collaborate and improve the speed and agility of their business.”

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