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Google’s chiaroscuro motif

Google’s enterprise services received what Italians call chiaroscuro. The idea is that light falls across a canvas and reveals details that might otherwise be difficult to perceive. The PR blitz for Chrome as a new Google operating system is interesting, but it may not make it easy to see two broader enterprise initiatives revealed in July 2009. The penetrating light came from two different continents and concerned two quite different Google services.

The first was the announcement that Google would deploy enhanced real estate services in Australia. Google has made some real estate services available in the Google Base service. You can see that partially implemented service by navigating to http://base.google.com. You will have to click on the hot link “housing.” Keep in mind that Google changes its services frequently so this link may be moved or removed. Once you have the Google Base search screen visible, just run the query Baltimore + “real estate.”

The system will display a map of the Baltimore area. When you click on a pushpin, you will see specific listings. A bit of experimentation reveals that the system holds much promise but does not provide hot links to other Google services such as one-click access to Gmail. With a bit of fiddling, you can locate real estate listings in the Google.com search box. I have been able to reach some Baltimore condo listings via Google Local.

What’s clear is that Google has bits and pieces of a larger-scale real estate system available. The company—at least for this American user—has not connected the dots. In my opinion, the dots are chunky, just not easily identified using Google’s plain vanilla interface.

Half a world away, Google and Microsoft emerged as front-runners for housing individuals’ health records. The story in the London Time(http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article6644919.ece) makes clear that the idea for using Google and Microsoft to handle U.K. citizens’ health records is a trial balloon. The Times acknowledges the security and privacy concerns. The paper pointed out that the U.K. government’s efforts have failed.

If you have not explored Google’s medical information service, you will want to run the query “back pain.” Scroll to the bottom of the first page of results and you will see categories. When you click on one of those, you will see results grouped. 

Next, navigate to Google Health (google.com/health) where you can take the tour and explore the extensive information about the program at your leisure. The basic idea is that Google can put one’s medical history in its Google Health system. A physician, for example, could access that information with the permission of the patient.

You can also explore the health and medical information in Google Scholar (http://scholar.google.com), in Google Books (http://books.google.com) and YouTube.com’s collection of health related videos. Available, for example, are programs in which Marissa Meyers and Eric Schmidt explain Google Health. Jerry Lin’s two-part video about the basics of Google Health is quite informative. You can access it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKYwiphgWH8. Those two events appear to be unrelated. Google “glue” connects them.

At about the same time, Google corporate announced that Google Apps had exited the beta stage. You can read Google’s official announcement at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2009/07/google-apps-is-out-of-beta-yes-really.html.

In the official announcement, Google said, “We have much more in store, and IT managers can read more about how to make the switch to Apps in our Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes resource centers. One more thing—for those who still like the look of ‘beta,’ we’ve made it easy to re-enable the beta label for Gmail from the Labs tab under Settings.”

Let’s step back.

We have real estate. We have the U.K. medical information initiative. And Google Apps and Gmail are officially real products. Presumably a product that is no longer in beta is sufficiently reliable for use in the enterprise.

What makes those three widely separated news stories and announcements interesting to me is that they are not separate products. For example, Microsoft offers its enterprise server software. But its online health information system is a cloud-based service that has little or no connection with Microsoft’s desktop applications like Word or its entertainment products like the Xbox 360 or the Zune.

Google, on the other hand, has a more homogeneous platform. The plumbing for Google Apps, Google Health and the Google real estate service in Australia share a common infrastructure. The DNA of the Google software and systems is from the same body of technology. Microsoft, as its massive investments in its online services like Bing.com make evident, is a work in progress.

Google, therefore, is “as is” infrastructure, software and systems. Microsoft is a work in progress, and that work is in the “to be” stage of development.

In my opinion, that distinction makes it possible for Google to deliver new, integrated services to the enterprise with little incremental investment. The real estate and health initiatives illuminate Google’s disruptive potential in the enterprise in business sectors that are lost in the shadows of Google’s advertising and Web search activities.

Item. Commercial real estate. Most organizations have to deal with real estate whether they are expanding or contracting. Google’s real estate service, combined with Google Apps, enables a Google partner to develop an enterprise real estate application that makes it possible for an organization to list properties it wants to sell or lease and its needs in particular geographic areas. The combination of Google Base, Google Maps and Google Apps provides a developer either within Google or among its partners the building blocks required to develop a service that can stretch from site selection to most pre-signing activities.

Item. Employee health information. Organizations struggle with a number of health and wellness issues, including providing employees with information about defined benefit plans. The documents and spreadsheets that permit “what if” exploration of options can be easily accommodated in Google Apps. But some organizations may want to take a close look at Google Health as a customizable service. Employees may avail themselves of an option to store certain information in the Google Health system and employers may provide a wellness service via Google Custom Search or other combination of Google services and information. Shifting benefit communications to Google and using the Google warehouse of information as a way to provide employees with useful information might allow some cost savings.

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