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Google communications–
Regular, blended or transformational?

In the government market, details about the use of Gmail are sketchy. FederalTimes.com reported on June 20 that the Energy Department’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California plans to move all 5,000 of its e-mail users to a public cloud—Google Apps, Google’s suite of online applications.

In the enterprise market, Google lists more than 100 companies using Google’s applications. Among those listed at http://www.google.com/enterprise/customers.html are Procter & Gamble, National Geographic, Eli Lilly & Company and ConocoPhillips. One potentially ominous trend is that the University of California, Davis ended its Gmail pilot. Yale University has delayed its shift to Gmail. On the other hand, Google signed a deal with the University of Phoenix.

What’s in Gmail? Lots of stuff. Gmail is much more than mail. It has become a container in which other Google functions can be accessed with a mouse click. For instance, one can send an instant message, initiate a phone call or move to a custom Google application and back again. With Google’s “individualized Google”, Gmail becomes another function within it. The same service can operate as an application, a container for other applications or a simple applet within another Google service. Google is blending and mashing up communication functions in interesting ways.

E-mail archiving

Gmail also operates as a secure archiving system. With Google’s acquisition of Postini in September 2007, the company acquired industrial-strength security and anti-spoliation technology. Postini’s enterprise-grade technology and products were a good match for Google. Google was a Postini customer before purchasing the firm outright. The firm offered specialized communications and compliance functions. If you poke around on the Google Web site, you will learn that you can purchase secure e-mail archiving from Google at prices that are orders of magnitude below those levied by some vendors.

Another interesting enterprise service is Google Wave. I think of Google Wave as a plastic container made of software. A user or an organization can place messages, search results and other Google services in a Wave. To mark the product’s transition from lab demo to commercially viable, Google removed the “beta” label in June. Instead of visualizing Wave as a separate service, I see Google Wave as a component of transformational communications. One can use Wave, or an organization can extend Wave. With either approach, the container and modular characteristics of Google technology remain available. Google Wave can be viewed as Gmail on steroids. Wave adds findability and such useful features as extensibility, support for simultaneous conversations and mini-applications (for example, a recruiting assistant to a human resources/personnel department).

For those who are Googley, the value/cost ratio is unbeatable. Compared to the pricing for Google Search Appliance, the Google unified communications are bargains. With a burgeoning partner ecosystem, you will not have to deal with Google directly. In my experience, working through partners is almost as good as implementing the solution yourself.

What are the downsides of shifting an organization’s on-premises Exchange server, Lotus Notes and VoIP solution to Google? There are three points you will want to evaluate.

Three points

First, Google is a work in progress. Large commercial organizations or any bureaucracy for that matter move slowly. Unlike established vendors, Google maneuvers like a jet ski in the hands of a college student. Google does change direction and without warning. Agile organizations will find the Google approach refreshing. More conservative outfits will be uncomfortable with the unpredictability of the Google method.

Second, Google is a cloud solution. Uptime, security, privacy and customer support are less well known and understood in the context of an enterprise solution that is “out there” on the Internet. IBM, Microsoft and Oracle have familiar methods for addressing outages, hacks and grousers. Google relies on e-mail, online forums and its partners.

Finally, I am uncomfortable mentioning the subject of legal issues, which are getting more difficult to ignore. Google is dealing with a range of inquiries and allegations in a surprisingly variety of markets. In Europe, the Wi-Fi harvesting is an issue attracting considerable attention. In the United States, the Google Books project is guaranteed to ignite cocktail party chatter. In countries from Australia to Vietnam, Google is involved in discussions related to the core function of Internet indexing and access. The friction between China and Google is well known.

Google’s approach will yield some breakthroughs for enterprise communications and business processes. Is your organization ready for transformational communications? That is a question not even Captain Kirk could answer.

Suggested links for more information

I wish I could provide a single link to a clear, concise description of Google’s transformational  communication services for the enterprise. I cannot. Instead, you and I must piece together information from such sources as:

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