For decades, basic office software didn't pose any major questions for IT departments — you bought Microsoft Office, and then worked on keeping it up-to-date, because there simply wasn't much else available that made sense for the enterprise. By the mid-1990s, Microsoft had ruthlessly dispatched competitors like Novell and was essentially unchallenged in the enterprise software market.
Over the past several years, however, Microsoft's dominion over productivity software use at the organisational level has been slowly but steadily eroded, due in large part to the emergence of a new cloud-based competitor, in the form of Google Apps.
Google asserts that 5 million businesses use Apps, and that the number of re-sellers topped 10,000 earlier this year. The company is also aggressively trying to drum up further business, earlier this month announcing a bonus referral program for existing customers.
Shaw International, a long-standing flooring manufacturer and distributor, is a Google Apps customer, using the product to connect 22,000 employees around the world. The company had been looking for a replacement for its Lotus Notes-based infrastructure since the mid-2000s, according to enterprise technology architecture and planning manager Jim Nielsen.
Initially, he says, Google Apps didn't seem like the complete package.
"Google came onto the radar as an email replacement, but not much else," Nielsen says. "And we watched with great interest, and actually met with Google about their plans" in 2007.
From the outset, Shaw was looking to move to the cloud, according to Nielsen. But other companies - including Microsoft and IBM - didn't impress with their cloud-based solutions at the time. And so the project was delayed. By the time Shaw was ready to pull the trigger, in 2010, the team had it narrowed down to Google and Microsoft, and a cost analysis made Google look like an easy victor.
"What we saw was a stark contrast in additional spend," Nielsen says.
The simple, one-size-fits-all licensing terms appealed strongly to Shaw, as well.
"Imagine an employee base of 22,000 people, trying to figure out what each person's going to need from day to day," he says.
Sept. 1, 2011 saw the deal finalized, and the response from above was positive, Nielsen says.
"Our CIO and the director for IT were in a meeting and the way that they posed it to the executive steering committee was 'are you tired of all the downtime with email?' And everybody was like 'yes!'" he says.
Forrester Research senior analyst TJ Keitt says Google's rise in the business world has been somewhat delayed by the company's consumer focus but adds that that focus may be becoming an asset, rather than a liability.
"From the Google perspective, enterprise applications have historically been overwrought, and designed not with a person in mind, but this concept of a business user," he says. "So they're unfriendly, they're hard to use, and they provide capabilities that someone will never actually get to use."
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