When Google Apps started hitting the enterprise market, there were four main problems Curmudgeon Techs had with the web-based suite. In no particular order, they were:
1) It lacks the functionality of traditional, installed productivity apps.
2) Very little security or support.
3) The airplane problem (meaning, it had no offline mode)
4) No PowerPoint equivalent.
So far, here’s been Google’s answer (in so many words):
1) Just wait a few years.
2) Bought e-mail security vendor Postini for $625 million and started partnership with established IT outsourcing consultancy Capgemini for support.
3) Google Gears, which they opened up to the developer community, already works with some Google Apps (like Google Reader) and some speculate a Gmail offline mode is in the works.
4) And today: Google presentation software embedded within the Docs function of Google Apps.
Today’s announcement will be layered with what we in the business technology media call qualifiers. For example, see text in bold: “In its push into the enterprise space, Google added a presentation software, but don’t expect it to replace your Office suite just yet.” It’s how we make big statements but pad them with blanket disclaimers to avoid controversy.
All right, all right. Google is a complement, not a replacement. Yep. Fine. I get it.
But that measured tone dances around one inescapable fact: When you consider how quickly Google has answered – or at least partially answered – the aforementioned shortfalls, it makes you wonder if the software industry will be affected by Software as a Service (SaaS) more quickly than the pundits originally predicted?
When it comes to disruption, some have compared the traditional software companies to the newspaper industry of the mid to late 1990s. In this piece about newspapers adapting to the web, you can see three main stages of disruption (for a more precise analysis, I’d suggest looking into the work of Clayton Christensen, the man who put the idea of disruptive innovation/technology on the map).
In the first stage, the disrupted entity acknowledges the new technology is important, and takes moderate steps to counter it (newspaper builds lousy, non-interactive website). Then there’s a period where it goes into denial that the disruption has hit critical mass (continues on with business as usual, touting old product as better and more reliable). And three, once it’s too late, it scrambles to restructure its business model entirely, resulting in massive layoffs and cantankerous criticisms (and probably a few lawsuits) aimed at the disrupter.
The difference is, software companies know about technology. They understand it. They don’t need to go down the same road as newspapers. Despite legacy concerns, they can be key players. Microsoft and IBM, to their credit, have been moving in the right direction (Microsoft with its Software Plus Services; IBM with its enterprise Web 2.0 apps). While there remain holes in their strategies (just like Google’s), their decision to take action will matter a lot more to enterprise customers than words. They should avoid writing belligerent – if not angry – rants as to why Google Apps isn’t a compelling alternative. Such a strategy won’t work over the long term (which might be more short term than originally believed).
Once the first question (the functionality gap) gets answered in the coming years, a bunch of lawyers, name-calling, and media qualifiers won’t get anybody anywhere. The test will be what they have to offer, and I would not count the traditional guys out of offering something very compelling.
Nor would I count out the new guy, who has been spotted a pretty substantial head start.