by C.G. Lynch

Google Battles the Always-On Perception Problem

May 22, 20093 mins
Enterprise Applications

Though Google launched Google Apps years before Microsoft will make an Online Office, has the company missed an opportunity?

I don’t envy Google’s task sometimes when it comes to selling business software. In the enterprise market, for every innovative IT person, Google must also contend with thousands of complacent CIOs who, even if they could buy something cheaper and better, will stick with IBM and Microsoft until they retire or leave the job toes-up. And then there are these Google service outages. They just won’t go away.  

The past week, the wire has been flooded with articles that Google News, Google search, Google Apps and Gmail all suffered downtime (you can Google it to find them). In many cases, the products go down for a short period, only affecting a small portion of users, but the news alert nevertheless lands everywhere in the media, given Google’s tech-rock-star status . Unfortunately, while many consumers will get over an outage in a matter of hours, technology buyers make mental notes that have more far-reaching consequences.   

And as all this occurs, it makes you wonder if Google feels it has missed a critical opportunity. 

Microsoft has been remarkably slow at rolling out its answer to Google Apps. The launch of a truly Online MS Office might not happen until late 2009 — nearly three years after Google Apps hit the market (though an online version of Exchange, Microsoft’s e-mail system, finally launched recently.) 

And that old enterprise standby, Lotus Notes, could be the ugliest e-mail system on the planet, especially when placed next to the elegant design of Gmail. 

So why don’t we see a laundry list of enterprise clients for Google?

The perception problem created by the outages must be near the top of the list of reasons. It’s not that the Google technology is truly dangerous or bad, but it’s perceived as such in the wake of these incidents. As Bill Brenner, a senior editor at CSO, just pointed out, “When Google suffers a massive outage as it did last week — followed by another one yesterday — people can’t help but have their doubts. Google content accounts for about 5 percent of all Internet traffic, so when it went down, many who have come to rely on its myriad applications to conduct business were dead in the water.”

Count me as one of them. I do a fair portion of my writing in Google Docs and I keep all my notes there in the event that someone steals my laptop. The value proposition for Google Apps is high — but only if I can always get my data. An outage  inconveniences me as an individual greatly. I can’t imagine what people who worry about enterprise security, reliability and scale think about after learning of the outages. 

Secondly, Google Enterprise might have some resource issues when it comes to selling its software. With the tough economy, it wouldn’t be surprising if the company refocused its efforts on search. In many ways, Google Apps is a start-up, but one that the media and enterprise buyers expected to immediately compete with the big guys. This might be unfair, but it’s the reality. 

Why can’t Google Enterprise be viewed as successful if it sells software to small and medium-sized organizations by the thousands. Must it be enterprise or bust? 

Well, yes.

To its credit, Google has landed some enterprise customers such as Genentech and (more recently) Valeo, but the published examples remain few and far between. Until Google lands more enterprise wins, and finds ways to avoid these painfully public outages, they’ll continue fighting the perception battle.