by C.G. Lynch

Google Adds Offline Functionality for Documents, and What it Means to IT

Apr 01, 20083 mins
Enterprise Applications

Google Documents & Spreadsheets, the productivity component of the Google Apps online software suite, can now be taken offline, in yet another sign that the company means business (for businesses).

The addition of an offline mode addresses what has long been a criticism of IT people who have shunned the application as nothing more than the fantasy of a consumerist in the enterprise. If workers are stuck on a plane, or anywhere else without online access for that matter, for example, how will they get work done?

Using Google Gears, which the companyopened last year to developers to solve the offline problem, the issue seems to have been addressed. While Google Apps, online or off, lacks the “rich functionality” of something like Microsoft Office, the majority of users, at least anecdotally, never see much past the basic buttons in Word and Excel.

But this is just as much a battle of hearts and minds as it is technology itself, and many IT departments seem to prefer something with upkeep. In our annual consumer IT survey, nearly 54 percent of the 311 IT decision makers surveyed said that a suite like Google Apps is not appropriate for enterprise use.

One argument, they contended, is the security element of not storing data on site. But for most run-of-the-mill businesses, it’s hard to say whether their servers could be any more locked down than Google’s, and whether their uptime is at all better. Part of it is no doubt psychological – if you can see a server, or have someone who works for you see it, then you’re in control of your destiny.

But security and rich functionality might just be what they mention at the surface. The underlying issue might be that Google Docs requires so little IT involvement that it runs the risk of marginalizing its role. For $50 per user per year, any line of business head with a corporate credit card could purchase an enterprise version of the suite to help his employees edit everything in real time, rather than, say, sending around reply-all e-mails, or if they find the check-in, check-out process of Office Live to be too cumbersome.

When we did a story about Google Sites, a new feature to Google Apps that allows users to create a corporate intranet with no programming experience, Google noted that wasn’t trying to marginalize IT’s role, but analysts felt otherwise.

It doesn’t have to be this way. IT could view Google Apps as a good thing, and focus its attention on other productivity issues that require a technologist in the enterprise.

But, of course, whether they will depends on the leader, and the company.