Arthur C. Clarke, the prolific science fiction author who passed away in March once famously stated, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." These days, there are two competing technology trends -- the increasing inscrutability of highly specialized IT applications and the so-called "consumerization" of IT -- that are battling it out from the IT department to the user desktop. The first trend serves to increase IT's "magic" quotient, while the second serves to put more power and collaborative potential in the hands of users. With its newest release, Google Sites, and the ongoing push for its Google Apps office-as-a service suite (currently being deployed at manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble and GE), Google Inc. hopes to tip the balance by throwing its considerable weight on the side of the user.
Jeremy Milo, senior product marketing manager with Google's Apps division, says that his company "has only just started to scratch the tip of the iceberg" where corporate adoption of consumer-friendly tools is concerned. In the age of the information worker, the need for usable, understandable and configurable collaborative tools has never been higher, which is the market niche Google is hoping to fill with its Google Sites product. Sites was developed by a team as a knowledge management and collaborative publishing tool to allow for easier adoption of 2.0-style applications into the business realm, according to Milo.
"Sites has wiki DNA," he says, as it allows teams to create dynamic content and collaborate on project sites and intranet sites," Milo says. "Unlike some other file-sharing services, you don't need any coding skills to use it. Editing a page is as easy as editing a document," he claims.
For instance, Milo says even someone without any Web programming experience can easily embed a dynamic spreadsheet into a Web page, "so if there's a spreadsheet you use to track project milestones, you can embed it into the page and create a project map. You can take a Google
Calendar and embed it in the page so that everyone's schedules are accessible. If you've got photos that document a process, you can embed a photostream, or upload a training video to YouTube and embed that -- it's all drag-and-drop."
Milo says the grassroots success of its applications (Gmail, Google Docs) in the consumer sphere has bled over into work use and has driven the creation of Google's enterprise strategy. "After seeing all the people that were using the applications at work spontaneously, we thought that the combination might be attractive to companies looking to save some money."
As a company, Google is full of IT professionals who understand that CIO/CTO buy-in is crucial to both initial sales and long-term success. Therefore, Milo says that although business users were enthusiastically deploying the Apps packages in an unstructured way made them happy, it also made them very nervous. "We wanted to make it secure for businesses to deploy Apps to their entire enterprise at once, and make deployment and administration a centrally managed strategy with control over user behavior." In other words, usability got them in the door, but they see security as their ticket to a line item on the budget.
"We have developed a series of programming tools to do things like make it easy to migrate anywhere up to thousands of users at once," he says, noting that Google's penchant for open standards led to the development of plug-ins for easily transferring data from existing corporate e-infrastructure.
Another of these plug-and-play customizations that is generating interest among corporate IT departments brings the efficiency of a "single sign-on" system to whatever applications needed at the user level. "We've developed a unified sign-on page that works to make sure your users don't have to keep signing in to different programs whenever they want to do something new," Milo says, noting that this not only aids in increasing information worker efficiency, but actually aids in security as workers don't write their multiple passwords down in obvious places (one of the most-broken rules in IT security).
Multilanguage support is available for global implementations, and in this kind of plug-and-play environment, even compliance is configurable -- an upgrade called Message Discovery is available that will automate long-term message archiving, lightening the burden of Sarbanes-Oxley and other e-discovery legislation.