Last week, Fortune magazine published an article ("Google's tough sell to Corporate America") and blog entry ("Gen Y takes to Google Apps") on Google Apps, noting that it was popular with Gen Y but not with large enterprises. To put it in perspective, Fortune noted that Microsoft made 3,000 times more revenue than Google off of its Office software: Microsoft sold $12.2 billion of Office software in 2007; Google sold $4 million of Google Apps. Large enterprise sales have been few and far between. Fortune notes:
So far, though, the largest Fortune 500 company to use Google Apps is Sanmina-SCI (SANM, Fortune 500), an electronics manufacturing company that has 900 of its 45,000 employees using the full package of applications. Another paying customer is Valeo, a publicly-traded French automotive supplier. And General Electric (GE, Fortune 500) is running Postini, an anti-spam technology that Google acquired last year, for its 300,000 employees.
I'd predicted this would be the case when I published my first report on Google Apps a year ago (Burton Group clients can access the April 2008 revision here). So why is that? Google Apps has done well within small- and medium-size businesses (SMBs); large universities such as Arizona State and Northwestern have also adopted it.
It comes down to four reasons. First, Gen Y is not yet in charge of IT strategy at large corporations. Google is banking on Gen Y employees demanding Google Apps--"'We’re not waiting 15 to 20 years. The generation of new [office apps] users is already here,' says Glotzbach"--but there's a difference between a minority of employees (without seniority) pushing for them and the older generation of CIOs mandating them. While small companies headed up by Gen Y workers are happily using Google Apps, large enterprises headed by 50- and 60-year olds who are used to Microsoft Office are taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Second, Google's consumer-centricity has done it a disservice here. Google basically took a consumer service, slapped an Enterprise name on it, and assumed companies would lap it up. Unfortunately, Google neglected to add features (so far) that competing packages have offered for more than a decade, such as tables of contents, footnotes, sophisticated e-mail distribution lists, and records management capabilities. (Although Fortune quoted me as saying that the lack of footnoting was a major deficit [I'm sure because it was an example everyone would understand without needing an explanation], the lack of records management capabilities for documents and the need for better distribution lists are the bigger problems.)
Third, the incremental benefits of using Google Apps are not that great. True, you can edit documents concurrently--which you can't do in Microsoft Office--but otherwise Google Apps is pretty much a straight copy of base Microsoft Office functionality. In other words, Google Apps makes do by copying the market leader in a rudimentary way, rather than taking the gloves off and pounding away at the things Office doesn't do: keeping track of who's reading what, suggesting other documents it might be useful to refer to, recognizing that a document similar to this one has already been written and suggesting that it might be easier just to modify the earlier document. Software as a Service (SaaS) office productivity suites can do so much more than software because they can watch the community working, and thereby help the community leverage what it already knows. Amazingly, Google doesn't take advantage of that architectural difference.
Fourth, large enterprises are behemoths--enterprises aren't inclined to change and there's nothing compelling in Google Apps at the moment to make them change (and the attractive low price isn't enough). Word processors replaced typewriters not because they did the same thing, but because storing digital documents made revisions so much easier--word processors offered a quantum leap in productivity. Google Apps doesn't offer that productivity leap yet.
When it does--or a Google competitor does--I think large enterprises will do well to adopt the new technology. Until then, more nimble SMBs and cash-crunched universities will be the sweet spot for Google Apps.