This week brings more proof that Google's intent on grabbing from Microsoft some of the money companies will spend on collaboration software for their employees. Specifically, it has created a tool for migrating e-mail off Microsoft Exchange and onto Google Apps. Writes my colleague Thomas Claburn:
For awhile, it was hard to tell how serious Google was about business software. Sure, it would talk up its products and take your money. Ask about competitors, though, and you might hear mishmash about how Google Docs wasn't really all that much competing with Microsoft, or how Google really was just focused on the Apps user experience and providing innovative choices.
As its name suggests, Google Apps Migration for Microsoft Exchange will copy e-mail, calendar and contact data from an Exchange installation to Google's Gmail service, a part of Google Apps, preserving folder structures in the process. "It's very, very simple to understand and use this tool," said Google Apps product manager Abhishek Bapna. "It's really fast, and that's what distinguishes it from other tools."
Business IT doesn't want to hear that load. IT leaders have to put software head-to-head and pick one, and are putting their jobs on the line with the decision. They want to know people at Google have their entire existence hanging on clobbering its rivals, feature for feature and dollar for dollar. IT wants to hear you're not only better, but many times better than what they already have--if not, why rip out what they have? Especially these days, IT must cut apps, not add.
What's notable about this Exchange migration product is it's 100% created to meet a business need. (And take customers from Microsoft.) A lot of what Google does for businesses is a tag-along to its consumer business--it has Gmail, so it adds on features for a business version. Offering a migration tool isn't a remarkable step; enterprise software companies routinely provide them. But that's the point. This is Google listening to business customer gripes and making them a product. Again, from Claburn's article:
General Motors CIO Terry Kline told us about meeting with Google CEO Eric Schmidt last year, and how he told Schmidt that Google Apps wasn't quite enterprise ready. Schmidt told him to write down what it needed, and he would get people on it. A lot of execs share Kline's sentiment that Google Apps isn't quite ready for the biggest companies. But like Kline, they're interested, and think Google will get there very soon.
"In order to help customers get to the cloud, we have to help customers bridge the gap from legacy systems," explained Google Apps senior product manager Chris Vander Mey in a phone briefing.
In just the past week, C-level tech execs at two billion-dollar-plus companies told me they looked closely at online e-mail and have passed on it, so far. For one exec, it didn't meet the security and auditing needs, and the other it didn't clear the ROI hurdle, including replacing Exchange and retraining the workforce. But both felt compelled to look at it. CIOs love to see vendors competing, and they like Google's price. They're rooting for Google to get it right.
We've called for Google to show its commitment to business software at the highest level-- for one of Google's founders, Larry Page or Sergey Brin, to champion this push, and put his creativity and credibility behind business software. Building a reliable revenue stream outside advertising would seem very much in the company's interest. And if Google wants global CIOs to make a long-term commitment to its software, Google should show that its leadership is committed long term.
I'm not saying Google's going to win. Microsoft will answer the cloud software threat, and it brings some incredible products to the game. Employees like Exchange, and they're used to it. IT and your compliance lawyers like the security and audit trails they have set up. SharePoint is embedded in many companies' collaboration efforts. Without Excel, many companies literally couldn't function. But Google is just the rival Microsoft needs.
Great rivalries propel this industry. I for one am glad to see Google acknowledging that in the market for enterprise collaboration software, it's in one.
Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek.
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