Lately, we've been discussing the concept of tech populism and the how enterprises are moving towards a more people-centric focus when it comes to their IT infrastructure. Although we support this movement of bringing social tools into the workspace, one could argue that there's a right way and a wrong way to do this. For some, it's a matter of introducing social or collaborative features into enterprise software; for others, like WorkLight, it's about adapting existing consumer tools for the enterprise.

In both of these scenarios, the IT department is still involved in the process of the introduction and deployment of the new capabilities. On the other hand, Google is trying a completely different approach: subvert the IT department altogether and appeal directly to the worker.

Google's Strategy in the Enterprise

While this approach may work in the enterprise space in the short term, in the long run, they're alienating the very people whose alliances they need in order to become a success. Today, with Google's announcement of Google Sites, the blogosphere is already comparing the product to Sharepoint and trying to drive nails into Microsoft's coffin. I'd argue that it's far too soon to claim that Google is offering anything that really has a shot at making a dent in the enterprise world.

As an online suite of applications, email, calendaring, IM, and even security and compliance with Postini's help, Google Apps is off to a good start as being a suite that really has it together. For the small to medium size business, you could say that Google makes a strong offering as a more affordable alternative to Microsoft Servers and applications. However, it's a big jump from offering tools to a mom-and-pop as compared with a global, Fortune 500 company.

Google is actually going about marketing to the enterprise market in a pretty ingenious way - they're not. Instead, they're bypassing the IT department (who would, in all honesty, probably laugh at the thought) and marketing their suite on the sly directly to the employees themselves: "Are the tools provided by your IT department too unwieldy to use? Is IT to slow to respond to your needs? Then forget IT and use Google Apps instead!" This is definitely a good plan for Google in the short term, but it's not one that is going to be good for them in the long run...especially when IT catches on to what their users are doing.

Take the new Google Sites, for instance. Ben Worthen's commented in today's Wall Street Journal about the product:

"Setting up sites like this has traditionally required help from the information-technology department. Google boasts in its press release that workers can set up a site 'without having to burden IT for support.' We love that phrase: It’s a bit like showing a teenager how to sneak out of the house and calling it a way to go out without burdening parents by letting them know. It also speaks volumes about Google’s strategy for breaking into businesses. The company is intentionally bypassing tech departments, which might object to Google hosting their business’s sensitive information. Instead, the company is appealing directly to the average worker, who doesn’t want to have to wait months for IT to have the time and money for their project. So while it will probably fill IT pros with visions of sensitive corporate data flowing out of their businesses, Google’s business model isn’t dependent on winning techies over."

A previous WSJ article also reported Dave Girouard, who runs Google’s enterprise unit, as saying this about what his company is doing: "We’re wrestling over who should have ultimate authority of the technology people use in the workplace. There’s no right or wrong answer so we have to respect everyone’s view."

Let's read between the lines of that last statement...Google doesn't think IT should have the ultimate authority about the tools people use to do their jobs. There's "power to the people," (tech populism) and then there's a total coup-d'etat. Google's opting for the latter.

Network World agrees: "By killing the admin function, Google is trying to change the culture of software usage - the power structure, if you will. Taken to extremes, such a structure means that no longer will IT be the law enforcement officers of policy."

CIO Fear #1: Functionality

A concern for Google Apps is the integration capabilities it offers. Alastair Mitchell, CEO at online collaboration and project management outfit Huddle.net doesn't feel Google is ready for business yet. "Google Sites may be badged as a business tool, but the fact is that it isn’t properly integrated with any of Google’s other apps. Worryingly, it seems that Google took a good product like JotSpot and stripped out most of powerful functionality. Now it’s just a pretty wiki," claims Mitchell.

A pretty wiki? OUCH! But Mitchell does have a point about integration. Microsoft's solutions are tightly integrated with each other, Google's, as of yet, are not.  Count Joe Graves, CIO of Stratus Technologies, a $200 million-per-year computer maker, among the doubters. Graves, a fan of both his company's Google Enterprise Search appliance and Salesforce.com thinks Google is a "just a sharp company," but he's standardized on Microsoft Office and plans to stay that way. "Google Apps would save us some money, but probably create some headaches that would surpass money savings," said Graves in an interview. "It's not clear with Google Apps that we'd have the same interoperability that we do with Microsoft Office. I took a look at Google Apps and wasn't really impressed with it. It doesn't seem like a comprehensive package."

CIO Fear #2: Security

Enterprise CIOs do have a justifiable reason to fear Google's encroachment on their territory...and it's not just about control. Although users may see IT as gatekeepers preventing them from being able to do their jobs, turning that control over to Google instead may not be a better solution.

An article in SearchCIO-Midmarket quotes Chenxi Wang, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc, as saying this about Google Apps "[Users] don't want to go through the IT department to get approval, because it's burdensome. On the flip side, the minus side is from a corporate standpoint, you have less control. I think this has its place for collaboration scenarios whereby the content that is being collaborated is not that sensitive or the organization is not a highly regulated industry, for example. Employees storing and sharing documents, spreadsheets and the like will be doing that on Google's servers, which could present a compliance problem in some industries. IM is included, which still makes some executives wary. And sensitive business information could be shared with the wrong people inside the business."

Wary indeed:

"It's not for us," said David Driggers, IT asset manager and deployment desktop systems team leader at Alabama Gas Corp. in Birmingham, Ala. Driggers said he worries about how Google's Web-based applications would square in terms of compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley regulations. "Do you have real control over [email]?" he asked. "Where is the mail hosted? We have ours here and we control it."

Even Mark Harrison, of Abraham Harrison LLC, a test case for the Google Apps product has concerns. "It would be comforting to have an SLA that covered the entire suite," he says. (The Google Apps Premier Edition suite contains an availability guarantee only for its Gmail portion - 99.9 percent uptime -and offers no commitment for the other components.) In the year that he has used it, downtime has been rare. "We've never been crippled by an outage," Harrison says. Should one occur, the company would feel the impact, as they are now entirely dependent on the suite.

CIO Fear #3: The Google TOS

Another big fear is the scary Google TOS. Joshua Greenbaum writes on ZDNet about how Google defines content and what they say they do with it.

"First, let’s clarify what content is. Here’s the wording from the Google Terms of Service page: 'data files, written text, computer software, music, audio files or other sounds, photographs, videos or other images).'

Then, let’s clarify what Google says you have given it the right to do with your content, even though it generously lets you keep your copyright: (the typos are courtesy Google’s legal department, which forgot to use a word processor with a spell-checker.)

11.1 ….. By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive licence to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services. This licence is for the sole purpose of enabling Google to display, distribute and promote the Services and may be revoked for certain Services as defined in the Additional Terms of those Services.

Did you catch that last line? The one about displaying your content in order to promote Google’s Services? Which of your business’s content would you want used in this way?

Then there’s the part about how Google can make your content available for syndicated services — i.e. spam and other forms of advertising. Again, what content do you think you’d like shared in this way?

11.2 You agree that this licence includes a right for Google to make such Content available to other companies, organizations or individuals with whom Google has relationships for the provision of syndicated services, and to use such Content in connection with the provision of those services.

Don’t forget the cute little provision about termination of services, which goes like this:

4.3 …. As part of this continuing innovation, you acknowledge and agree that Google may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services (or any features within the Services) to you or to users generally at Google’s sole discretion, without prior notice to you.

And here’s the clincher: Google can also nuke your data when it wants to, with no recourse to the user:

4.4 You acknowledge and agree that if Google disables access to your account, you may be prevented from accessing the Services, your account details or any files or other content which is contained in your account.

CIO Fear #4: True ROI

When you're looking at the enterprise marketplace, you can't really take the cost savings into the picture. The cost savings of moving to Google Docs just isn't as substantial as it is for a small company. Although the the $50/year price of Premier Edition is more affordable, enterprises with more than a few thousand employees are already buying Microsoft licensing in bulk for as little as $100 per license. Moving to Google Apps is a dramatic decrease in functionality for them, and one that isn't worth the cost.

Even with the addition of Google Sites, Google isn't offering Sharepoint-like functionality. For those that don't know, "Sharepoint" isn't just online collaboration and document sharing. It's a suite of products and technologies that offer functionality and access to all data across all applications, even line-of-business applications.

An IT admin commenter on ZDNet posts: "From within Outlook you can instantly pull up a customer, get a dozen looks on their activity or prior orders, find direct links to people closer to the products with email, phone or IM access immediately from tags in the documents and answer any question the customer has, period. Can you do that with Google apps? I don't believe so, but you can collaborate. big whoop. You can setup a network share and collaborate just as easily with what you already have and not investing in Google apps for that matter, if you want very limited functionality. MOSS blows Google apps away and does NOT cost more over the long run and provides much richer environment, many more tools to collaborate with, easily interface our BI data to all users with complete and great administrative controls, which Google lacks even for simply document sharing(wheee), a managed code runtime and services that allow your end users to all have an Office GUI, not just an office tool, to look at any data on the network, at any time, in any way they need to...I repeat, smart companies are looking beyond initial cost to cost and ROI over minimum 5 years. That is where Google starts to cost A LOT more..."

Google Shrugs Shoulders

So what?, they say.  We "give administrators the control to do that if that's what they decide," says Google Senior Product Marketing Manager Jeremy Milo said. "The easiest way to do it would be to disable all the applications."

He's referring to the administrative functions of the suite that allow CIOs to control which employees can use which applications in the suite. In order for a CIO or IT director to gain control of the suite, they must first sign up for Team Edition. Once inside, there is an administrative login that connects the CIO with Google. With that, the CIO is given an option to either create a CNAME record or upload an HTML file provided by Google to the company's domain. Both options prove that the CIO has control over the domain. A third option is to update the domain's MX record. Exercising any of those options essentially disables Team Edition for the domain and shifts everything to Google Apps Standard Edition, Google's free version of its Web-based application suite for businesses. Once that happens, companies can use Gmail as an email client and CIOs can take control of the applications. (source: SearchCIO-midmarket) 

So they only way to control employee access is to sign up for the program? If that wasn't such genius, I might actually call it...well, evil.

So Who's Using Google Apps in the Enterprise?

Google is proud to be offering their suite to "several" enterprise customers including GE, Procter & Gamble, Loreal, and Prudential. Touts Google Apps product manager Matt Glotzbach, the company has picked up 500,000 customers for Apps since it launched in February 2007 and is adding 20,000 users every day. We've passed 500,000 organizations using Google Apps, and we're adding 2,000 to 3,000 more a day," says Glotzbach. "The vast majority have been small- and medium-sized companies, plus educational institutions, but the pace and interest from big companies is picking up."

But even those figures barely register a dent in Microsoft's Office armor. Microsoft says they have more than 500 million Office users. Some 62% of U.S. businesses use Microsoft's Outlook e-mail software, compared with less than 1% for corporate webmail like Google's, says Tom Austin, an analyst at researcher Gartner.

And those big enterprises they have on board? Even on Google's very own Google Apps web site, the truth is told, if anyone can take a minute from doing the happy Google dance to notice. They currently list 12 companies using Google Apps, one of which is Google itself. Reading through the quotes I see this:

"GE is interested in evaluating Google Apps for the easy access it provides to a suite of web applications, and the way these applications can help people work together."

"L'Oreal R & D has decided to test Google Apps in order to optimize collaboration between its researchers."

"Interested," "evaluating," and "testing" are not words that equal an enterprise partnership.

Oh and Capgemini, the IT services and business consultancy, listed there? They deploy Google Apps to enterprises as one of their services. Their first deployment went successfully in November of 2007. It was to themselves.

The IT Backlash Is Yet To Come

Even though IT is warming up to more consumer-friendly applications, Google's methodology for getting into the enterprise has a good chance to completely backfire on them.

According to Google Apps senior product manager Rajen Sheth, "Google Apps has been, by definition, an IT project, and now we want to let people use it without IT involvement."  He goes on to suggest that there shouldn't be any concern about finding uplanned and unapproved implementations of Google Apps on corporate networks because " the IT department always has the option to sign up for the Standard Edition for free if they want to provide control over this. This is a solid, happy medium."

But Joel Hruska of Ars Technica writes on his personal blog:

"[there's] one problem with that: IT administrators tend to fervently dislike the sudden appearance of unapproved applications, even if said software package promises world peace, actually delivers all those free iPods, and periodically spits gold doubloons out of the CD-ROM drive. Google’s approach seems predicated on the old adage that it’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission. One the one hand, Google Apps Team Edition could help facilitate group-level communication on projects, but the program could also engender a significant backlash from IT managers who aren’t at all thrilled at its sudden appearance. This is particularly true of companies with strict(er) IT policies, or companies already in the middle of deploying an alternative work collaboration system.

Google claims that the purpose of Team Edition is to allow users to “share documents and calendars securely without burdening IT for support,” are more likely to be greeted by raised eyebrows from the IT department. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, the unapproved presence and use of Google Apps Team Edition could, in fact, increase the burden on IT support staff. Google seems to be betting that if it can build enough grassroots support for Google Apps, IT departments and corporations will have no choice but to embrace it as a provider. Such an approach may work beautifully in the consumer market, but there’s no guarantee corporations will be as flexible."

If anything, this strategy will drive enterprise IT even further from Google Apps, keeping the Apps program the sole province of the SOHO and small-medium business market.

Author Disclosure: I'm currently a writer for five different blogs, one of which is Microsoft property, Channel 10, but I am not a Microsoft employee. These remarks are solely my opinion alone, but it's likely they're influenced by my previous experience as a MCSE-certified systems administrator!