Sunday, February 10, 2008
Google Introduces New Edition of Its Hosted Applications Suite
Google is releasing a new edition of its hosted applications suite that end-users can bring into the workplace without the involvement of their IT department.
It means that IT managers who fret about employees using unauthorized software at work will have another tool to worry about, especially in industries where information management is heavily regulated, like health care and finance.
The new release, called Google Apps Team Edition, is due to be available Thursday for free. It is aimed at employees who are interested in using Google Apps but whose employers haven't signed up for it, said Rajen Sheth, Google Apps senior product manager.
Team Edition contains the core communication and collaboration services and applications from other editions, like the word processor, spreadsheet, Start page, Talk instant messaging and calendar, but not Gmail, which requires IT participation to re-route the company's e-mail flow.
So far, more than 500,000 mostly small organizations have signed up for Google Apps, but the other versions Standard, Education, Partner and Premier require IT to implement the suite because its services are linked to an organization's Internet domain.
That changes with the Team Edition, which will let employees set up Google Apps workgroups as long as they have valid e-mail addresses with their organizations' domains, Sheth said.
"Google Apps has been, by definition, an IT project, and now we want to let people use it without IT involvement," Sheth said.
Once signed up with Team Edition, people can see who else in their organization's Internet domain is also a user, and invite those who aren't, Sheth said.
"It provides a quick way for workgroups to start collaborating," he said.
IT departments shouldn't get angry about Team Edition, according to Sheth, because, unlike other software that employees use without IT approval, it provides an upgrade path to IT-manageable versions.
"The IT department always has the option to sign up for the Standard Edition for free if they want to provide control over this," Sheth said. "This is a solid, happy medium."
Team Edition can also be upgraded to the other editions, like Education, which is free, and Premier, which costs US$50 per user per year. Although Gmail isn't part of Team Edition, Google is exploring ways to make it a part, Sheth said.
By its very nature as a Web-hosted software suite, an unmanaged Google Apps deployment can represent a concern for IT departments, since the applications and the data generated are stored outside organizations' firewalls in Google data centers.
However, Team Edition will be far from alone among the hosted software that employees use in their organizations without getting approval from the IT department, said Erica Driver, a Forrester Research analyst.
The IT department reactions to Team Edition will depend on the organization's culture, which range from those in "lockdown mode" to those more tolerant and aware that Web 2.0 technologies are seeping in from the consumer world to the workplace, Driver said.
Team Edition, with its bottom-up, end-user-driven focus, fits in with Google's traditional strategy of appealing to individuals, grown out of its consumer services, and will likely boost the adoption of Google Apps in companies, government agencies, educational institutions and other organizations that don't currently use the suite, said Matt Cain, a Gartner analyst.
"The Google model is to prime the well at the end-user level and assist IT somewhere along the way, but the demand generation for the suite will definitely be at the rank-and-file level, not at the IT level," Cain said.
Google needs to make sure it strikes a balance between rallying end-users and giving IT managers a way to enter the picture and exert control, he said. "Google will encourage end-user adoption but it can't disintermediate the IT staff, which will have to ultimately clean up any mess that's created," Cain said.
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.