'Five years ago bigger was better, but it isn't now'

9th Jul 2013 | 07:00

'Five years ago bigger was better, but it isn't now'

Google Enterprise boss Thomas Davies talks Chrome OS and Google Compute

Google Enterprise is one of the four main pillars of the search giant's business. It's responsible for Google Apps, the company's cloud-based productivity offering that's used by over 5 million businesses, in addition to its Enterprise Search and geospatial services.

We caught up with Thomas Davies, Head of Google Enterprise for the past seven years, to discuss the changing business landscape for SMBs, 'bring your own device' (BYOD) trends, Chrome OS in the enterprise and why smaller companies should pay attention to its emerging cloud platforms.

TechRadar: How has the tech industry changed since you've been in the role?

Thomas Davies: There's so much change going on, but it's the accelerating pace of change that catches everybody by surprise, including us. Take Android, for example. Three or four years ago we had no idea Android was going to be the success that it was. There's so much innovation now in the industry for the first time in 20 years in both enterprise and consumer tech. We've reached an incredible time.

One of the biggest challenges for the mainstay of what is known as enterprise technology is that you have these amazing trends that are going on in the market. So there's cloud, social, mobile and big data, but there's a bunch of others too.

They're causing a lot of headache for big customers and well-known industry CEOs because SMBs have this inherent agility and capability to take advantage of those trends more quickly than industry incumbents. If we look back four or five years ago we said big was better, but it isn't now. Operating in a start-up environment and operating model is now seen as a big advantage.

Android logo

Different challenges

TR: How do the technology challenges faced by SMBs differ from those faced by larger enterprises?

TD: I think the exciting thing for SMBs is they have the opportunity to look at an existing value chain of an incumbent and say 'Right, we're going to do this and we're going to do that, and we're going to do it better, be more responsive and focus our efforts on customer service'.

On the other side, the big CEOs are saying 'How do we maintain our relevancy over the next five to 10 years?' and the only way they can really do that is to bring this notion of ideation (idea generation) and innovation and try to operate actually as an SMB.

TR: How many SMBs do you think use Google Apps for Business to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) versus those that use it to drive creativity?

TD: If you went to a traditional environment five years ago, you'd have spent six months just designing your architecture. Over the past six years, the average TCO for companies using Apps has been 50%, which can be an awful lot of saved capital expenditure for an SMB. Reducing cost is important when you're an SMB, but getting people to work on more strategic things is actually the advantage.

In terms of TCO, many CIOs continue to report to the CFO. What we're starting to see as a general rule is that more decisions are being made by CEOs, because they see this five year need to have a genuine agile platform that they can use to take advantage of these big trends.

Google Apps

Equal opportunities

TR: What is Google Enterprise doing that's giving smaller businesses a level playing field on which to compete?

TD: It's great that we live in a time where IT is being democratised, that's the key thing. If I'm an SMB thinking about the market opportunity now, what with the next 5 billion people coming onto the internet, the fact that a CIO or IT manager from a company of 20 employees can make the same decision as an IT manager from a FTSE 50 is fascinating.

Technology wise, whether it's Android or something else, we want to get into a position where IT managers, directors and CEOs should not have to worry about the device or the operating system. What they should care about is the experience.

To give a specific and useful example for SMBs, a few weeks ago we added a mobile CPANEL admin in Google Apps. That's a request we heard from SMBs, who tend to have an IT manager doing about 500 different things at any one time. Traditionally, CPANEL has been served via a browser on the desktop, so if something went wrong or they needed to provision something they had to go back to their desk.

Now with tablets and smartphones they can do things at a swipe. It's something that appears very small, but what happens if an IT manager is on the road doing things? It potentially saves hours on their productive time in a working day. The small things start to add up, so we're not just focused on top tier enterprise.

TR: Has Google got better at taking feedback from SMBs now than it was when you first started in your role?

TD: No doubt. I think we've become more humble in the way that we listen. Sometimes it's just small things, such as us looking at end user hurdles that if we fix that could really make a difference.

Consumer crossover

TR: Does it help that many of Google's services translate very well into business from the consumer side?

TD: Absolutely. I think if we were to wind back five years ago we were a bit defensive about our consumer heritage because there was this IT perimeter, then along came mobile and BYOD. That ship sailed about two years ago - we've all found new ways to work.

Of all the trends, mobile has been the most profound and has accelerated this incredible shift to a new way of working. In terms of consumer tech now though, when you add layer one enterprise grade security and privacy settings, consumerisation is never going to reverse.

It's like PCs. The market is accelerating in its decline, and you've only got to look at smartphones, tablets and wearable devices. This whole thing around the physical and digital world starting to collide is amazing for all businesses, especially SMBs.

The consumer heritage, being able to write business applications able to sit on the same infrastructure as YouTube and Google.com is incredible, and no-one else can do that.

Delivering infrastructure

TR: Aside from software-as-a-service, what other services in Google's cloud stack could provide any benefit to small businesses?

TD: Starting with infrastructure, purely from a cost perspective, a lot of companies in the last five to 10 years have gone from having their own data centres to outsourcing. Then they needed to virtualise, and after that they needed to put data into genuine infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).

IaaS presents an opportunity as the cost savings are very well known. Now, for an SMB, why would you want to have a room full of hardware and databases when you can have it in an elastic way paid for on a credit card? There's definitely technical TCO business benefits. From a platform perspective, there's storage, and there's applications such as BigQuery, our big data offering.

SMBs are like any other company in that they have data, and if you have data, you need to put it to use. BigQuery is high replicated data processing on potentially billions of rows of data over a massive data centre network, but the point is that you're not doing it on a predefined set of search terms.

TR: Is the technology behind it similar to in-memory computing?

TD: It's slightly different. In-memory is things like HANA from SAP. But if you forget about the technology, what customers care about is ad hoc interrogation of business data that's moving all the time in size and shape. But they key question is why? If you can learn about customer behaviour and propensity to buy based on certain other factors, of course that will give you a business advantage.

Google App engine at the other end has been around for a few years. One use case is the ability to serve high performance websites, so a number of the national lotteries use it due to demand spiking.

Then there's mobile devices. A lot of companies now build mobile web applications on Google App engine because it's elastic, highly scalable, will go up and down in terms of the billing and allows SMBs to be super agile.

With a compute engine you can just try things quickly. If it works, things go up and you can monetise. If it doesn't, you just switch it off.

Google compute negine

Future plans

TR: What will Google Enterprise to do to help SMBs achieve their goals in the next 12 months?

TD: Our customers have said to us that they understand the value of each of the pillars of our business. That includes what I would describe as our enterprise cloud business, and I'd also include devices, Chrome OS and Chrome Browser.

The second pillar is enterprise search, and the third, geospatial, is Google Maps, Google Earth and Google Coordinate. Each one of these are strong in their own right. Customers say to us 'Park the technology, here are my business and technology challenges, can you help me at a business process level?' Then it's up to us to say these two map into this business process.

We have a huge amount of focus on supporting our customers to help them undertake transformative projects using the plethora of technologies we have in the enterprise. We'll continue to add other things, but we'll also continue to add capability and polish to those things that we currently have, and that's an amazing place to be.

TR: How are SMBs using Google's Enterprise Search and geospatial offerings to their advantage?

TD: For Enterprise Search we have around 35,000 customers. We also have things like Google Site Search, which is about providing search on customer facing websites. That's great for SMBs as you're using the same search algorithms we're using on Google.com.

Geospatial is a perfect fit, along with geolocation, as almost everything we do now is location based. SMBs can take advantage of Google Maps and Google Earth if they have trucks or assets, as they can geolocate them and have them pinned onto maps.

They can also use a mobile app called Coordinate that enables you, if you've got a mobile field force, to actually monitor it, visualise it and have route optimisation.


Unboxing Chrome

TR: What has the reception been like to Chromeboxes?

TD: If you look at the trajectory of not just Chromebox, but Chrome OS as a platform, it's following Google Apps.

If you look back seven or eight years ago where Google Apps started in education, it went from being consumer to strong in education, then all of a sudden it just went within industry. Chrome OS is doing incredibly well within education and we're making our way into enterprise.

Chromebox has many use cases where you have the box but keep your existing hardware. It's secure and a good fit for call centres and kiosks. We're making inroads, and we think next year we'll start to see a really big increase in business there.

I think it also helps that in the post-PC, wintel decline, there are a lot of other external factors helping us in getting people to think why they would need to do a desktop refresh, let alone an operating system refresh.

There are six mobile operating systems currently and lots of innovation, so I think there's a huge number of CIOs who aren't doing what they have done in the past 15 to 20 years. They've stopped, paused, taken a breath and thought OK, we've actually got some choice.

Secret sauce

TR: What do you think Google Enterprise could be doing more on?

TD: Cloud is going great guns, we're proud of Android and we wrote the white paper on Hadoop, so if I were to put my money on something that could have rapid advancement, it would be on the Compute Engine.

I think for us, providing that infrastructure whereby an SMB can build an application that can potentially scale to billions of users is breathtaking.

You've got to get it right though, and when we talk about having depth and scale, we've got the second largest network in the world. It's not just about the internet; it's our network, and this is our secret sauce that we're now licensing to others.

We took an awfully long time to bring it externally to license it because we wanted to get it right. But whether it's six, 12 or 18 months, our CFO says it's going to go 'Gangbusters'. We're putting a lot of effort into it at the moment.

Google Glass

TR: How do you think Google Glass may be used in business?

TD: Our customers will find ways. I can't see us coming up with this matrix of things that you can do. There's a couple of customers in the UK, existing enterprise customers, that are already starting to design and think about applications in warehousing.

Think about someone in a safety environment. They have two hands and things to do with them, but they also have things to capture that they need to share with other people. I think it'll get to the place where it takes off, and when it does I think it'll follow mobile in that it'll happen really quickly.

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