Google has released a new edition of Google Apps, its hosted applications suite. The new version can be introduced to workplaces without the involvement of IT departments.
That means IT managers who fret about employees using unauthorised software at work will have another tool to worry about, especially in industries where information management is heavily regulated, such as healthcare and finance.
The new release, called Google Apps Team Edition, is free. It is aimed at employees who are interested in using Google Apps but whose employers haven't signed up for it, says Google Apps senior product manager Rajen Sheth.
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 departments' participation to re-route the company's email flow.
So far, more than 500,000 mostly small organisations 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 organisation's internet domain.
That changes with the Team Edition, which will let employees set up Google Apps workgroups as long as they have valid email addresses with their organisations' domains, Sheth says.
"Google Apps has been, by definition, an IT project, and now we want to let people use it without IT involvement," Sheth says.
Once signed up with Team Edition, people can see who else in their organisation's internet domain is also a user, and invite those who aren't, Sheth says.
"It provides a quick way for workgroups to start collaborating," he says.
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 says. "This is a solid, happy medium."
Team Edition can also be upgraded to the other editions, like Education and Premier. Although Gmail isn't part of Team Edition, Google is exploring ways to make it a part, Sheth says.
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 organisations' firewalls in Google datacentres.
However, Team Edition will be far from alone among the hosted software that employees use in their organisations without getting approval from the IT department, says Erica Driver, a Forrester Research analyst.
IT departments' reactions to Team Edition will depend on organisations' approach to IT, she says. These can 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 says.
Team Edition, with its bottom-up, end-user-driven focus, fits in with Google's traditional strategy of appealing to individuals, a legacy 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, says 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 says.
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 says. "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 says.