Google office suite not enterprise-ready: study

While it shows promise, there's still much work to be done

At just US$50 (NZ$69) a year per user, Google’s Google Apps Premier Edition (GAPE) hosted office productivity suite could be one of the cheapest mistakes a large business makes.

That’s one of the conclusions of a Burton Group study.

In his 55-page report, Burton analyst Guy Creese says GAPE has energised the market for software-as-a-service (SaaS) products. However, it is primarily based on a similar free, consumer-focused Google Apps productivity suite that doesn’t convert easily for large corporate use, he says.

“Initially combining a portal, email, instant messaging, calendars, document sharing and concurrent document creation — all for $50 per user per year — the solution rapidly caught enterprises’ imaginations,” Creese writes. “Unfortunately, quickly adopting GAPE without understanding its quirks or looking at other alternatives is likely to become a career-limiting move.”

While usability is generally good — except for users who build complex spreadsheets — critical data security and regulatory compliance features are missing, Creese said in an interview after the report was released. “I would say that a lot of people would view this as a potential [Microsoft] Office replacement,” he says. “One of the main sorts of architectural problems Google has right now is that these products were created for consumers.”

As a result, IT administrators can’t add users in groups with the same general rights, making the creation and administration of user accounts slow and cumbersome because they have to be set up individually, Creese says. “If you’re a large enterprise looking to deploy this corporate-wide, it is an issue.”

Google’s offering allows spreadsheets to be saved and preserved in groups for later access, although word processing documents can only be saved individually, a time-consuming process, he says. Not all the news is bad, though, according to Creese.

While GAPE may not yet be fully featured for large business users, Google has done a service to the marketplace by legitimising this approach, he says. Other major vendors, such as Salesforce.com and Microsoft, are moving into the SaaS office productivity market on Google’s heels, adding credibility to the concept. “I think a large part of this is just the brand recognition that Google gets with this. But I am not convinced that they will ultimately win the battle.”

In the report, Creese says SaaS-based products are not always a good fit for companies. “For example, some SaaS solutions assume that an internet connection is always available; financial institutions prefer that corporate information be stored behind the corporate firewall; and support via a website can be a shock to companies used to frequent face-to-face meetings with suppliers,” he says.

“Rushing into a decision is typically a bad move when looking at any new system. But the GAPE decision is especially difficult because it demands that enterprises bet on a delivery model [SaaS], a product [Google Apps] and a company [Google] that are all less than a decade old,” he says. “Furthermore, the offering is somewhat difficult to understand because its features are generic enough that it can function — in limited cases — as a replacement for Microsoft Office, as an enterprise content management system, and as a collaboration and communications system. In addition, the product is still evolving.”

Creese says the situation is similar to the emergence of the Netscape web browser in 1994-95, when Microsoft missed the initial internet launch and had to play catch-up. “It’s a real race,” he says. “In the end, I think this is all good for enterprises. While [enterprise users] should pay attention, I don’t think it’s time to rush into things.”

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