Heim also expects Apps to gain a native, workplace-specific ESN element in the not-too-distant future. "Bringing these social collaboration tools to the enterprise is a big reason for moving to platforms like Google Apps," he said. "We expect to see that supported and its development continued in this product."
Google launched the consumer version of Google+ in 2011; shortly after, officials confirmed that the company had plans to make a workplace version of it for Apps. While Google has taken steps in that direction, periodically adding features for IT administrators and users, it hasn't yet released a full-featured, supported, native version of Google+ for Apps. Companies can turn on the current version of Google+ in their Apps domains so their employees can use it.
ESN tools gain ground at work
In the meantime, ESN tools have become more popular and almost mainstream in the collaboration market, and are now essential in many organizations. Known popularly as "Facebook for the Enterprise," ESN suites let employees create profiles, publish blogs, do microblogging, share documents, participate in discussion forums, set up online groups and communities and post comments. ESN software is supposed to complement traditional forms of communications like email, phones and instant messaging.
The main players include pure-play ESN vendors like Jive Software and NewsGator, and tools from larger vendors like Tibco's Tibbr, Salesforce.com's Chatter, IBM's Connections, and Microsoft's Yammer.
Of course, some Google Apps customers are happy with Gmail as their main communication tool and with the other apps in the suite. That's the case at Composites One, a distributor of plastics and glass products in North America. "We're very heavy Gmail users," said Hal Greene, vice president of information systems at Composites One, where some employees have used up the 25GB allotted for their inboxes, and required extra storage. "We have a lot of emails with a lot of attachments," he said.
Employees there also use Docs, Calendar, Drive, Talk and Sites, which serves as the company's intranet.
Having native, full-featured apps for ESN and UC isn't a priority for Composites One for now, although the company may want them in the future, Greene said, adding that some employees have started to use the Hangouts feature in Google+. "What third-party UC vendors are selling doesn't appeal to us as being high value right now," Greene said. The same goes for ESN software providers. "We're not currently looking at the 'Facebook for the enterprise' use case," he said.
Greene is tracking developments in the UC and ESN market, and doesn't mind talking to vendors and systems integrators about them. But plugging in third-party tools would add IT complexity. Now, Composites One handles its collaboration and communication tasks via Google Apps in a simple, standardized way, which is part of the motivation for going to the cloud in the first place, he said.
"That lets us spend more time on our customized enterprise systems that are specific to our wholesale distribution operations," he said. Those more complex systems automate e-commerce, logistics and other operations. "We want to spend as little time as possible administering ... the day-to-day utility of communicating," Greene said.
Google has plans to push into the enterprise
In answers provided via email, a Google spokesman said that Google has concrete plans to release a version of Google+ for the workplace use that's fully integrated with Google Apps, fully manageable from the suite's IT console and included in its service-level agreement.