4 no-bull things Google for Work needs to do to win the enterprise

Here are four steps Google must take if Google for Work is going to edge out Microsoft Office and Exchange in the workplace

Google for Work debuted earlier this week with ambitious goals. What Google wants is nothing short of a generous slice of Microsoft's enterprise-applications pie, be it the classic Office/Exchange axis or the brave new world of Office 365. But if Google really wants to capture the enterprise -- whether from Microsoft or anyone else -- here are four big tasks it faces.

1. Keep it simple, but not too simple

Enterprises -- especially those that don't make tech their business, and even some that do -- hate trying to figure out what something is used for. Google picked the Google for Work label for clarity of purpose, which makes plenty of sense. Appending "for Work" to each of the apps in the suite makes it easier to sell them to enterprise customers without having to explain their function or appeal, according to Google for Work president Amit Singh.

So far, so good. Now Google has to make sure it can strike the right balance between simplicity, convenience, and utility. Some of this already exists -- such as the command-line tools for the Google Data APIs, which could stand to be revised for the sake of Google Enterprise. Admins who are fond of command-line functionality and don't want to give that up for a relatively restrictive GUI will appreciate it.

2. Keep it cheap

The pricing and features of Google for Work aren't complicated, which ought to work in Google's favor. For $10 per user per month, Google for Work delivers everything you'd normally get in a regular Google Apps plan -- a business email, video, and voice calling; 24/7 support; security; and administrative controls. But on top of that, the Enterprise plan also provides unlimited storage, auditing and reporting, discovery/archiving/retention features, and an export feature that's worth its own discussion.

The trick Google faces is in keeping it cheap. As long as future additions to Google for Work don't turn its pricing structure into a baggy monster of add-ons, hidden charges, and features that sport their own pay-as-you-go structure, the appeal of a simple per-user pricing plan should be strong.

3. Keep it convenient

A large part of the appeal of Google Apps for Work is the convenience: All that's needed is a Web browser; there's nothing to install on a client system, and the software updates itself (although you can choose either the fast or the slow release track for the feature set). But another kind of convenience is in order: the long-term convenience of being able to leave the service or work with data offline.

Google seems to have a clue in this department, as one of the functions described in the Enterprise plan is the ability to "easily search and export to different formats." That feature falls in line with Google making concessions to allow users to gracefully export their data from Google's systems -- which most enterprises will demand as a matter of course. Here's hoping Google doesn't succumb to the temptation of making Google for Work a one-way repository as a way to retain customers.

4. Give people reasons not to leave

Google's long-term plan with Google for Work is to get companies to ditch Microsoft Office and Microsoft Exchange, as the Wall Street Journal put it in its analysis. Singh claims 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies already pay for Google's business software -- with that number specifically representing whole sections of companies using Google's services, not just isolated pairs of people here and there.

One of Google's strategies wherever consumerization of IT exists has been to start with the workforce and get its products used from the bottom up, not the top down. In such an environment, switching from Microsoft to Google may feel like a boon for a younger workforce that cut its teeth on technology through Google's services rather than with Microsoft's apps.

The problem is that the sword cuts both ways. A company might make a jump to Google only to find (oh, the irony) that its workforce longs for the familiarity and easy utility of Microsoft's tools. Given that the enterprises Google is aiming at consist, by its own admission, of folks running Microsoft, a backlash is possible from people who want -- and need -- Microsoft's toolset.

This story, "4 no-bull things Google for Work needs to do to win the enterprise," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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