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Google's grand ambition

May 05, 2006

In the wake of my last post about Google's aspirations in the enterprise market, I came across (thanks to a reader) another, even more interesting interview with Dave Girouard, Google's top enterprise guy. This one was done by Dan Briody, of CIO Insight, and it looks at how "Google is aiming to become the primary interface for all enterprise applications." Girouard tells Brody, "Information access is a big problem in the enterprise ... We don't see ourselves as a Web-search company. We don't see ourselves as a consumer company. We see ourselves as an information company."

In my prior post, I noted how Google appears intent on entering the enterprise through the end users, bypassing the IT department. And I suggested that that approach may not be enough - that getting deep into the corporate market will require addressing management needs as well as empowering users. Girouard discusses this theme, obliquely, in his interview with Briody. He emphasizes the primary concentration on the user: "what's unique about us, I think, is we're really tapping into the pace of innovation that's happening on the consumer side ... We want to leverage innovation happening on the consumer side that is end-user focused and channel that in a pragmatic way into enterprise technology ... That comes really from Larry and Sergey."

But then he acknowledges that "we have to bring the sensibility that there are other constituencies involved here." By "other constituencies," he means CIOs and other corporate managers. At the center of this effort, Girouard makes clear, is Google's corporate "search appliance" (for searching all the data flowing through a company's computer network) and, in particular, its new "OneBox" feature. (Girouard announced the OneBox addition a couple of weeks ago, saying, unconvincingly, "For the record, we have no desire or plans to kill anything.") OneBox, which is already a feature of Google's public search engine, provides at the top of a list of search results "a special set of results" intended to quickly and immediately answer whatever question you're seeking to answer. Girouard gives an example: "if you typed in 'weather San Francisco,' you would get a five-day weather forecast inserted at the top of the results." With OneBox, in other words, Google goes beyond passively searching information to actively synthesizing information drawn from all the sources it searches. That's a crucial difference (one I hadn't fully grasped before reading this interview), and Girouard believes that OneBox's information synthesis capability "could be a very powerful tool inside the enterprise."

This is where it gets really interesting. Girouard says:

For Google OneBox for Enterprise we went out and talked to a lot of business application vendors about making their information much more accessible through a simple search interface. For example, we talked to Oracle, Cognos, SAS Institute, Salesforce.com, Cisco and a few others. But essentially the idea is that just the same way you could look up a weather forecast on Google, you could easily tap into your Salesforce.com system and find out about a sales opportunity ... Basically, it means real-time access to another system. There's no lag. It's real-time access to a piece of information that resides in another system ...

But the user experience - and this is really important to us - entirely mimics how Google.com works. So, you don't have to get training; you can discover it over time; a friend can show you a OneBox that they think is particularly useful. For example, one of our partners is Oracle, and you'll be able to look up a purchase-order in your Oracle financial system because Google will recognize what a purchase order number looks like. Just like Google.com recognizes a UPS tracking number. The Enterprise system will know what an Oracle purchase order looks like, and it will insert that information right at the top ... We expect that search will become the preferred way to access these systems. If I want to access my CRM system, if I want to quickly grab a piece of information out of my business intelligence system, I don't have to be an expert in those systems anymore. I can type a few keywords into Google and get that information.

Well, there you have it. What Microsoft is trying to do with its new Duet partnership with SAP - provide a user-friendly way to tap into data from a complex enterprise system - Google is trying to do on a much grander scale. It wants to be a front end for everything. One wonders if the big application providers will really want to forfeit the user interface - and the power it represents - to Google. One also wonders whether they'll have a choice.


More importantly, will they be doing it for MS Office documents?

Posted by: ordaj at May 5, 2006 12:18 PM

I assume they already do (as they do on the public internet).

Posted by: Nick Carr at May 5, 2006 12:34 PM

Search is not the entire user interface. It's an important, but often neglected part that Google does really well. Users will always need exploratory interfaces and Google just doesn't do them very well, and neither do they seem inclined to invest in that direction(cases in point: News & Video). Even on the web, Google is merely the starting point, and search is becoming increasingly undifferentiated.

Posted by: Kingsley Joseph [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 5, 2006 12:45 PM

I guess I sound like a broken record, but I've been reading these grand visions from Google since their IPO and I still see a consumer search company with a single source of income, almost completely dependent upon a major competitor for their channel to customers and under pressure from other major players in the search field.

Do they think the companies that currently provide the storage and interface to enterprise information are just going to cede their role to Google? Their hubris is stunning. The quote, "if I want to quickly grab a piece of information out of my business intelligence system, I don't have to be an expert in those systems anymore" says a lot about how much a consumer company has to learn about the enterprise.

Like good investors, we should look more to what they do than what they say.

Posted by: Brian at May 5, 2006 01:29 PM

Ordaj - they do, DOC, PDF whatever.

I had one of their sales guy come over to present the Search Appliance (kinda precursor to OneBox, I guess).

The damn thing is all proprietary (hardware, software, the whole shebang) and they don't even SELL it to you; I mean they do, but the complete machine gets replaced every ummm, two years or so.

I am not sure any company would feel that comfortable with entrusting IBM or Microsoft or Oracle with that power to become the front end to everything.

BTW, This goes with other weird rumors I picked up from people like Cringely or Dyson, which made me think, but never really gotten around completing those thoughts...

Posted by: Gianni at May 5, 2006 02:08 PM

I posted the keynotes from interop where you can here Dave Girouard directly ..



The general manager of Google Enterprise, Dave Girouard, concluded his Interop keynote with a sales pitch: Google OneBox for the enterprise. “A lot of what we do on Google, we actually believe there’s room for it in the enterprise,” Girouard said. Analysts have cited the limitations of Google’s search technologies for businesses, although Google has invited developers to help make the appliance more robust.


Posted by: John Furier at May 5, 2006 09:18 PM

That confirms that Google can't bypass IT department in order to enter into corporates. Simply because IT departments have the control on users access to software, through configuration management.
What will probably happens is that Microsoft and majors software vendors will imitate Google search interfaces and include into their own products the ability to easily search any information into corporate aplications and databases.

Posted by: Gael Thome at May 6, 2006 05:30 PM

Searching is fine, but from enterprise perspective, we need to be able to get the content within context, and within their current tools. For example, I may want to get my unapproved POs or the status on my customers get populated directly into my Excel. Google may help me find things, but what happens after that? How do I take action on it? Within enterprises, far tighter loop is required.

The current mode of "Hunting and Gathering" goes only so far; what people want is direct delivery of data within their tools. SAP/Microsoft Duet has started to scratch that, but even their initial effort of supporting 4 SAP transactions is so measly that it is not worth the hot air that they have generated. This hot air also requires tons of heavy weight Microsoft servers to run the operation. I'm waiting to see how many customers would bite.

Great that Google and Oracle have joined hands to deliver PO data, but aren't there big security issues with this?

Posted by: Derek Sheer [TypeKey Profile Page] at May 7, 2006 10:52 AM

Search is only a small part of what people need on their desktops. For enterprise workers, search is good, but interactivity with back-end applications is better.

Duet from Microsoft and SAP is on the right track. Providing interactivity with back-end applications for the enterprise workers, from the desktop, right where they need it. Unfortunately, though Duet scores in its vision, it trips badly on its on-the-ground-execution, with its limited footprint in terms of transactions supported and data sources connected.

Despite their incompleteness, Duet and Google bring home an important point. The point that the isolated, disconnected desktop has done its time. It is dead.

The Desktop is dead. Long live the Connected Desktop!


Posted by: Sangeeta at May 9, 2006 04:31 AM

It's really very interesting post. We feel that most enterprise information is available in database & the UI navigation limits the users from accessing those information.

We are working on a similar idea in AdventNet ( SQLOne search - http://www.sqlone.com/ ) where we index the database from multiple enterprise applications ( like CRM, HRMS, trouble ticketing, accounting etc., ) & allow users to query for relevant information.

This will act as alternative interface to application's native interface. The application's native interface limits certain information ( due to UI design constraints ) wehreas, this search interface allows users to access to all the information.

This is in a primitive stage now & we look forward for suggestions to improve this.

Posted by: Mani at May 16, 2006 01:49 AM

We are moving fast to a multi-UI world. The opposite of the google position.

All sorts of things will and do access enterprise applications. Abode forms, Outlook, blackberries and browsers are just the obvious ones. The point about Duet (and IBM's Harmony) etc, is not that they are THE new UI, they are one of many. Different users will access different enterprise processes in different ways. With the tools they want to use. Google may be one of these tools.

It starts to get really interesting when ones looks at the SAP research (and of course other research, but I'm biased) in embedded devices and voice technologies.

Look at how the new airbus diagnoses faults, now that is a cool UI. There is no U.

There is some other ramblings on Duet on my blog. (shameless punt)

Posted by: Thomas Otter at May 16, 2006 11:39 AM

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