Enterprise: the next mountain for Google to climb

With consumer demand for smartphones slowing, Google this year announced numerous enterprise-focused plans at its Google I/O conference, though the company has in truth been targeting an industry typically dominated by Microsoft for years.

When it comes to enterprise mobile, Google trails Apple. Good Technology says Apple’s iOS accounts for 66 percent of enterprise device activations (worldwide) for Q3 2015 in contrast to Google Android’s 31 percent.

So trailing leaders Microsoft (in desktops) and Apple (in devices), Google clearly has both competitive and strategic motivations to build its credibility in the lucrative enterprise markets. Google takes this need so seriously that last year appointed VMware founder and former CEO, Diane Greene (who has sat on Google’s board since 2012) as senior VP for its cloud business unit. Morgan Stanley claims Google’s cloud business pulls in around $500 million a year in contrast to Amazon’s $9.6 billion annually, but that means it’s all to play for.

“What's happening with the cloud is all of a sudden we're enabling developers to build these powerful apps without having to know so much about everything else,” said Greene at Google I/O. "We're serious about the enterprise," she said.

What else did the company announce?

To summarize, Google announced Android Instant apps; new development APIs for its Sheets, Slides and Classroom apps; an updated backend-as-a-service Firebase platform; revealed a custom chipset for machine learning; and introduced an enterprise-focused API partner ecosystem with Salesforce, SAP and others. Here is some more detail….

Android Instant

Google is moving to the clouds and Android Instant is a big example of this. It allows users to run apps just about immediately without downloading them. The significance of this may not be immediately visible, but in theory it will enable relatively complex apps to run at the server while making themselves available to a wide range of Android devices. This could enable enterprises to support less sophisticated handsets securely, but the actual impact remains to be seen. Another significant announcement saw the company promise to make it possible to run any Android app on any hardware compatible Chrome OS devices. This could help boost the nascent demand for Chromebooks, which are outselling Apple Macs in the US (largely because of school deployments).

Sheets, Slides and Classroom

The new APIs mean developers will be able to do more with their data. The company explains, “Developers can use Sheets in a powerful workflow to push data from their app into Sheets, allowing users to collaborate on that data, before the updated data is pulled back into the original app.” This will give enterprises a tool with which to create new spreadsheets and pull the contents into, or back inside, apps. Similarly, the Slides API enables developers to push data from other applications into Slides to create presentations. Similarly developers in the education space can use the Classroom API to enable school reporting systems to sync data from Classroom into reporting systems. What this means, of course, is that it’s now much easier to update data drawn from one source in charts held all across Google Apps, which should be of help to some teams – so long as all team members have a Google account and use of those services falls within enterprise security policy, which isn’t always the case.

API Partners

Perhaps the biggest enterprise-focused news at the event, Google’s new API Partners ecosystem basically consists of a handful of enterprise-focused developers agreeing to use its software. “Salesforce, SAP Anywhere, Conga, Prosperworks, Anaplan, Sage, Trello, and Asana are already connecting their services through these new APIs,” the company said, referring to its new Sheets, Slides and Classroom offerings. There’s a video showing some of the early implementation from these partners available here.

Firebase updated

Developers actually cheered when Google announced major improvements to its BaaS Firebase service, which is used to maintain server infrastructure that drives thousands of mobile apps – things like storing user data or sending push notifications. Another interesting aspect of the improvements in Firebase are how the company has now made it possible for developers to build access to Google Cloud Platform into apps, where supercomputer power is available for a fee. Finally many developers will welcome Firebase Analytics, a little like Google Analytics for apps, this will enable developers to see how customers are using apps, and enable better use and monetization of in-app purchases. Improvements to messaging, storage and many more enhancements made their debut in Firebase, you can read more about these here.

Machine learning

Big data and machine intelligence are emerging as major inflection points in enterprise technology deployments, and it’s no great surprise that Google is working hard to stake space in these sectors. “Machine Learning is transforming how developers build intelligent applications that benefit customers and consumers, and we're excited to see the possibilities come to life,” the company said, announcing its own home-developed custom ASIC called a Tensor Processing Unit (TPU). Built specifically to support machine-learning applications, the chip is capable of running sophisticated machine learning models fast. The company already uses these TPU’s in real world tasks, such as RankBrain and StreetView and AlphaGo.

And the trimmings

In the build up to the I/O, Google made a series of additional enhancements to its services, all designed to give its products something like a little more enterprise credibility. These preparatory steps included BigQuery integration with Google Drive and support for the new ISO27017 and ISO27017 security certifications, aimed to protect cloud security and privacy. The company (through partners, such as Samsung) is also rapidly exploring the enterprise opportunity locked inside VR.

The show revealed a promising set of enhancements for a company now clearly set on the enterprise, however Google will need to work hard to build its synergies in the enterprise space. Gabriel Consulting Group analyst, Dan Olds, said: "I think Google probably sees the enterprise as the next mountain to climb.”

However, perhaps the more disruptive takeaway for the disruptive search giant is how its new focus on cloud services, machine learning and artificial intelligence will impact its core $40 billion per year AdWords search ads business. This prompted Bernstein analyst Carlos Kirjner to write: “Where are the ‘good old’ AdWords ads if they succeed? They are nowhere. They are dead…. If you thought mobile was a big transition for Google, buckle up.”


Jon Evans

Jon Evans is a highly experienced technology journalist and editor. He has been writing for a living since 1994. These days you might read his daily regular Computerworld AppleHolic and opinion columns. Jon is also technology editor for men's interest magazine, Calibre Quarterly, and news editor for MacFormat magazine, which is the biggest UK Mac title. He's really interested in the impact of technology on the creative spark at the heart of the human experience. In 2010 he won an American Society of Business Publication Editors (Azbee) Award for his work at Computerworld.