Google released Sites today, a centralized repository for sharing information and collaborative workspaces. There’s been much commentary around the blogosphere on whether Sites is a threat to Microsoft’s SharePoint product, MiramarMike gives an excellent comparison over here.

There’s been so much discussion post launch that I wasn’t going to comment. However a post over on RWW by Sarah Perez gave me some motivation to comment on her perspective. Sarah’s perspective is that, while Sites might be a reasonable product for Ma and Pa operations, it’s not suitable for enterprise, and in fact Google’s strategy for encouraging enterprise users to adopt their product is counter productive and somewhat sneaky.

Sarah quotes Dave Girouard, who runs Google’s enterprise unit, as saying this about what his company is doing: “We’re wrestling over who should have ultimate authority of the technology people use in the workplace. There’s no right or wrong answer so we have to respect everyone’s view.”

She then goes on to draw a stark conclusion from Dave’s words, saying:

Let’s read between the lines of that last statement…Google doesn’t think IT should have the ultimate authority about the tools people use to do their jobs. There’s “power to the people,” and then there’s a total coup-d’etat. Google’s opting for the latter.

I have to say I can’t agree with Sarah, Google is clearly empowering operational level employees within an enterprise. In the event that their IT department hasn’t the funding (although given the fact that GApps is free this is a non starter anyway) or the time resource, operational and team level personnel can deploy the broader GoogleApps products to make the most of their collaboration potential. The way I see it, if IT departments were doing their jobs (and some are) there would be no need to be having this discussion. They would be sufficiently user-centric to decide on the best product for their users needs, be it MS, Google or anything else.

In all this discussion around circumventing, or not, corporate IT departments, people seem to have lost sight of the real issue here. Corporate IT’s role is to assess and implement solutions that provide the functionality to the users that those suers require. It isn’t to build empires or create silos. Any success Google has within an enterprise setting (and I’m not going to wade into the argument about whether or not Google apps is having enterprise level success) would seem to be to be a comment on the efficacy of the IT department itself.

For too long CIOs have been technology centric on the one hand and compliance driven on the other. Between cuddling up to the big software vendors and spending time worried about the skins with regards Sarbanes Oxley compliance, they’ve lost site of the fact that their existing offering to the business are lacking.

Rather than finding ways to block their users making individualised and decentralised decisions, they should be partnering with the business units to truly asses their requirements and the best solutions to fulfil their needs.

Sarah quotes Joel Hruska of Ars Technica as saying “…IT administrators tend to fervently dislike the sudden appearance of unapproved applications, even if said software package promises world peace, actually delivers all those free iPods, and periodically spits gold doubloons out of the CD-ROM drive. Google’s approach seems predicated on the old adage that it’s always easier to get forgiveness than permission. One the one hand, Google Apps Team Edition could help facilitate group-level communication on projects, but the program could also engender a significant backlash from IT managers who aren’t at all thrilled at its sudden appearance. This is particularly true of companies with strict(er) IT policies, or companies already in the middle of deploying an alternative work collaboration system…Google seems to be betting that if it can build enough grassroots support for Google Apps, IT departments and corporations will have no choice but to embrace it as a provider. Such an approach may work beautifully in the consumer market, but there’s no guarantee corporations will be as flexible.”

And then decides that:

If anything, this strategy will drive enterprise IT even further from Google Apps, keeping the Apps program the sole province of the SOHO and small-medium business market.

And herein lies the rub, if enterprise IT continues to be prescriptive and protective of incumbents, it will eventually start to erode the value of the organisation as younger, leaner, more agile and proactive organisations utilise whichever tools satisfy their needs.

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

2 Comments
  • Ben – that is too simplistic and naive on so many levels. Yes IT depts may have challenges in responsiveness, but they have first responsibility on business IT integrity for many very sound reasons. The frequent shambles caused by Excel and Access user developments are legion, as were the skunk works super-micro apps of the 80s. Web-apps are no different.

  • Jim – I accept that my post was a little heavy handed. However I have to say that it appears there is a real degree of empire building and turf protection going on within some corporate IT departments. Granted there are requirements on CIOs to ensure corporate safety, but I contend that many of their decisions are made for the wrong reasons.

    What I’m saying is that IT departments need to be involved and embrace new offerings (within parameters). I liken it to a CEO directive of “let’s be as creative as we can on how we support the day-to-day business activities” … They also need to know when a bottom up solution is acceptable, appropriate and most applicable.

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