One of the highlights for me at the recent Google Cloud NEXT conference was a chat I had with Will Grannis who heads up the Google Cloud Office of the CTO (OCTO). OCTO did not exist only a couple of years ago and is yet another development from Google Cloud’s CEO, Diane Greene in an effort to better deliver upon enterprise requirements. Grannis explained to me the origins of OCTO and the fact that, before its creation, the company was heavily functionally aligned. OCTO was set up, therefore, to be a bridge between enterprise customers’ business needs, and Google’s engineering resources. In my words, OCTO is, at last, an acceptance of the fact that, although some customer requirements may not be rational in Google’s purist, technology-led view of the world, not everyone is yet at that level and Google needs to meet customers where they are.

Part of OCTO’s role is to reconcile some of the softer aspects of technology – people and process – to those of the technology. Grannis talked about helping Google develop customer empathy, both in terms of product specification, but also the way customer engagement works. As he explained it, OCTO strives to understand customers’ context and, instead of simply sitting at Google’s Mountainview headquarters dictating the “right” approach, to work with a company at a heavily consultative level, exchanging ideas and developing insights from the context and experience those customers have.

I was interested to hear Grannis talk about disseminating knowledge beyond purely the technical – he spoke of customers’ interest in learning from Google’s novel management techniques, on broader corporate strategy approaches and best practices that Google has learned from its own experience, and that of its other customers. As he explained it, customers often know the end result they’re striving for, but struggle to know how to get there – OCTO aims to help with that journey.

If that sounds like enterprise table stakes, well it is. But it is also enterprise table stakes that Google has never really demonstrated. Google has always displayed an arrogance that it knows best and that customers should align to Google’s particular worldview. This attitude has seen a massive shift over the past couple of years and OCTO is a good example of this shift.

I was particularly interested to hear just how much OCTO gets involved in business-level conversations and helping customers understand the more cultural aspects of innovation. I asked where on the continuum, with business advice at one end and engineering advice at the other, OCTO’s engagements are. While the aim is to move more towards the business end of the continuum, Google is realistic that it takes time for organizations, in general, to become comfortable to engage at this level. Grannis did explain that OCTO’s engagements do tend to cascade through the business, involving technology and more general corporate strategy. That said, there is a weighting towards engagements that solve problems with difficult engineering, where Google’s historical expertise lies.

Google has always been about scaling products through automation and engagements such as these ones, by their very nature, aren’t scalable. As such, OCTO is still relatively small and currently works with somewhere around 200 organizations globally. It seems that the company now deeply understands that, at this level at least, bespoke engagements work better than programmatic ones. Grannis did describe something of a hybrid approach with a programmatic structure but a softer, more bespoke, individualized approach at the delivery end.

In yet another departure from the Google of old, OCTO is also seen as a driver of the broader Google product roadmap. As Grannis explained, OCTO sees things coming from their engagements in the market that then feed through to product innovation. For a company that has had a historically myopic focus on development through hard measures, this is a significant departure.

I was interested, especially given Google’s new-found fascination with partnering with the large system integrators, how the interplay between OCTO and the likes of Accenture and PWC went. Would these companies feel threatened by Google’s own engagement with customers? Grannis explained that Google is very clear about the limitations of the OCTO program. Greene doesn’t want to grow the group massively, and hence there is little conflict with the GSIs. In terms of what sort of companies OCTO engages with, in typical Google fashion, there is something of a formula for this – there are no revenue or organizational size requirements. The way it works is that Greene designates strategic customers that she feels are appropriate for OCTO involvement – this makes up 30% of the pool. Thereafter the global sales and partnership leaders have a 50% pool that they can divide up. And mirroring Google’s approach with its “20 percent time” program, the remaining 20% is free for OCTO itself to chose. Grannis explained that often these will be the “cool” customers that he and his team are keen to work with – not necessarily the big enterprises, but ones doing interesting work.

However the participants get into the OCTO program, one thing is standard – OCTO was created to be an investment into the best customers, partners and those doing interesting things which encourage two-way learning between them and Google itself. The participants need to demonstrate a commitment to the journey and an ability to bring something to the table. While Grannis was firm in articulating that there is no minimum spend requirement to be part of the program, it’s a fair bet that IT budget, or the expectation that the organization will in the future have significant IT spend, is a lens that the OCTO team look through.


OCTO has grown to be a skilled team across JPAC, EMEA, and the Americas. While it is a fairly standard model that most large technology vendors have, it is a stark departure for Google. As such, while the OCTO program itself is interesting, perhaps what is more interesting is what it signifies – a maturing of the Google operation into that of a legitimate enterprise IT vendor. One that wants to listen and to engage and to be flexible with the wide range of customer maturity levels that exist in the marketplace.

Google Cloud may be the oft-mentioned distant third of the big public cloud vendors, and to be honest they have their work cut out for them closing the gap to AWS and Microsoft, but programs like OCTO, and the systemic shift it indicates, show that, at the very least, the infrastructure is in place to make the change. Now it’s just about execution.

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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.