Product Review: Google+, Consumerization of IT, and Crossing The Chasm For Enterprise Social Business

Timing of Google+ Bodes Well For Enterprise Users And Google
Lately, one could say Google's been a bit absent from the social business party.  The premature launch of Google Wave exposed a canvas looking for a masterpiece painting.  Failing fast and learning from the Google Wave lesson, Google's latest offering, Google+ shows promise in bringing similar disruptive technology concepts to market, yet packaged in easier to adopt metaphors such as activity streams, walls, hangouts, and circles (see Figure 1).
As part of Google's aspirations to deliver enterprise offerings, it's flagship Google Apps continues to gain traction in enterprises despite a market position that places the product between a very strong pro-sumer play and an almost enterprise app.  The good news - a constant stream of incremental changes shows an evolution to an enterprise class offering built from a strong consumer bent.  As of this posting, Google Apps isn't integrated with G+, but Google's enterprise ambitions have been strengthened with the new offering.
Figure 1.  Logging Into Google+

Convergence And Shift To A P2P World Enables GooglePlus To Go After Both Consumers And Enterprises

Google+ launch comes at an exciting time of convergence among the mega trends for the decade: social business, mobile enterprise, cloud computing, and unified communications.  The five pillars of Consumerization of IT (CoIT) fall in Google's favor as consumer users rapidly seek to bring these innovations into their enterprises.  Subsequently, Google+ already takes advantage of Google's assets to:

  • Unify the communications channels. Enterprises spend millions trying to get their fragmented communications systems to work, let alone integrate.  Google+ takes chats, emails, tweets, voice, mobile, and video and rolls it all up neatly into one offering.  More importantly, it works off of one login and its integrated.  Key video features such as Hangouts allow for impromptu video con calls without the hassle of most other video conferencing systems.
  • Provide an initial alternative to Facebook for the enterprise offerings. Procurement managers and line of business buyers face Cloud/SaaS best of breed hell as a flurry of purpose built solutions attack the enterprise IT landscape.  Should Google stream line convergent offerings for the enterprise, it will be poised to dethrone many incumbents.  Google can only succeed if they can match functional parity over the next 12 to 18 months.  Keep in mind, the long-term goal goes beyond Facebook for the enterprise.
  • Aggregate the user's social sphere. Facing near term social networking overload, enterprise users can't possibly fathom another social networking service.  Aggregation by a major player makes sense from a market position and user convenience. Google's initial list allows users to notate key services in their profiles through connected accounts from Facebook, Yahoo!, Flickr, LinkedIn, Quaora, Twitter, Yelp, Hotmail, and Plaxo (see Figure 2). A quick look into the codes shows that these connection services potentially can support a Microsoft Outlook email, an SAP feed, or Chatter stream and may potentially support direct integrations in future road maps.

Figure 2.  Google+ Delivers Social Sphere Aggregation With Ease
Adding Connections on GooglePlus

Google+ Off To A Good Start But Much Needs To Be Improved
After a few days of test driving, here's a quick run down of what works from a user and enterprise point of view.  Keep in mind, the product is still in beta and the engineers appear to be incorporating feedback in very rapid sprints.

What works:

  • Profiles - Strong self-service security profile management.  Users should enjoy the ease of use to reach aggregation of likes via "+1" feature.  Early LinkedIn like features show case a potential opportunity to highlight skills, career experience, etc.
  • Home - Easy to use activity stream metaphors.  Facebook style usability. Classic Web 2.0 navigation.
  • Circles - Facebook functionality plus social networking aggregation appeal.  The graphical drag and drop approach for groups works well for users with less than 500 contacts.
  • Hangouts - Great ad hoc collaboration.  After downloading the Google video app, the service delivered the ease of with the elegance of Skype.  Sharing a YouTube video with friends to simultaneously watch is impressive.
  • Sparks - The tie in to Google search starts here.  Users create an interest graph over time.  Lots of opportunities for information brokering here and advertising placement based on the interest graph.
  • Photos - Picasa shows elegantly and is easy to use.  Users will appreciate the ability to approve or reject photo tags.  More importantly, the privacy features identify when a user has been tagged.
  • Mobile - The user experience reflects a design for mobile first approach.  (Added 7/5/2011) Android users benefit from a feature called Instant Upload.  Upon opt-in, every photo and video taken on the phone uploads automatically to a secure album in the cloud.

What could be improved:

  • Profiles - Profile granularity will need to be improved to support most enterprise role based security models.  Eventual active directory and LDAP support will emerge as key requirements.  Need a LinkedIn transition tool. Capture the key LinkedIn profile elements with 1-button transition simplicity.
  • Home - Activity streams will need more filter types. Circles currently represent the only type of filters.  Topics, people, and other relationship types will be needed going forward.
  • Circles - Over time, users will need easier hierarchy management.  Can't see how to create Venn diagrams for mutually exclusive groups, etc.  Google could help users take advantage of existing groups to accelerate creation.  Ad-hoc groups could also be more suggestive based on hangouts and other interactions.  Most users will want transition tools such as a MySpace, Facebook migration kit.  A social networking analysis diagram similar to LinkedIn would improve understanding of the networks. With 1000 contacts or more, an H-grid will help with group placement.
  • Hangouts - More collaboration features should be added such as screen sharing, wikis, and google docs integration.
  • Sparks - Right now the focus is on pull (search).  Future options could provide suggestions that push content based on interest graphs.  Many other reviewers have indicated a need to pull existing Google reader into their Sparks.
  • Photos - Eventually photos should be renamed media and serve as a digital content platform in a SlideShare mode.  Enterprises will want to be able to put presentations, training videos, schematics, and of course pictures here.
  • Mobile -Native integration on Android worked less well than on the iPhone. iPhone still felt more natural.

The Bottom Line: Google+ Is Set For The Next Generation Enterprise

Google+ has the opportunity to be good at everything but great at nothing.  However, the stakes are too high for Google to enter the abyss of Yahooness.  Google+ is not about being a Facebook killer. It's not about becoming just a social business application.  Google+ lays out the foundation for how users engage with each other, with applications, in devices, and through social objects.  By improving engagement, enterprises have an opportunity to transform how they:

  • Reshape their business processes;
  • Relate with and influence their prospects and customers;
  • Collaborate with employees, suppliers, customers, and partners;
  • Transform their services design

While Google Apps have not been integrated into G+, enterprises can expect this to be in future road maps.  The issue is not whether Google will become enterprise class.  They will. Google's challenge will be helping the growing masses of end users fed up with crappy enterprise IT systems cross the chasm without their IT departments and last century management teams.
Your POV.
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