Google says IT managers shouldn’t fear gadgets

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google Inc.’s recent Canadian launch of its Gadget Maker for iGoogle users should be of minimal concern to IT administrators who typically monitor what employees download on their individual systems, the company said.

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While the Google Maker application is consumer-facing only, iGoogle users can still customize individual gadgets for use on their work PCs. Andrew Kovacs, a spokesperson for Google Enterprise, said it’s an everyday occurrence that employees are bringing consumer applications into the enterprise, and the Google Maker isn’t “any different from other consumer applications.”

Actually, he said the customizable application is akin to employees using other Web-based sharing platforms like photo-sharing sites.

Tim Hickernell, associate lead research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group, agreed that IT administrators have no reason for concern over the Gadget Maker consumer version given the fact that it runs within the Google homepage “which is restraining right away and it doesn’t access corporate resources.”

The fact that employees can use Gadget Maker’s consumer-facing version at work is part of a greater trend toward the “consumerization of IT within the business,” said Kovacs. One driver behind this, he said, is the speed and ease of use of consumer technologies that very often trumps their enterprise counterparts.

Kovacs cites the adoption of Google Apps among enterprise users, specifically the more than half a million businesses which have signed up for the products in the course of a year.

However, Kovacs recognizes that IT administrators need to manage and control the actions of employees and said the company designs applications with users and IT administrators in mind. Case in point is the recently released Google Apps Team Edition that puts a “protective business wrapper around these consumer applications.” The edition lets team members publish content only to user domains, while granting IT administrators control to upgrade and manage the application if required.

Customized corporate gadgets, created using Google’s enterprise API (not the recently released consumer-facing version), which access corporate information from an enterprise resource application, for instance, would reside securely within the firewall, said Kovacs.

Hickernell said although the gadgets wouldn’t function as an “enterprise portal solution,” it does provide the capability to add third-party information to Google Apps for those companies using the platform. For instance, could create gadgets presenting information to employees who use both Google Apps and Salesforce software.

He said while the gadgets won’t make a “big splash” for enterprise developers, there could be a third-party market for gadget development for Google Apps, resulting in an “indirect impact on business” for Google Apps users.

Many businesses have taken advantage of gadgets to connect with customers, in particular media companies are very attracted to the format flexibility and user configurability that RSS feeds don’t offer, said Jessica Ewing, senior product manager for iGoogle.

Besides the media industry, travel companies use gadgets to give would-be travelers quick access to travel booking tools and services on individual homepages. “With gadgets, businesses can reach their customers before they even do a search,” said Ewing.

While building gadgets within the enterprise is not a novel concept, Hickernell said – citing the gadget framework from Plumtree Software – their function is now differently applied in light of the new trend towards sharing user-generated content.

He explained gadgets will be increasingly used in a social publishing manner to “keep tabs on each other”, and that a user will no longer be subscribing to a centralized information source that feeds identical data to everyone.

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