Google: Docs key to long-term workplace changes

Google Inc.’s vision of the not-so-distant future: The corporate workday will be quite different — and a lot more social.

Executives at Google say that emerging cloud-based applications will foster far more collaboration among a new generation of corporate workers that have grown up using social networks like Facebook and Twitter .

Anil Sabharwal, product manager for the cloud-based Google Apps offering, predicts a major corprate shift to the cloud will become clear in five years, when most organizations are using cloud-based e-mail, spreadsheet and documentation services in large part for their easy collaboration, or business socialization, capabilities.

“Social elements will come into play in how we get our work done,” Sabharwal told Computerworld . “The idea is that businesses are, by their very nature, a social network. You’re all connected by virtue of working for that company. Better collaboration. Better broadcasting of information to a group. Better social connections. All of that is going to become really interesting for businesses.”

And, yes, despite skepticism from some analysts, Google expects that the Google Docs family of applications will stand in the forefront of a more team-oriented corporate workplace. IBM’s Lotus unitand Microsoft have long offered collaboration tools, but Google says its offering will allow more seamless worker collaboration.

For example, Sabharwal said Google’s hosted services will let a worker who needs help formulating a marketing idea easily get input from co-workers in other pertinent departments.

The Web-based Google Docs application suite includes word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, documentation and data storage tools. Google last year began a concerted effort to push its cloud-based offerings into the lucrative enterprise, taking on rival Microsoft and its uber-popular desktop applications.

Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group, said businesses will have to create social business plans that don’t unecessarily slow projects.

“The enterprise can be described as a social network in that it is a collection of humans all communicating in an attempt to accomplish common goals,” he said. “A social network-like model for corporate communications would certainly connect people that need to be connected, [which] could be helpful in a lot of cases. But it could also be a huge time sink by encouraging and enabling communications between people who don’t necessarily need to talk in order to get the job done.”

Olds also was quick to add that a broadly collaborative organization clashes with the natural business hierarchy, which could also pose problems for Google’s vision.

Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, agreed that selling the broad social concept to most businesses will likely be tougher than Google seems to expect.

“Businesses are hierarchical, where information flow is generally highly restricted,” Enderle said. “[Information] almost never flows the way folks think it does. The social construct in business isn’t even consistent within working groups, let alone across the breadth of a company. You could argue they should be more of a social network, but they generally aren’t today.”

Enderle added that many businesses continue to resist moving important applications to the cloud because of security and reliability fears. And such fears aren’t easily overcome, he added.

“While (Sabharwal) is right in terms of our current [social] direction, thanks to services like Facebook, he may be too aggressive on the (business) timeline,” he noted.

In adition, Enderle said, even if the business world does follow Google’s general vision, ” there’s no assurance that the market will move towards Google Docs. It’s much more likely it will move towards a vendor they already work with (because) firms tend to favor existing relationships.”

In that case, any corporate move to cloud-based applications would work out best for Microsoft , Google’s biggest competitor, which has owned the desktop application market for years.

Nonetheless, Google expects changing corporate philosophies, and how Google Docs will fit into them, will pave the company’s way into the enterprise . After all, the company notes that it has a history of coming up with successful business visions that created a gold mine for itself with products like its flagship search engine along with Google Maps and Google Earth.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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