The Google Wave dilemma

Imagine for a moment if Google executives loaded up their PowerPoint presentation, walked into the head office of a major bank and provided an in-depth demonstration of how Google Wave will revolutionize the way employees communicate, not only with one another but with partners, suppliers and customers.

I know what you’re thinking: Google would never even get a meeting with a major bank over collaboration software.

As compelling though it is, the video that came out of the I/O conference last week about Google Wave – an online means of sharing e-mail, instant messaging, forums, wikis and photos – sidesteps the kind of issue that Google has decided is everyone else’s problem. This is the question of to what extent companies should consider this as a viable tool for business users.

In the most insightful blog post on Google Wave so far, CNet’s Matt Asay explains why we’re seeing this kind of innovation from Google and not traditional enterprise software companies.

Google has no incumbent enterprise products to which it must pay obeisance. Google doesn’t even have a built-in background with the desktop that moors its vision of what is possible,” he writes. “Google, in other words, is creating an ‘innovator’s dilemma’ for the incumbent enterprise software vendors, entrapped by their own successful products and the need to appease employees and existing customers.”

But that’s not the only dilemma. There is also what we might call the IT manager’s dilemma, which is taking so-called disruptive innovation and figuring out policies or plans to allow something like Google Wave to coexist with those clunky enterprise software products. It’s not enough to hope that companies will simply dump their Exchange Server, take down the in-house wiki tool they’ve created or abandon their existing intranet forums. In many cases investments were made in these products because they adhered to certain security or compliance objectives, or they might have been part of a larger productivity bundle. Product support in traditional enterprise software is typically at a higher level than that of free online tools.

It’s also unrealistic to suggest enterprises could ignore Google Wave entirely. If it’s successful – and some are already calling it a killer app – there’s good reason to believe consumers will begin to expect businesses to share information with them they way they share it with each other. This was the same demand that made the Internet a viable channel for corporations and governments alike. If there’s no integration with what may seem like prehistoric enterprise software products, Google may be forcing users to make an either-or kind of choice. This could be described as the Apple route, which presumes you’ll want everything in the same little universe.

Even if it has the benefits of an online tabula rasa, as Asay suggests, I hope Google will behave enough like an enterprise software company that it will offer some direction on bringing its collaboration technology into work environments. Just because the firm is going to offer IT managers a Wave, it shouldn’t necessarily expect a wave back.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Shane Schick
Shane Schick
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