When Matthew Glotzbach checks into a hotel room – which is often for the executive in charge of Google’s enterprise division – he makes sure his Internet connection is working by visiting his company’s home page.
“If Google.com is showing, then I know my connection is working,” he told the keynote audience at the IT 360 conference in Toronto this morning. “If Google.com doesn’t show up, I know something’s wrong. I never really think to myself, ‘I wonder if Google’s down?”
That, in a nutshell, was the argument Glotzbach presented to convince the audience that cloud computing is for real, and that Google, by implication, is among the most trusted providers they could choose. Everything else he said sounded like last year’s insights and metaphors: the similarities to the dawning of electrical utilities and their compute counterparts, the spread of crowdsourcing via Wikipedia, and the empowerment of smaller, offshore business in Thomas Freidman’s flat world.
It was reassuring to hear Glotzbach acknowledge, near the end of his speech, that on-premise software probably won’t disappear entirely, just as the mainframe managed to survive decades of thinner hardware. And yet he, along with the rest of Google, risks oversimplifying the kind of transition that’s taking place, and what IT departments have to do to get through it successfully.
Glotzbach discussed, for example, the difference between the way consumers adopt technology, a sort of American Bandstand-style “It works, I like it, I’ll give it a 10!” He contrasted this with corporate IT managers who made decisions on behalf of their users.
“In a lot of ways it didn’t really matter whether the users liked it all that much,” he said. “They cared about whether it worked for the company, but not if the users were happy with it.”
Really? I think a lot of IT managers are forced into choices based on corporate policies, and are left the scapegoat of users who would probably be satisfied with nothing less than a custom-built PC, operating system and productivity tools. Perhaps in some organizations these users will have the authority to run their own cloud-based applications. In many cases, however, a decision to move to Google Apps or its other enterprise offerings will be similarly driven by what senior management are comfortable with. And their concerns are not those of the everyday consumer, who is unencumbered with worries around regulatory compliance, e-discovery or roles-based authentication.
It occurred to me, watching Glotzbach, that Google shows up at events like IT 360 with a different challenge than most of its contemporaries. It comes not merely to sell users a product line but a business model, and someone as easily likeable as its enterprise product management director is no doubt the right man for the job. The sales pitch is more difficult, though, because some users have already bought into it while the concerns of corporate IT are at least partly emotional ones, based on experience-drive instinct. If they are to trust Google and adopt the cloud model, they will need vision and coaching that sees them less as draconian gatekeepers but as human beings interested in creating a better enterprise. Google has built its reputation on doing no evil. Now it has to prove to IT managers that it can do them some good.