I attended Google’s annual atmosphere road show recently, an event aimed at presenting solutions for business customers. The main points I took away were:

  • Google’s “mosaic” approach to portfolio development offers tremendous potential. Google has comprehensive offerings covering communications and collaboration solutions (Gmail, Google Plus), contextualized services (Maps, Compute Engine), application development (App Engine), discovery and archiving (Search, Vault), and access tools to information and entertainment (Nexus range, Chromebook/Chromebox).
  • Google’s approach to innovation sets an industry benchmark. Google is going for 10x innovation, rather than the typical industry approach of pursuing 10% incremental improvements. Compared with its peers, this “moonshot” approach is unorthodox. However, moonshot innovation constitutes a cornerstone of Google’s competitive advantage. It requires Google’s team to think outside established norms. One part of its innovation drive encourages staff to spend 20% of their work time outside their day-to-day tasks. Google is a rare species of company in that it does not see failure if experiments don’t work out. Google cuts the losses, looks at the lessons learned — and employees move on to new projects.
  • IT leaders recognize Google as an attractive, cost-effective vendor of enterprise solutions. Google has added many high-profile brands to its list of customers over the past year (e.g., Roche, Valeo, KLM, Audi, Nestlé, British Airways). As IT leaders are asked to do ever more with less, Google’s tactic of offering 80% feature functionality at a significant discount to “whistles and bells solutions” offers an attractive alternative.
  • Google is just scratching the surface of visualisation. Indoor mapping, 3D helicopter views of cities, personalised and customised maps, and real-time weather depiction are just some examples of Google’s recent innovations in the geolocation space. Going forward, we see enormous opportunities to combine data sets with analytics and prediction tools and overlaying them with geographic information for many sectors. For instance, one could imagine analysing and comparing healthcare data with eating habits to indicate areas where certain illnesses are overproportionate, providing insurance companies or governments with data about where to run dedicated campaigns to change eating habits. Google’s recent acquisition of Waze is evidence of its evolution in the visualisation space.
  • The timing of the event was somewhat unfortunate. The event coincided with the recent revelations of NSA surveillance activities. This is a shame, because, compared with last year’s event, Google has come a long way. The NSA revelations will provide plenty of arguments for cloud sceptics. However, we expect cloud to regain momentum again as public excitement settles down and as governments grasp that privacy is not just some libertarian obsession, but also a business objective. With Google offering model contract clauses for customers, it is set to remain in the cloud pole position.

Overall, Google is well on its way to becoming a considerable force to be reckoned with in the business world, not just for search, but also for cloud, analytics, and collaboration — the big themes for any future IT leader. Google is changing the way business should think about tackling challenges and opportunities.