Some commentators have been sceptical about Google's intentions with its new browser, the Chrome OS. Is it a mere distraction? Why has Google bothered? Is Chrome part of a broader plan? As a former chief information officer, I think Chrome seems to be just one element in a complete armoury of products Google is developing, all aimed at the CIO heartland. Many information chiefs seek a world where low-value IT utility services have been swept away, allowing focus on strategy development and other value-adding activities. Relentless product development now positions Google well to deliver its own form of this CIO nirvana.
With tongue somewhat in cheek, the following is my synopsis of an ideal future state, followed by Google's plans, actual and imagined. Six areas have been selected, but more could follow soon given Google's ambitions.
1. Email: Awkward and sometimes heated dealings with users who complain about mailbox quotas have been dispatched to history. Someone else now has the headaches associated with the management of spam as well as viruses, malware, phishing and other IT security hazards.
Gmail gained headway initially in Australasia through its acceptance at universities, which are renowned as early adopters of technologies that can reduce their cost base.
Some organisations are holding back due to perceived problems (such as service levels and security). It remains to be seen whether Google will confront these difficulties head on or allow its value proposition to do the talking.
2. Office utilities: Word processing and spreadsheets, along with services to manage calendars and schedules, are accessed over the web. The services are robust and the lifetime costs for providing them have dropped.
In this market, Google now claims more than one million Google Apps "seats" and has had particular success in Europe through partnerships with system integrators such as Capgemini.
A major advertising program has recently begun in the United States, an early sign that Google is serious about building market share in this increasingly competitive sector.
3. Desktop: The traditional desktop environment, often the bane of those trying to maintain good relations between the CIO and users, has largely been banished. Other than for a few power users whose special processing needs demand dedicated computing resources, most users work from web PCs that run a simple open-source operating system. Desktop service-desk calls have speared downward, in line with desktop ownership costs.
This is speculative, but Google's Chrome OS may well be harnessed into service as the preferred operating system on web PCs. Simplicity derives low cost. So does open source. Chrome passes on both counts.
4. Mobile workforce: At last I can satisfy the growing number of mobile users who seem to want whatever they have on their desktop to be on their mobile devices. Referred to as Chrome-lite, Google Android is open, encouraging development of new mobile applications.
5. Workplace collaboration: Intuitive software tools make it far easier than before to foster group-based activities. Collaborative editing has become embedded in our organisational culture for project-related work, reducing the need for travel whether across town, interstate or even overseas. It's early days, but signs are promising that Google Wave will develop as a serious rival to better-known collaboration software packages.
6. Search: A fast, easy-to-use search facility allows people to find exactly what they are looking for either within the organisation or externally from web-based sources. Exactly the same facilities are available to mobile users. Google Caffeine has been promised by the company as a step change in speed and search accuracy, an indication Google is not about to rest on its laurels.
Why Google will succeed
Google has a strong cash book. In the consumer arena it is unsullied. For growth, it is focusing on corporate clients and the mobile market. The latter is slowing, but is fuelled by the aspiring middle classes. Market sizes are massive in countries such as China and India, the latter alone having more than 300 million mobile subscribers.
History shows that companies that gain market leadership and hold onto it long term, have these hallmarks. They:
* Start by building a better mousetrap.
* Have an innovative culture that builds upon earlier successes.
* Make their products attractive to users through simplicity and ease of use.
* Price their products attractively.
* Operate on a grand scale, allowing economies to be enjoyed as a consequence.
* Market themselves in an appealing and non-threatening way.
* Build strong brands.
Google has all these qualities in spades. Wearing my CIO hat, I earnestly hope a strong rival will appear soon (ironically, this could be Microhoo, the new Microsoft-Yahoo! partnership) to provide some competition in what promises to become a monopolistic situation. CIO nirvana awaits.
Rob Mackinnon is an adviser with IBRS. Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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