Dave Girouard is head of Google Enterprise and Applications, which adapts Google technology for use in enterprises: technologies include the Google Search Appliance, Google Earth, Google Maps, and the Google Applications suite of hosted applications.
Q. How does Google Enterprise sit within Google itself, which is obviously more focused on advertising revenue than selling to the CIO?
A. It is distinct and autonomous, and it has its own R&D and sales and marketing. But although we have a couple of hundred dedicated engineers we are still very dependent on the much larger army of Google engineers. Especially in the case of the hosted applications, where you have the Gmail team, the Calendar team.
But on the sales and marketing side it is somewhat distinct from the rest of Google. As you say, we are mostly targeting the CIO, while the rest of the business is targeting the chief marketing officer for adverting dollars.
Q. Is there much cross-pollination of staff between your division and the rest of Google?
A. We have predominantly hired staff from outside Google: to build our enterprise skills we have hired people from BEA, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM. But we have also had some people move from one to the other.
Q. I’m guessing that the biggest seller for Google Enterprise is the Search Appliance?
A. Yes, we started in the enterprise space with search appliances in 2002. When I joined in early 2004 there were 25 people in Google Enterprise and at the time there was a debate whether to invest in it further or get out altogether. Larry, Sergey and Eric decided that we should run with it. But even then we decided that we never wanted to build a traditional technology company — we wanted to sell to the enterprise but with simple, consumer-like enterprise technology.
Q. But why an appliance specifically? Why not sell your search software for enterprises to run on their own servers?
A. People were asking, ‘why can’t I search at work just like I can at home on the Internet?’ The best way we could recreate the Google experience in the enterprise was by using an appliance: it’s fast, and accurate. In a more traditional software model you are reliant on the hardware, the application server, the software etc. So it would never have been very friendly to the user.
Q. So you started in 2002 with the Search Appliance; how has business been since?
A. We have over 10,000 customers for the search appliance worldwide, and the UK is the biggest market in EMEA for us, with customers like British Airways and the Houses of Parliament.
Q. And what do you say to rival enterprise search technology firms that argue that Google-like search is inadequate in the enterprise, because the text results lack the essential context that they claim their software offers?
A. There are three things that IT departments and users want in the enterprise. They want the results fast; they want relevance, in that the results they are looking for are in the first few hits they get back; and they want security so it searches what they are allowed to and nothing else. If we can get those right, and we believe we have, then we know that everything else the competition can sling at us is just noise and FUD.
Just because search is simple, people characterize it as simplistic. But behind the scenes there are all sorts of contextual analysis going into the results thanks to our algorithms.
Q. Are those algorithms different in the enterprise than for the standard Google search?
A. Yes we have our own set of algorithms and we contribute to the main Google search algorithms too.
Q. So your division does contribute to the broader Google technology?
A. That’s right. In fact we have just launched a Google Enterprise Labs page where we are demonstrating some of the technologies we have developed. At the moment there is new technology on there that enables auto type-ahead, like you have on your mobile. Our strategy is launch early and launch often.
Q. Is the sales model to go direct or sell the appliances though partners?
A. In the US we went direct, but in Europe we pioneered selling through partners. Now we’re moving that model back to the US, too.
Q. What about the Google Applications business – is the motivation there basically to try and win market share from Microsoft’s desktop dominance in any way possible?
A. Yes! No, seriously, that’s not what motivates engineers. They are motivated by creating something that works and is easy to use.
Q. Google doesn’t exactly have a long history of selling to the enterprise. Are companies ready to open the door to Google in enterprise deployments?
A. It varies by company and by individual. It is true that today we are seeing most success with early-stage or smaller companies that will jump into something. But we only launched Google Applications for the enterprise this year and we already have 500,000 businesses using the product. They are predominantly small but there are some larger enterprises piloting them and thinking about rolling them out.
Q. The Google brand must get some interesting reactions in the enterprise space?
A. Yes we wondered that – would people take Google seriously in the enterprise? 90% do take us seriously, as I think the rand is associated with technology, innovation, and driving things forward. We can’t do the other 10% overnight, but I think even that group is ready to listen to our message. We obviously need to make sure we have good answers to their questions.
Q. And the sales proposition for Google Apps is again, ease of use?
A. That, and a fixed price of $50 per user per year without adverts, or free to enterprises that don’t mind seeing adverts.
Q. Is your hosted email the starting point for companies?
A. For well over half it is. Managing their own email is a lot of pain, especially for small businesses.
Q. Google Enterprise is competing with Microsoft applications that are packed with features – so many that users often don’t even know about some of them…
A. We definitely don’t start with a Microsoft features checklist. If you’re accusing us of standing up for users and ease of use, then guilty as charged.
Q. One of the criticisms of hosted applications has always been that if there is a network outage, the apps are useless.
A. There’s that, but there is also the issue of a flaky or slow connection, and how to have offline access if you are on a plane, for example. We released Google Gears to try and address this. We open-sourced the technology to take all of our applications offline and there are a lot of smart people working on it.
Q. Is the plan to expand the suite of applications, for instance to do things like CRM, or financials?
A. We will definitely extend the suite but I think our sweet-spot is the applications that have some sort of consumer element: our experience from GMail enabled us to do enterprise mail. But I am sure we could do it if we wanted to: there are a lot of people building things in Google that they dearly want to become available.
Q. We’ve talked about Google’s brand a little. One of the risks that face companies that grow as fast and are as successful as Google is that they can become complacent or arrogant.
Q. It’s a small burden to bear, and one which I think gets magnified in the press. In such a large organization there can be employees that get a little ahead of themselves but we constantly have to remember that we cannot rely on the fact that we are Google – we need to be as humble about everything as we should be. Most people are excited to meet Google, to talk to Google. We are usually able to cut through the hype in the first five minutes.