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Google: Enterprise software too difficult to use

Most enterprise software was not written with end-users in mind, and, as a result, is difficult to use, proclaimed Dave Girouard, general manager of Google's enterprise division.

Girouard spoke this morning before a packed audience at the 2006 AIIM Conference and Exposition, now being held in Philadelphia.

In the past few years, IT observers have been intensely curious about Google's plans. Sure, search is useful, but how can the company make money?

If Girouard's remarks are any indication, the company is looking to, among other things, offer an end-user platform to access data locked in enterprise applications. The Google Appliance could be used 'not just for search, but as an interface for the whole company,' he said.

Girouard's reasoning went like this: Enterprise applications are designed to serve overall business processes. They are designed for experts. Too many rationalizations made at the design level only muck up the end-product. As a result, the people who actually have to use such systems tend to find them arcane and difficult to work with. So naturally, they will not use these applications as much. He related a story about a customer who forwarded all his work mail, which resided in Lotus Notes, to the a Gmail account, because the e-mail was easier to parse through Gmail.

The example is more than a simple testimonial. It is emblematic of the difference between enterprise apps and consumer applications, Girouard insisted. Consumer-driven companies have a much better understanding of user interfaces since the end user is also the purchaser of the product. So companies have to make their products easy to use. With services like Google, user interfaces is even more of an issue, since other search options 'Are just a click away,' Girouard said.

Such attention to details is far more than just ensuring sales though, it can also mean the difference between an application that is used and one that isn't. 'Utilization is always an indicator of usefulness,' Girouard said.

Fair enough. We've certainly seen enough enterprise user applications whose complex interfaces made our eyes glaze over. But what does that have to do with Google? Search is the edge between what we know and what we don't know, and most employees (I can't remember if he used the 'knowledge worker' clich', but here it fits) spend much of their terms crossing that boundary, looking for more information to get their job done.

Correspondingly, Google is starting to think of itself not so much in terms of offering a search service but rather 'a command line interface for the whole world,' Girouard said. And as command lines goes, Google is far better than the proverbial C prompt in that it is not as picky about syntax, he noted.

Some examples: When you enter a Fed Ex tracking number into Google, it can recognize the unique format of that number and return tracking information about the corresponding package. Query about the weather of a certain city, and Google can return a weather summary. Or give the Web search engine a flight number and an airline and it can tell you if that flight is running late.

'Is this searching? I don't know,' Girouard said. In all these cases, systems from other companies actually generate the information'-Fed Ex or Weather.com'-but the simple interface just makes that information all that easier to retrieve.

Now, Google wants to extend that capability to enterprise software as well. He mentioned that the company's enterprise search appliance can fetch Cognos data cubes, Salesforce.Com's enterprise resource planning data, Oracle's financial applications data, and the documents residing in a Documentum content management system. Most recently, the company inked a partnership with Business Objects, presumably so that reports generated through that company's software can come up via an employee search through Google.

Sure, other enterprise search offering can also offer access to these applications, but Girouard is smart in pitching the service as a complete user interface, not simply as middleware. Sure, portals are used for this purpose, but could a simple search page work even better?

Posted by Joab Jackson

Posted by Brad Grimes, Joab Jackson on May 17, 2006 at 9:39 AM


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