Why Google is a more "typical" business than you think

Published Wednesday, June 23rd 2010

A 3 minute read 680 words

There's been some interesting reportage over the last couple of weeks around whether Google's decision to remove Windows from internal use as a supported desktop has wider ramifications for the future of Windows in business. The Linux and Mac press have been crowing; suggesting that CIOs take Google's lead and kill off their dependence on the Microsoft OS.

I'm not going to get into that discussion - especially given my Linux persuasions - but I was interested in the view expressed by Matt Asay from Canonical over at CNET where he suggests Google is an anomaly because they are a tech business that work heavily in Open Source and a lot of their staff needs can be met via cloud services.

Whilst this is technically correct and being the technology leader at a technology company my view is probably tainted. Looking at my clients though, who comprise some of Australia's largest businesses, I actually don't think Google is as much of an anomaly as Matt suggests.

Most enterprise job functions are split into three core technology requirements: Information Worker, Creator and Service (and yes I know this is simplistic and perhaps overly reductionist but it works in 90% of businesses where Desktop IT is an Enterprise function).

An Information Worker typically spends their life in an Office program of some sort, a web browser and heavily uses email. Given the steady rise of Open Office, the large scale moves to Google Apps for Business and Microsoft's hosted Exchange solutions - the needs of the Information Worker are being well and truly met with a Web Browser along with some cloud services. The Information Worker could be on any browser on just about any device and it wouldn't matter what sort of OS they are running. Google have a lot of these types of workers and so to do many Enterprises (the majority of those who operate out of HQ).

Service staff are typically interacting with customers whether on the ground selling or manning a phone line or service desk. The two main use cases for Service staff are CRM or POS type applications and clearly the move to cloud or web app CRM (eg Salesforce or SAP CRM) and the rise of web based POS will mean it doesn't matter what the underlying OS is because the needs are met with a browser. Add web based email into the mix and there's no need for anything more than a browser for these staff.

The only group that aren't catered for are the Creators, and this is where choice of desktop actually becomes important. Each Creator will have their own specific requirements. Creator staff tend to be high margin resources so buying expensive software and hardware is generally an easy justification given their output and profitability. Google obviously has plenty of these people working for it but all companies that are in the business of making "stuff" will have this user group.

The key then, is to move all non-creator staff (which in most Enterprises are a large proportion of the head count) to solutions that don't require a specific OS and then gain a very good understanding of what Creators need. There are also few needs for Creators that aren't well serviced by Mac or Linux (hence why Google can shift their baseline).

So when you break down the user functions, Google isn't that atypical of many other businesses; the direction Google is taking is something that IT leaders should be looking at - especially given there is a large upgrade ahead of us to move from Win XP to Win 7 in business. The first step of this upgrade should be to move core applications to web apps (whether cloud or on-premise) and then look at potential alternatives that may break dependency on Windows which then frees up a discussion around OS.

The bigger hurdles for IT lie in the perception issues of Information and Service workers who will need to retrain their core IT skills to cope with a different OS - but that is a social issue not a technical one.

Title image by Willian Hook

"Why Google is a more "typical" business than you think" by ajfisher is licensed under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 International License.

Source for citation: ajfisher.me/2010/06/23/why-google-is-a-more-typical-business-than-you-think.