When Google Talks, CIOs Listen

By Don Willmott

The place to be last Monday was Google HQ, where 400 CIOs spent the day listening to presentations, fireside chats, and executive interviews and enjoying what I’m going to assume was some really good food.

Google The Atmosphere 2010 Conference was a chance for Google execs to make the case for an enterprise computing future that’s just about totally online. (You can get a taste of the day’s events in this video.) "The goal is to serve the customer, and all of us, including Microsoft, are trying to move to a Web model," CEO Eric Schmidt said. Well, you’re the customers. Discuss among yourselves if that’s indeed what you want.

I’m sure that one reason Google takes this stance is because it can position itself as way ahead of Microsoft when it comes to providing cloud-based productivity at both the individual and the enterprise level. Schmidt said that thousands of people try Google Apps every day, and large customers (20,000 to 30,000 accounts) sign on about once a week. But are Google’s online applications good enough? Can they best Microsoft Office? Wrong question, Schmidt said. Invoking the old 80/20 rule, he noted that Google Apps don’t have to be as robust as Office apps because few people more than a fraction of features in a program like Microsoft Word anyway, an assertion I’ll happily second. Google wants to be efficient, not comprehensive. And since IT is concerned about security above all else, Schmidt said that Google is paying special attention to making its shared online apps bulletproof.

We all know that cloud-based computing is the future, but reading over Schmidt’s remarks, I’m struck by how fast the future is coming. Maybe it’s time to stop talking about the future of cloud computing and talk about the very near future. Heck, Google Apps don’t even work offline. Google is already operating under the assumption that we’re all online all the time.

Which brings us to Schmidt’s second big message to enterprises: 24/7 mobility is where it’s at. "What’s really important now is that we get the mobile architecture right. I like to articulate it to developers that it’s mobile first for all your applications." To that end, watch out for a new wave of netbooks powered by Google’s Chrome OS later this year.

In this helpful summary from InformationWeek, you can scan Schmidt’s top ten reasons why mobility is essential. The money quote: "Mobility will ultimately be the way in which you provision most of your services. Now, today that seems crazy, because today the mobile devices are largely a problem in the corporation because they don’t fully support all the existing enterprise apps and so forth. But if you fast-forward five or 10 years, the kinds of things you can do with mobile devices – and mobile devices here includes very small devices all the way up to very large tablets, even if you think of it as netbooks – so mobility is part of it."

I agree with Schmidt that mobile devices are "largely a problem in the corporation," but that’s changing really quickly as more enterprise apps, from basic productivity tools to CRM and ERP, are outfitted correctly for secure mobile use. And as Schmidt correctly pointed out, Moore’s Law is still in effect. The kinds of mobile devices we played around with 10 and 20 years ago just couldn’t hack it. (Remember 1992, the year of pen computing? I do.) Today our portable gadgets, from cell phones to tablets, can meet enterprise-class needs. Therefore, this is one bandwagon you can’t jump on fast enough. Your mobile strategy shouldn’t be segregated. Your mobile strategy is your strategy. Maybe you should work on it tonight in bed¿on your WiFi-connected netbook.

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