Where Next for Google Cloud Platform?

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Until now, Google’s cloud business strategy has tended to eschew mainstream enterprise appeal, seemingly opting instead to wait for organisations to decide they needed to ‘be more like Google’. However, last week’s Google Cloud Next conference in San Francisco marked a major step in the company’s evolving message of increasing enterprise-friendliness (and indicated a willingness and intention to go further).

Whilst enterprise logos do feature on its customer lists, the company does have some catching up to do before the Google Cloud Platform (GCP) roster resembles that of, say, AWS or Microsoft Azure. That’s not to say it doesn’t have big names in there – Spotify recently announced it migrating its platform infrastructure to GCP, for instance; but these have typically been players looking for excellence in big data related services (for which Google’s pedigree and heritage is impeccable). Overall, the company hadn’t seemed to feel the need to change its spots much, just to sell more cloud services to bigger businesses (and expand beyond its Education heartland).

However the arrival of Silicon Valley veteran Diane Greene at the helm of Google Cloud Platform less than 18 months ago set in motion a series of events that have changed the way the company sees itself in relation to the enterprises market, and how it’s going to appeal to a broader range of CIOs.

There have been Google Cloud Next conferences before, but last week’s event was the first since Greene’s had much chance to make a difference; and it’s the first to bring together not just Google Cloud Platform, but also G Suite (Google’s communication, collaboration, storage and retrieval tools like Gmail, Hangouts, Docs, Drive, etc.), along with the Chrome and Maps businesses under one roof.

Google’s growing enterprise chops are visible in the holistic approach it’s taken to deciding what product lines join the cloud platform on-stage as part of the overall stable now (better reflecting a more rounded and integrated offering); the tales of what its customers are doing beyond big data projects (such as Colgate-Palmolive ‘s work with Google and SAP on collaboration and productivity tools, and the migration of LUSH’s global e-commerce site); recent Google acquisitions (such as AppBridge – designed to help customers migrate on-premise data into G Suite and Google Drive); GCP’s infrastructure expansion (into new regions across North America and Europe), partner activity (like deeper integrations with Google Docs for DocuSign and Egnyte Connect), and new product or feature announcements (such as the beta of a data loss prevention API for GCP and general availability of GCP’s encryption key management service).

But it’s also the language emanating from the stage. It feels different to before; and not just from new hands (who are bringing with them enterprise outlooks seemingly new to Google’s playbook), it’s rubbing off on some of the longer-serving Googlers too. There’s less assumption that Google Cloud’s next customers are going to be excessively ‘Googley’ in the first place.

Sure, there are still those who count their time at the company in the ‘number of semesters’ they’ve been with Google, belying its R&D faculty ambience… but there’s certainly the beginnings of a more recognisable enterprise business vibe there too now.

G-Suite and Google Drive now feature integrations, controls and capabilities designed to woo new customers (such as Team Drives, and the ML-infused Quick Access – adding a measure of ‘content intelligence’ to attempt to surface the right files to the right user based on their relevance to meetings, access patterns, and sharing profiles with other users). There’s still a long way to go before Google offerings can comprehensively hold their own across the board against the more established enterprise-focused vendors in the cloud market (it’s still really the proximity of Google’s data services that will clinch a deal… and that will tend to sway customers with a big data outlook – rather than the mass market that, say, AWS is gunning for).

However, as more and more companies follow the mantra that “we’re all data companies now”, and Google builds out its business-friendly editions and learns from each and every enterprise deal, we’ll start to see more of a meeting in the middle.

Perhaps it’s not just that Google is starting to wake up to the fact that its enterprise cloud business needs to be more overtly attuned to the needs of enterprise customers; more of those customers are starting to recognise what sort of an advantage they can leverage by bringing some Googley data-focus to their business too. Where Google will wind up pitching its offerings, and how long it takes to get there, will depend on the speed of travel from each direction. How much Google needs to change, and how different it looks when it gets there, will inevitably affect the company’s culture and its makeup.

It’s not trying to be AWS or Azure in order to climb the enterprise business rankings… but it is trying to be more like them in areas where the business value of Google offering maybe wasn’t so immediately apparent. How much that attracts new types of customers to the Google fold, as opposed to just making things more attractive to the already-converted, remains to be seen… But the company’s pace of change is accelerating, and I’m already awaiting Google Next 18 to see how this plays out.

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