Google exec: IT ‘crisis’ preventing business innovation

With so much spent on maintenance by IT departments, there's little left over for innovation, says Google's enterprise business head

Google’s general manager of enterprise business, Dave Girouard, says a “crisis” in IT is preventing organisations from pursuing the type of innovations that allow businesses to grow.

Speaking in Boston earlier this month at the Mass Technology Leadership Council’s annual meeting, Google’s Dave Girouard said the “insane complexity” of technology is leading companies to spend 75-80% of IT budgets on simply maintaining the systems they have already. Besides a shortage of money, Girouard says CIOs face strict regulations and an impending brain drain with many IT officials approaching retirement.

“The way Google built what is in the order of a US$10 billion (NZ$14.3 billion) business in eight years was through some pretty amazing innovation,” said Girouard. “CIOs in particular are really in a difficult situation, and innovation isn’t something they can spend the majority of their waking hours talking about. The information technology business as it pertains to large businesses has become a lot of maintenance.”

Girouard promoted software-as-a-service, saying companies should join this growing trend even if it means trusting third parties with sensitive information.

A century ago, most large companies had a vice president of electricity, according to Girouard. Just as the management of electricity became routine, Girouard says, so will many IT functions.

“A lot of things that people think of as core IT functions need to disappear into the ether so that the IT organisation can properly focus on the value-added [activities].”

“Information security, as critical as it is, needs to be taken care of by organisations who live and die by it, who invest the money, time, resources and staff. Why should every company in the world have to build up their own expertise and have to maintain servers and provide security?”

Girouard also discussed the “consumerisation of information technology,” describing budding efforts to bring the user-friendly features of consumer products to the workplace.

Makers of enterprise technologies tend to add lots of extras as a way to improve a product, but instead the extra features often make products too complex, he says.

At Google, “our users are one click away from using another search engine, so we live this Darwinism every microsecond of every day. It really drives an incredible focus on the end user experience that I think the enterprise technology market could benefit from.”

Girouard discussed “Google Apps”, the company’s attempt to carve a niche in the enterprise applications arena. It consists of an email service, instant messaging, a calendar service and web page design program.

Most CIOs would probably hesitate before using Google Apps, but the new tool or similar ones are bound to catch on eventually, says Whit Andrews, an analyst at Gartner.

“The vast majority of CIOs today see something like this as being interesting but at the very best, pilot project class,” Andrews says. “They’re worried about security, they’re worried about disconnect, they’re worried about service-level agreements, they’re worried about training.”

Google Apps probably lacks many features available today in Microsoft products, Andrews says. But Google has an opportunity to take advantage of a trend in which “consumers are bringing their predilections for ease of use and simplicity to the workplace,” he says.

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