What's Cooking in Google's Enterprise Labs?
Google's enterprise strategy isn't much different than the consumer side when it comes to giving users an early look at services in development.
Newsflash: Google isn't your typical enterprise software company.
The search giant that's made billions off its consumer online services has some unique ideas for attracting enterprise customers. Selling to corporations is usually a long, deliberate process, but Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) thrives on speed and thinks it can apply some of its consumer strategy to speed up the process.
"I was on the enterprise software side for 10 years, and traditionally that's a big bang, long release cycle," Cyrus Mistry, Google's product manager, enterprise search, told InternetNews.com. "Google's on a much quicker pace than that, we're known to innovate daily."
Six new "experiments" were launched on the site in the few months wrapping up 2007, and another three were launched this year (Related Web Results, Google Sites Integration and Google Site Search OneBox), with more on the way.
Previewing services is nothing new for Google. The beta of its Gmail e-mail service has been available for years and remains labeled a beta release, though millions of users now rely on it.
Mistry said the purpose of Enterprise Labs is to give business and enterprise users a sneak peek at what Google has in the pipeline, test it in their environment and even have a hand in shaping the final release via their feedback.
Google tracks the feedback and also how popular each new offering is with customers.
"We might get 6,000 downloads on something, but no one's using it," Mistry said. "We want to know if they're loving it."
If a new service does prove popular, bug fixes and another streamlining get prioritized to bring it to what Google calls "graduation," or a completed release status.
Mistry said the company may start putting graduation icons next to products in the labs that reach graduation to distinguish them as finished products.
John Shelton, search engineer at Intuit (NASDAQ: INTU), said he's found the Labs services useful. Intuit, makers of TurboTax and other finance programs, has 12 of Google's search appliances in use: four for the TurboTax support Web site, three for the company's intranet, three for Intuit.com and two for the QuickBooks support Web site.
Intuit has already employed Search as You Type from Google Labs at its TurboTax support site, which anticipates search queries.
For example, as you type the word 'how" in the search box, a range of options appears in a drop-down menu, such as "how to e-file," "how to update TurboTax" and so on.
Advanced search reporting
Intuit is also currently pilot testing a Google service from the Labs called Advanced Search Reporting. If deployed, ASR will give Intuit far more extensive information on how users navigate its sites than does Google's Analytics.
"It provides the most detailed information you can have -- there's nothing like it in the industry," Mistry said. "Analytics is a great way to track navigation to and from a Web site, but once a user arrives it can't tell you what they clicked on." "It only understands URLs," he said.
Sue Feldman, enterprise search analyst at IDC (NYSE: IDC), said its very common for enterprise search providers to fill their clients in on beta and other planned releases and make the technology available for testing. "But they don't tend to make early alpha or experimental releases available and say 'give it a try,'" Feldman told InternetNews.com.
"The thing Google knows very well, which has led to their success on the Web is that the network effect is the most important thing to cultivate," Feldman continued. "It sounds like they want to create a network effect among developers and early adopters to try these things out and they find them useful -- that stands to help Google's sales."