Google Apps Adds Work Group Features For Businesses

Google Apps Adds Work Group Features For Businesses

Network administrators, the custodians of an organization's passwords and privileges, may want to find another job as Google helps business users set up and manage their own work groups.

On Thursday, Google expanded its free software suite, called Google Apps, to the so-called enterprise market to allow co-workers or students to collaborate on documents, calendars or presentations and to chat via instant messaging.

Google Apps Team Edition, as the Web service is known, adds teamwork features to the 18-month-old software, which initially allowed users to share documents only with other individual users, but lacked some group management features required by businesses

"We basically removed the notion of an administrator," said Matthew Glotzbach, product management director for Google Enterprise, the company's business software unit.

"Everybody is on an equal footing. Any user can share a document with all the users," Glotzbach said.

Information technology (IT) managers have emerged as the disciplinarians of corporate life, enforcing policies needed to manage increasingly complicated systems as efficiently as possible in budget-constrained organizations.

In response, IT administrators often bear the brunt of frustrations many office workers have with technology.

Google has become a popular provider of Web search and software tools inside businesses by appealing directly to individual office workers as consumers, instead of seeking to appeal to technology decision makers through formal sales.

Only in the past year or so has Google embarked on a strategy to win over more progressive IT administrators.

Google Apps Team Edition security features remain rudimentary, but the company is moving rapidly to add powers. While it currently has little notion of central administrative control, individual document creators can say who can see any particular document.

Nonetheless, Apps still lacks many features for designing, prioritizing and controlling changes that different users make in any document.

Content management software programs such as Microsoft Corp's (MSFT.O) SharePoint offer such features. Google is working on SharePoint-like features, executives said.

Analysts said Google Apps for teams is a promising start to an increasingly aggressive Web-based collaboration strategy to compete against Microsoft in business software. Microsoft has responded to Google Apps with a similar product called Office Live Workspace.

Erica Driver, an analyst with Forrester Research who studies how next-generation workplaces should be designed, said team collaboration has been a crucial missing piece from Google Apps and more must be done.

"Google needs to evolve more of a concept of groups and some concept of access controls that allows users to check in and out documents and decide who can read, write or edit them," Driver said. "Some users may be working on sensitive documents. Not everyone in a company can have access to everything."

Google can no longer ignore technical bureaucracies.

"If it is going to appeal within business enterprises, Google has to play nice with IT," said Rebecca Wettemann, an analyst with software tracking firm Nucleus Research. "Google still has to convince companies that they are to be trusted."

Google's Glotzbach said Google Apps Team Edition can be upgraded to versions that can be controlled by central administrators. These require organizations to pay small per-user monthly fees.

Thus Google Apps can be incorporated in an organization's single sign-on password system or other filtering and security systems that companies are adopting to guard against rogue employees.