Outsourcing

Gmail snuggles up to the enterprise by exposing new APIs

Google gave Gmail another push toward the enterprise on Tuesday by announcing "contextual gadgets" to enable powerful data viewing and collaboration within Gmail.

Google gave Gmail another push toward the enterprise on Tuesday by announcing new APIs and "contextual gadgets" to enable powerful data viewing and collaboration from within Gmail messages.

Google's stated goal here is to "intelligently display relevant information from other systems as you read your email, so you can be more efficient without leaving your inbox," according to a post from Chandrashekar Raghavan, Product Manager for Google Apps extensions.

So, imagine employees being able to interact with CRM systems, ERP software, or Salesforce.com modules directly from within relevant email messages. This the kind of thing that Google wants to enable. In the enterprise, we often refer to this type of thing as Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), where disparate systems can work together and seamlessly access (and act on) the same data.

Rasghavan also shared additional details:

"Starting today, third party developers can build Gmail contextual gadgets and distribute them in the Google Apps Marketplace. These gadgets can display information from social networks, business services, web applications and other systems, and users can interact with that data right within Gmail. Contextual gadgets are yet another example how the power of the web can outpace traditional business technology."

Despite the fact that Google is just now publicly announcing this and opening up the APIs necessary for developers to tap into it, a number of companies have already been working with Google to build a few of these contextual gadgets as examples, including some popular services like Xobni and Gist.

For enterprise customers (those on Google Apps Premier), Google has built in administrative controls to manage this new functionality. Rasghavan explained:

Like any other applications in the Google Apps Marketplace, a Google Apps domain administrator can install a contextual gadget from the Marketplace with just a few clicks. Both before and during the install process, administrators can review the portions of an email the gadget will have access to, and can revoke that permission at any time from their control panel.

Watch a demo

Below is a video clip Google released to explain some of the functionality that contextual gadgets can enable. You can also watch a full scale version of the video directly on YouTube.

Sanity check

Google has done its homework here. Email, despite its limitations, is still the killer app and the most widely used piece of software in business. By extension, Microsoft Outlook is the most important piece of software in the enterprise, at least on the client side.

You could argue that, in business, Outlook is the most widely used project management software, the most widely used collaboration program, and the most widely used information management tool on the planet. Going head-to-head with Outlook is tough for Gmail because Outlook is so entrenched.

Thus, Google is using the speed and power of the Web to present and manipulate data within email in ways that are much faster and easier to set up than traditional object-oriented software like Outlook. If Google can get some third party players like Salesforce.com and SAP to build contextual gadgets and get a few enterprises to build and show off some contextual gadgets then this could turn into Gmail's first significant competitive advantage over Microsoft Outlook, other than cost.

However, if big vendors balk, then this will be limited to a few small toys and widgets for SMBs.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

13 comments
thehcasboi
thehcasboi

It would be hove Google to allow businesses to install their own version of Gmail on their own servers for security and privacy issues. Then I am more than certain this would take off like wild fire. I would be an implementer for sure.

sml
sml

This argument . . . that a business has better security internally than Google can provide is a canard. IT people like to say this because they think that 50 IT folks in a mid-sized company can do security better than the 1,000s that Google has who only do security. Are you IT workers certified in security practices and does your server room have 24x7 guards patrolling the cages to ensure no one breaks in? Do you really do complete background checks on your server admins? What is your recourse to your business if the consultant you hired loses her laptop with a database of emails from the Executive team? And do all of your servers exist in a 99.99% failsafe environment?

Osiyo53
Osiyo53

Geez, your post reads like you are a Google employee. Which is fine, if you are. I have no particular bones to pick with Google. I have no FACTUAL basis for determining if Google is more or less secure than most IT shops. I would SUSPECT that they're more secure than the average IT shop, based solely upon my personal observations and experience. I'm in a line of business where I, and the company for whom I work, are hired by other businesses, organizations, etc to do specialty IT work for them. So on a routine basis, as in daily, I'm on site at customer premises and within their facilities, and work with their IT folks. One of the services we provide is security system design and implementation. Anyway, the fact is that the average business, even large ones, aren't just all that secure. Now, having said that, I must also say that for the average business very high levels of security aren't just all that critical. The average business simply isn't subject to all that much attention or specific targeting by the bad guys. Far more important to the average business organization are things like system reliability, maintainability, adequate backup systems and methods, contingency planning and systems, etc. Now, the companies and organizations I've done work for who have a valid business need for a higher level of security than is the norm, the ones which have been operating successfully over the long term, generally have a quite capable staff. Some don't have their own in-house folks that're up to the task, and hire companies like the one I work for to help them out. And of course there are those companies and organizations who have a valid business reason to maintain a high level of security, and who think they have that ... but its not nearly so good as they believe. I do work with one business which probably has no more than 50 IT folks, and who have a very valid need for the highest level of security they can achieve, without adversely impacting their business. And I'd have little doubt that they'd compare well, security wise, with the best Google has. In fact their system is almost undoubtedly more secure. Are all of their IT folks top gurus in security systems and methods? Not at all. But their top players charged with the security of their systems are as good as one is most likely to find anywhere. OTOH, I used to work for one of the major Teleco's. With a name that anyone reading this thread would readily recognize. Whose security department was bigger than most medium sized companies. Chuckle, and I used to mess with those folks on a routine and regular basis by blowing a hole through here or there, or just plain bypassing whatever. LOL ... on more than one occasion I got a personal phone call from their head of security who wanted to chew me out and wanted me to cease and desist. I didn't work directly for him or in his department. And the folks I DID work for actually appreciated my little games. As they revealed very real weaknesses and concerns. So that guy would chew me out, but nothing ever came of it. Except that his department would get formal letters from folks at a level above his telling him to fix the latest problem I'd revealed. My point is that just because a firm might have 1,000s (as you claim) of folks who ONLY do security, this does not also mean that their system is also necessarily more secure than all others or that it can not be compromised or breached. Of those 1,000s, if there are actually that many, it is almost certain that the bulk of them are ants. That is to say, they're no brighter or more capable than an almost endless supply of other ants. Adequate, certainly, but nothing special. And even the cream of the crop, while this group are probably as good as any group anywhere ... haven't got an exclusive hold on the knowledge and skills they possess. That is ... there are others outside that group who are just as good. Add those folks out there who might not have the equivalent overall knowledge and skill of Google's best ... but who have a knowledge and skill in some particular relevant area that's far superior. Not to mention just the plain old, average Joe, who knows a little but not a lot, who simply one days sees a loophole every one else missed (this happens all the time), or has this new idea and approach that no one else thought of or is protecting against. And there are millions and millions of such "Average Joe's" out there. Google, being as large and widespread and widely used as it is, is a far more likely target for the thinking of those "Average Joe's". Not to mention those other folks, as good as what Google has, some of whom might apply their skills and knowledge in a head to head contest against Google. If for no other reason than the challenge of it. That's not to mention foreign governments or large organizations with considerable power and resources who might, for their own purposes, decide to tackle Google's security systems. The difference is, take that business I mentioned before with very tight security in place, and just a few really top experts in the field working for them. They're a MUCH smaller target. Heck, probably 99.99% of the world doesn't even know they exist. Of those who do know about them, the odds that any of those folks would have both the inclination and skills necessary to breech their defenses is small. In the big scheme of things, they're a small fish in a pond the size of the Pacific. Few, if anyone, would be targeting them specifically. Add, that since they're not at all public about what systems and means they have in place, techniques being used, etc ... it makes a successful attack against them even more problematical. I will not, of course, reveal any details of what I do know about that. Wouldn't even mention who they are. Except to say that besides having full time, ARMED guards, you'd need explosives to get into the main server rooms. And not only are the servers failsafed and mirrored, the locations have independent, duplicated and backed up air conditioning, their own emergency generators dedicated to nothing else. And there would be NO consultant who could leave the establishment with a laptop loaded with sensitive data. That's a fact. I do work for them. All my work is done on site as no exterior access is allowed. And while I'm working there is a fellow watching and monitoring everything I do. A knowledgeable fellow. Contents of my hard drive and any other media such as thumb drives, etc are inspected when I arrive, and before I depart. The accesses I am given are limited and specific to the job I'm doing THAT DAY ... and temporary. Each time I leave the place, even for lunch, the access codes are invalidated. When coming back new ones are assigned. There is no moment on site, within their "sensitive areas" when my "Guardian" isn't watching and monitoring me. He even escorts me to the facilities when nature calls. BTW, why would a "consultant" have a copy of Executive team emails on her laptop? Except for things like general business plans and so forth, what exactly would be just all that important or "security sensitive" in Executive team emails? I don't know about where you work or have worked, but where I've worked "Executives" don't know just all that much about the nuts and bolts details of how things really work. And the few things they get involved with which would be really "sensitive", they wouldn't for a moment trust to a "consultant" except in a very limited way. In short, the consultant would never be trusted with all the pieces to the puzzle. Said consultant might THINK he or she had all of them, but there would be something critical left out, or modified, or immediately upon the consultant finishing the project in question certain things would be changed to ensure said consultant's information gained was no longer of use, or of only very limited use. Google's services would probably be more secure and safe than what the average small or medium sized business has in place, undoubtedly. Even more secure that what some large businesses and organizations have in place. But they're not bullet proof, nor are they likely more secure than what is in place and used by businesses or organizations who have a critical interest in securing sensitive information. There are some very good IT security folks out there besides those working for Google.

sml
sml

I work for QAD, Inc www.qad.com . . . we have implemented Google Apps for ~1200 people and I was skeptical at first, but after months of research and study, I have formed my conclusion. I have to say I have not read all of your prodigious post, but I might get to it later . . . thanks for the reply!

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

That might be a good idea... like they did with the google search appliance

KenDAWG
KenDAWG

Then that would take away from the SaaS strategy that Google is going towards.

sml
sml

Google's ability to offer a full suite of communication and productivity apps at less than half the cost of on-premise solutions is the most compelling argument. Wanting to install it yourself is like wanting to build you own automobile . . . a fun hobby, but not cost effective, safe, or reliable.

Derek Schauland
Derek Schauland

with Outlook is a tough strategy for GMail, but arent they also competing with Exchange and Notes and the enterprise back end mail servers? Maybe a better Sync capability between the Gmail back end and the Outlook Client with a ton of spotlight coverage would be a good addition to the mix. Using Gmail (or Google Apps) for my personal email is great, but the Outlook 2010 client is the best one yet and if Google can tap into this space (better than they do right now) they might just have something.

wayne
wayne

Yeah but what about the lack of partial word (wildcard) searching within Gmail?? I can't see gmail being an enterprise tool until this is an included feature (it could be in a lab that I'm unaware of???).

sml
sml

While you are correct that Gmail filters and searching does not support "wildcards" in a search there are still plenty of ways to find your stuff. The Advanced Search Operators work really well (http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=7190) People who complain (in Google forums) about this say they want to use *pharmacy* or something to filter out SPAM . . . but Google's SPAM filter is very good and for $50 / user / year you ALSO get Postini which can be configured to discard annoying mail. And let's get real . . . only 1% of users (all those who grew up on DOS and other technology from the past) will even know how to use wildcards in search. We rolled it out to 1200 users and no one even mentioned that . . . now the "conversations" feature . . . that's a hard one to get some people to like . . . others love it. :-)

cnet
cnet

Wayne didn't say it was spam searching but only searching that was poor. Gmail doesn't search well. Can't search for a string, Gmail is based on full word searching. Suppose I only know a portion of a UPS tracking number, I want Gmail to help locate the message. They should have rolled it out in 2004 when I gave Gmail a look. I hate conversation threading.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

The Exchange-Outlook mix is what Gmail is really competing against, at least in the enterprise. One of the thing Gmail is starting to do is allow business users to keep Outlook as a client. In that sense, Gmail is actually becoming more of an Exchange competitor.

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