Andy Wolber looks at recent changes to Hangouts that could transform how people communicate at your organization.
In May 2013, Nikhyl Singhal of Google posted that "Hangouts is designed to be the future of Google Voice." Sixteen months later, Google delivered outbound calling along with Google Voice integration (voice and SMS) into Hangouts.
People who use Google Voice and Hangouts benefit the most. If you have both, you may:
- Place and receive calls with your Google Voice number (on Android, iOS, Chrome OS, or the Chrome browser app)
- Send and receive SMS messages with your Google Voice number (on Android, Chrome OS, or the Chrome browser app)
You can place calls from Hangouts on any platform, even if you don't have a Google Voice number. Just start Hangouts, choose a contact -- or type a number -- and place your call. Calls to Hangouts users are free, as are calls to US and Canadian numbers. International calls incur charges.
Google Apps users benefit, too. Google upgraded Hangouts support for Google Apps users to the same terms of service as Gmail and Google Drive in July 2014. Soon after, new Google Calendar events received a video call link option: with one click, meeting guests could join a Hangout. And people no longer need to join Google+ to use Hangouts: any Google Apps user can join multi-person video calls via Hangouts on Android, iOS, or Chrome (as of September 2014).
Implications for enterprise users
Organizations that use Google Apps should review Hangouts carefully. Hangouts offers several opportunities to increase communication capabilities and may reduce costs.
1. Hangouts drives the cost of voice and video calls toward $0
Google has significant experience deploying tools that place downward price pressure on the competition (see Gmail, Google Fiber, and Google Apps for Work). Hangouts requires a Google Account, a device, and a reasonably fast internet connection. Switching even some voice or video calls from other, more expensive solutions to Hangouts may provide cost savings.
2. Some employees may no longer need a conventional phone number
Not every employee needs an inbound phone number. Voice and video communication can occur between Hangouts users on any device -- with a phone not being necessary. An employee that needs to communicate with co-workers or only place outbound calls may not need a conventional phone number; instead, a tablet, laptop, or desktop with Hangouts might suffice. (People that need to receive incoming calls may still require a traditional setup.)
3. Some mobile employees may need a data plan, but not a voice plan
In some cases, people with a Google Voice number and solid data coverage may not need a voice plan. For example, a call to a Google Voice number might ring in Hangouts on a tablet connected to a 4G network. Keep in mind that Google Voice doesn't support emergency calls and isn't intended to replace a mobile phone.
4. Increased convenience, with multi-device support
In many organizations, voice calls work on phones only, and video calling simply isn't available. Hangouts' multi-platform and multi-device chat, voice, and video capabilities offer a lot of communication channels at no additional cost.
Longer term possibility?
Google Voice serves as a solid individual communication tool, but it lacks enterprise controls. Think of it this way: Gmail accounts are for individuals, and Google Apps accounts are for organizations. Google Voice accounts are for individuals, yet Hangouts accounts now may be associated with organizations. The integration of Google Voice into Hangouts changes Google Voice from an individually managed tool to an organizationally managed one.
I could easily envision a scenario where Google adds enterprise capabilities to Google Voice. For example, Google could build a bridge to smoothly transition legacy phone system users to Hangouts in the enterprise -- or Google may view phone numbers as a bridge to the past. If so, phone system integration might be left to third-party vendors, as Google has done with Hangouts integration to other conferencing systems.
In the meantime, organizations that use Google Apps may find that recent changes to Hangouts offer opportunities to reduce costs and enable communication across more devices. It will be interesting to watch what Google does with Hangouts and Google Voice next.
Do the changes to Hangouts and Voice impact how you work? If you use Google Apps, have you explored a greater role for the use of Hangouts in your organization? Does that role change with voice capabilities across multiple devices? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.