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Google Puts AI at Center of Rebranded G Suite Productivity Apps

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Posted October 19, 2016 By Paul Rubens     Feedback

Artificial intelligence is central to Google's cloud productivity apps, recently rebranded as G Suite. Likewise, Microsoft is infusing Office 365 with AI.

Google has something of a penchant for changing the names of its products, and the latest one to be given a new moniker is Google Apps for Work. From now on - or until the next name change, at least - the collection of cloud-based productivity applications which includes Gmail, Docs, Drive, Calendar and Hangouts will be known as G Suite.

What Is in a G Suite Name

According to Kelly Campbell, senior director of G Suite marketing, Google Cloud, the new name is intended to reflect Google Apps for Work's mission: "to help people everywhere work and innovate together, so businesses can move faster and go bigger."

The "G" part obviously refers to Google, while the "Suite" part emphasizes the fact that the apps are designed to work together (like Lotus SmartSuite, the venerable group of productivity applications that IBM discontinued in 2013). There's also a pun on c-suite, the term that refers to a large company's top executives.

So the name encompasses Google, integration between applications and large companies, and that's the real message Google is trying to get across with the rebranding, said TJ Keitt, a senior analyst at Forrester Research. "Google wants people to look at its product as a suite rather than a loose assemblage of disparate apps. And it wants to pivot from selling consumer technology to enterprises and draw attention to applications that have been developed specifically for the enterprise market."

G Suite Has AI Inside

At the heart of this pivot to the enterprise market is the infusion of a healthy dose of Google's artificial intelligence (AI) technology into the various components of G Suite, explained Prabhakar Raghavan, Google Cloud's vice president, Apps, in a blog post.

"A year ago, Smart Reply launched, offering auto-generated replies for emails that only need a quick response. Now, more than 10 percent of all replies on mobile are sent using Smart Reply. The reception has been so strong that we're continuing to apply machine intelligence across our suite to solve customer problems," Raghavan wrote.

Another example of this is Quick Access in Drive on Android, a feature which selects what it thinks are the most relevant files to the work you are doing so they are easily accessible when Drive is opened. It chooses files based on interactions with colleagues, recurring meetings and other activity in Drive.

"Machine intelligence helps Drive understand the rhythm of your workday and offers the files you need before you even ask," said Raghavan. "Our customer research shows that Quick Access saves about 50 percent of the time an employee would usually spend finding a file."

Yet another example is the intelligence that has been implanted into Google Calendar to help find a time when multiple invitees to a meeting are free and to suggest rooms based on previous room bookings.

G Suite vs. Microsoft Office 365

One question mark over G Suite's acceptance as an enterprise product is its ability to appeal to enterprises in which usage of Microsoft productivity tools is nearly ubiquitous. Most people have trained or grown up with Microsoft's Office products, and in the cloud its Office 365 service is a direct competitor to G Suite. Microsoft has also been adding AI into its productivity suite  – in the form of Office Graph and Delve, for example.

And IBM, the other significant player in the enterprise cloud productivity app game, can include Watson's AI in its offerings.

"The question really comes down to this: Which parts of the market do Google and Microsoft compete evenly in, and where does Microsoft have a big advantage?" Keitt said. "In big organizations, Microsoft has an advantage because it is more flexible. Microsoft has on-premise offerings and single-tenancy offerings, but Google insists on multi-tenancy so it makes it hard for some companies to adopt it. But in the smaller enterprise market Google can compete."

While Keitt is doubtful that Google would ever move toward a dedicated hosting model to boost its appeal to larger enterprises, the company has made some concessions, he pointed out. "They have, for example, disaggregated their services so that you can have Google Drive separately, but they won't stray too far unless there is a specific market opportunity like the U.S. federal sector," he said.

Given that Google is unwilling to compete head-on with Microsoft in the large enterprise space, it is worth considering why it bothers getting involved in the enterprise market at all. Can it possibly be worthwhile to run an offering like G Suite?

"Everything that Google does which is not advertising is miniscule," Keitt said. "It's about business diversification. They see something that could disrupt their advertising revenue and they get involved."

But he also believes that Google is involved in business apps -- and many other activities -- simply because of the nature of the beast. "Google is an engineering business so it tinkers with things, and it happened to discover an opportunity. Now it is hard to extract itself from it because it has made federal deals; extracting itself from those would be damaging."

In fact G-Suite is aligned with Goggle's founding principle of making information more accessible to people and usable to them, Keitt said. "Every business it gets involved in is about information: mapping, email, content distribution ... So the proposition to business is how to make it easier to locate expertise and information in the organization, and Google can do this using its apps and its AI technology."

Paul Rubens has been covering enterprise technology for over 20 years. In that time he has written for leading UK and international publications including The Economist, The Times, Financial Times, the BBC, Computing and ServerWatch.

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