Google apps makes inroads in the SMB channel
by Alison Diana
By forming a partner program and forging relationships with solution providers, Google is further spurring SMB adoption of Google Apps and other Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) technologies. Google's reseller program, unveiled in January, is open to all--from multinational global integrators to small VARs, says Stephen Cho, director of Google Apps channels. SMB VARs, he says, are essential to meeting the company's business and channel design goals. "The smaller firm is being served by the smaller VAR or IT consultancy. That is where they go for advice and implementation," notes Cho.
"Some of these smaller companies might know about Google Apps and proactively want to migrate to it on their own, but we believe they would do this only under the advice and guidance of a company they trust."
To help SMB partners successfully sell into, implement, and support their clients' SaaS efforts, Google's program includes a Web portal with business and technical information, online discussion groups, sales and technical training, and customer marketing materials. Reseller tools also help VARs set up customers and provision users. Management functions and integration APIs for directory synchronization, migration, and single sign-on are available as well, according to the Mountain View, Calif.-based developer.
FEEDBACK FROM PARTNERS
"Google is a great company to work with," says Eran Gil, vice president of business development at Atlanta-based Cloud Sherpas, which targets midsize and enterprise clients. Gil's company has worked with other large organizations, and knows how the channel model works. But Google is different. "They have their own concept of how to run the channel. They provide a lot of touch points into the organization and are open to allowing the channel to engage with [them]," he says.
Google's willingness to communicate is one of the company's biggest strengths, says Irfan Khan, chairman of Agosto Inc., a Minneapolis-based MSP and integrator. "One thing Google does well is listen," he says.
While partners know the program is evolving, they say it needs more work. Solution providers want deal registration, for example, which is not currently offered, says Khan, adding that the company should also expand training and enhance marketing and channel communication tools. "They haven't, in my opinion, put a lot of energy into the channel," he says. "But the good news is they're changing. I would expect, in a year, a lot of those things will be rectified."
Google confirms that its program is a work in progress. "We're at the beginning," Cho says. "For us, it's really [about] making sure we keep the momentum going-that in a world of constrained resources we continue to deliver the things our partners need to be successful. I'm encouraged by what I see going on around the company. There is not a pretense that we have all the answers. At the same time, we are doing things differently."
GROWING MARKET FOR SAAS
With a lower cost of entry and clients' ability to shed energy-hungry, space-hogging server farms, SaaS is quickly becoming an attractive alternative to on-premise applications. Google, with its brand recognition and easy-to-use design, could further spur sales, say partners, especially to smaller firms that can't afford costly, time-consuming training.
The economy is also encouraging businesses to adopt SaaS. By the end of this year, 76 percent of organizations in the United States will have at least one SaaS implementation, according to a January 2009 IDC report. And about 45 percent of businesses will spend at least 25 percent of their IT budgets on SaaS solutions, says the research firm.
"There's a lot of pressure on IT budgets. It's just very clear that you can cut your licensing expenditure with Microsoft by going with Google Apps," says Khan. "The savings are in hundreds of thousands of dollars. In general, customers that have used SaaS products like Salesforce.com are more open to this conversation."
Agosto has successfully implemented Google Apps at a number of its clients, including cash-strapped SMB retailers. For its part, Cloud Sherpas also has won business from other hard-hit verticals. "Customers in low-margin or slim-margin businesses-such as manufacturing and commodity services or products--are looking into it more than others, and drive decision making a lot faster. But you can certainly see adoption across the board," says Michael Cohn, Cloud Sherpas' CEO.
With heavy hitters such as Google and Microsoft extolling the virtues of SaaS, solution providers have strong allies in their efforts to migrate clients from the old to the new. Developers have equally strong allies in their channel partners who translate the technology's promise into cold, hard cash for thousands of SMBs.