Google beefs up its enterprise chops

July 3, 2014, 4:50 PM UTC
Adam Berry—Getty Images

Google, the Mountain View, Calif.-based search giant, has been pitching products for corporate customers for years. But at its annual developer conference last week in San Francisco, the company spent more time than usual glossing over new enterprise features like Drive for Work, an upgraded cloud-based storage offering for businesses, and Android Work, Google’s own flavor of mobile device management software for its popular phone operating system.

If you need further proof that Google (GOOG) is getting more serious about beefing up its enterprise credibility, consider this: in recent months the company has made several key hires on this side of the business, including Shahla Aly, director of customer experience, Murali Sitaram, director of strategic partnerships, and Miles Ward, global head of solutions for Google’s cloud platform. Not surprisingly, this new crop of executives hails from the likes of Cisco (CSCO), IBM (IBM), Microsoft (MSFT), and Amazon’s (AMZN) Web Services division.

“We’ve built a deep bench across the board in Google Enterprise over the last couple years,” says Amit Singh, president of Google’s enterprise business. “We’re hiring the best in the industry, including senior talent with decades of enterprise experience. Across the board from sales to engineering for all products in our portfolio, there are thousands of Googlers in enterprise, and growing fast.”

Bringing in talent from the outside is at least partly responsible for Google’s growth in the enterprise. (Singh, for example, spent years at Oracle (ORCL) before jumping ship to Google.) Sitaram, a former Cisco exec who helped oversee the network equipment company’s WebEx division, is now tasked with building out Google’s partnerships, and says he is sparking alliances with systems integrators, carriers and other software makers—the type of partnerships Google didn’t used to have to consider.

“We’ve grown quite rapidly over the last few years by selling to a variety of customers,” Sitaram says. “Now we’re going into increasingly larger companies and it’s essential for us at Google to form alliances.”

Ward, a former senior manager with Amazon’s web services, meanwhile, is responsible for working with customers to make sure Google’s various cloud-based software products are “successfully implemented”—a role which didn’t exist not so long ago. “Google’s made a pretty appreciable investment in enterprise,” he says.

And Aly, a long-time Microsoft executive who also did a stint at IBM, is in charge of customer “experience.” According to the new executive, Google Apps for Business customers recently gave the company a 95% customer satisfaction rating, up from 80% two years ago. “We’re relatively new but as we move further and get more mature, customer experience is something we’re going to look upon as a differentiator,” she says.

To give a sense of just how new Google still is to the enterprise world, most of the roles of the new executives mentioned above didn’t exist before they came to Google (they all started just a few months ago). An earlier iteration of Google Apps for Business, a suite of cloud-based productivity tools that competes with Microsoft’s Office 365, was first launched in 2006, but it took a while for corporate customers to buy into switching to company-wide Gmail accounts. Over time, the business has grown and Google has become savvier about selling to enterprises.

According to Google, there are currently more than 600 organizations with over 10,000 active Google Apps users. Over time, larger customers from more regulated industries have signed up for the company’s enterprise products, including some 60% of Fortune 500 companies. Still, Google’s total enterprise revenue (less than 5% of its overall business) is just a fraction of rival Microsoft’s. But the company’s chief business officer, Nikesh Arora, recently told investors the enterprise business is “one of the areas that’s driving growth.”

That means Google is likely to make even more key hires on the enterprise side, especially in customer-facing roles—a new but necessary requirement for Google as it enters larger and larger deals.

“In the second act we’ll double down on Google Apps and on our platforms Android and Chrome,” says Singh, the head of Google’s enterprise division. “Businesses are looking for technology to enable business transformation, and Google is committed to delivering on this.”