Poached from Juniper in October last year, Google Enterprise’s new Australian managing director, Kevin Ackhurst, is seeing the company’s Cloud collaboration business model grow in leaps and bounds.
Ackhurst has a storied APAC tech background, having spent 14 years at Microsoft, across New Zealand, Australia and Asia, and has watched the move to Cloud from its infancy. and is riding an unprecedented market shift in the market that is seeing the company’s Cloud based infrastructure, including Gmail, Google Apps (including Hangouts), its data analytics portfolio and other bleeding edge technologies pique the interest of some of Australia’s largest enterprises, including Woolworths, News Corp which is now Google Apps based, and with some 25,000 Chromebooks on the ledger.
Allan Swann (AS): So what does a consumer focused company have to offer the Channel, don’t you just deal with customers directly?
Kevin Ackhurst (KA): The broader Google is a consumer company, and we’ve learned from that in the way we interact with enterprises. Channels are absolutely important to us. Every transaction that we take in A/NZ and, in fact, in most places worldwide, goes through our channel partners. We work closely with them, all the delivery and implementation work is done by them, and I task everyone in our team with enabling them and assisting them in the work that they do. We have training programs, product certification, and partner conferences – we’re actually attending one in the US next week. ANZ is actually one of the largest contingents, in terms of partners from the regions of the world.
AS: So are we going to see a big Australian push in this space from Google?
KA: The enterprise business is growing faster than any other part of Google’s business; you can see that in our results that we release. The expectation is that we’re going to grow this division across the world, and especially Australia. Australia and New Zealand is one of the four focus markets for us, in terms of the places in which we believe we can grow faster than other areas. As a result, my boss continually reminds me of the opportunity.
We are quick adopters, and as a consequence, people seem open to the Cloud discussion here. That willingness to try new things, and that need to treat technology slightly differently because of how far we are away from Europe and the US, opens up opportunities for the way in which we operate.
AS: Are there any uniquely Australian challenges in the market that you don’t see elsewhere?
KA: The challenges we face in other developed countries apply just as strongly here. Companies want to move to the Cloud, and they want to evaluate all the opportunities available to do that, they want to reduce the cost they have with respect to their infrastructure, focus on innovation and collaboration.
AS: Collaboration definitely seems to be something you’re pushing...
KA: There’s some research we did with an organisation in Europe called the Future Foundation that found that Companies that are most likely to demonstrate innovation, are more likely to demonstrate strong levels of collaboration within their own organisations. Fairfax is a great example of that; they have approximately 400 meetings a day using Google Hangouts.
AS: A lot of companies that jumped into public Cloud with both feet have pulled back to looking at private or hybrid Cloud models – how has that affected Google Enterprise?
KA: Those companies that did jump in with both feet have become very profitable and successful. So our partners, like Fronde, made a significant commitment in the way they oriented their business around companies such as ours, Salesforce.com and Amazon – those that were focused on the delivery of services through the Cloud. As a result they’ve been able to grow their businesses and be successful.
AS: Has that had a flow on effect to other Channel operators then?
KA: Larger organisations, that may have followed the more traditional approach to IT implementation, are talking to us now. Because their customers are approaching them and asking them about what Google Enterprise has been doing.
Pretty much any company you can think of has rung us up and asked, ‘is there a way in which we can partner?’ We want to protect the relationships we have with our existing partners of course. Those partners are very important to us, but it’s also important to make sure if there is an opportunity to grow, that we take these opportunities.
AS: What are some of the changes you’re seeing, in regards to managing the transition to a Cloud focused market?
KA: IT is such a priority for CEOs now. We’ve seen that through both a global study that IBM did in 2012, in which IT is seen as the foremost driver in which businesses are likely to change across the next couple of years. The anecdotal thing I notice quite a lot, is when customers come and talk to us, CEOs tend to come along. Either they’re calling in to meetings, or they’re coming here into these offices, or I’m setting up a call with a CEO that wants to know more about the technology. Ten years ago, when I was last working in the Australian environment, that wasn’t the case.
AS: Why is that?
KA: CEOs are seeing ways to drive cultural changes within their organisations. As a consequence they look at us and our brands, and things that we do, and the success that we’ve had, as perhaps the catalyst that could drive success within their own organisations.
CTOs are now more likely to be conducting an evaluation of how the technology works, but not necessarily looking at the cultural implications of this.
AS: Google Enterprise’s reputation in the marketplace is as being focused on direct to market, or SMBs – how are you now pulling in the big fish?
KA: SMBs are really the early adopters of things like Google Apps, so our SMB team has been very successful in terms of the engagement that they’ve had. And that’s largely driven by inbound requests for information – we have a team that takes inbound requests via the Web all day, essentially helping SMBs to set up.
We’ve been finding more recently that larger businesses are contacting us, saying, we want to connect to these small and medium businesses, how can we work with you to actually make that happen? So it gives us the opportunity to partner with those that you might typically consider to be more interacting with SMBs, so that we can help them to be more effective in the web and be better customers of our customers.
AS: If SMBs go direct to you, aren’t you cutting out your channel partners?
KA: No, not really. Our partners are the ones that have made the move to the Cloud more quickly than more traditional types of IT organisations. That kind of concern largely comes from an organisation that is probably tied to more companies that are tied to software, and the installation of servers, rather than the stuff that we do.
Our partners think about this stuff like we do: our products allow us to provide additional services on top of the things that they do, so that they can develop additional functionality. Or they can effectively act as advisors for change within organisations, and so it creates all sorts of new revenue opportunities.
Typically, the companies that are approaching us are the ones that have traditionally sold datacentres and servers to organisations, and now they want to tap on a little bit of Google on the side. But we’re representing a new way of working and a new way of collaboration, and your whole organisation is going to have to change if you want to sell those options to the market.
It’s something I think about a lot when dealing with our marketing teams. There’s still a lot of people that don’t understand the breadth of the services that we offer. However, the strength of our brand, combined with our big wins, like Woolworths, News Corp and Fairfax, has led to other people wanting to talk to us.
Woolworths, for example, has even committed to rolling out 25,000 Chromebooks amongst its user population.
AS: Are there any other companies on a similar scale that you’re in discussions with right now?
KA: A whole range. And I’d love to talk to you about them once we’ve actually signed those deals.
AS: What are some of the key advantages you think Google offers these kinds of customers, compared to rivals?
KA: When we talk about how long it takes to roll our stuff out, we have most projects done – regardless of the size of the organisation – in about 3 months. That really excites them. They’re used to an environment where they can’t necessarily implement the stuff that they’ve bought, or it’s going to take nine months or even years to have their stuff implemented. Then when we tell them that’s this is the only time you’re going to have to do it, the stuff will stay up to date after that, then they really start to get excited.
AS: A lot of the big Cloud providers have onshore datacentres, not just to reduce lag and other concerns in the face of Australia’s poor broadband infrastructure, but also as a precautionary measure for data sovereignty legislation. Google doesn’t have any onshore datacentres – so where are they?
KA: We don’t talk that much about the locations of our datacentres. But we have two across Asia, and we’re continuing to look at ways to invest in those datacentres, so people have a very good experience with our services.
Google works with local telecommunications providers, to ensure the best performance, such as with YouTube and our Apps etcetera. Customers have gone away and compared the Google Cloud offering to local operators, who have those datacentres on shore, and have told us they find Google’s performance better. Our caching mechanisms and other technologies leads to a very good experience in Australia.
AS: But isn’t this a problem for your enterprise offerings if certain industries, such as finance and law, need their data kept onshore?
KA: There are also industries that aren’t regulated in such a way, such as media and retail, manufacturing and hospitality. Over the last four months, banking and financial services, and legal entities, have all explored the way in which we work. They want to know where we store their data, whether they can have backups of data onshore, so we find ourselves having those conversations on an ongoing basis.
AS: Any other trends you see emerging in 2014 for businesses?
KA: We’re now seeing a lot of HR directors coming to talk to us. If a CEO has tasked an HR Director with the task of change of culture in an organisation, the HR directors want to talk to us about the way we interact, the way we do performance reviews, and the ways in which technology can drive collaboration within the organisation. It’s allowing the HR director to rethink the role they play in terms of technology.
Technology allows organisations to retain and attract top talent. People are coming out of university and stepping into the workforce, and they want to work in an environment where they can bring their own device, they can access social networks, and accessing them as part of the job is seen as something important. HR directors need to get on top of that.