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By Angus Loten
Google continues to ramp up efforts to add business-friendly features to G Suite, its set of email, productivity and collaboration tools, as it seeks to draw more commercial customers. Many of the new features include capabilities powered by artificial intelligence.
The Alphabet Inc. unit last week introduced an AI-enabled security tool designed to flag suspicious activity in Google Drive, G Suite's online file-storage service. Chief information officers at large organizations often cite security as a top issue in complex information-technology systems.
In March, Google deployed machine-learning software that identifies key documents on a G Suite user's drive and automates the process of grouping related files together in a single dashboard, among other capabilities. Some new tools are available only to higher-tier G Suite customers.
The launches are aimed at attracting more corporate customers to Google's cloud business, which includes the apps available in G Suite, as well as other services that provide computing power and storage for rent over the internet.
There are signs the strategy is working. More than five million businesses pay to use G Suite, up from four million last year, the company said. They include Whirlpool Corp., Nielsen Holdings PLC and Airbus SE, among other large customers. Google executives last month said the company's cloud business is on track to hit $8 billion in annual revenue this year, though they didn't say whether it was profitable.
Last year the company redesigned Gmail, its popular email program, adding links to workplace calendar entries for meetings and other events, along with productivity and security enhancements. These and other efforts are aimed at building a more enterprise-ready image for Google's business apps, which were bundled together and rebranded as G Suite in 2016.
Many of the apps were initially seen as consumer products, appealing in the enterprise space to startups and small businesses, said David Thacker, Google's vice president of product management.
"Ten years ago large companies may have questioned if Google was serious about big enterprises," Mr. Thacker said. "But we've really up-leveled these products," he added.
Colgate-Palmolive Co. implemented G Suite in 2016. Mike Crowe, the company's chief information officer, said the tools allowed employees to better share information in real time, raising productivity. He said the decision to deploy G Suite was driven by Google's focus on building apps and cloud services with "an emphasis on scale and security" that supports Colgate-Palmolive's enterprise IT needs.
According to identity-management service Okta Inc., the number of G Suite users within its network of roughly 4,000 customers increased 49% last year from 2017. That's compared with a 40% increase for Microsoft Corp.'s Office 365, by far the most popular enterprise app, measured by the number of companies that have deployed it, Okta said. G Suite, Box and Slack were other top apps, according to Okta.
Driven by enterprise customers, Microsoft has also captured roughly 15% of the global cloud-computing market with its Azure offering, trailing only Amazon.com Inc.'s Amazon Web Services. Google's own Google Cloud accounts for less than 5%, according to Gartner Inc.
"Clearly Google wants to be an enterprise player," said Craig Roth, a research vice president at Gartner Inc., "but it's tough to take a tool that your 13-year-old is using at home and say this is the tool we're going to use for our entire staff of 13,000 workers."
One key advantage of G Suite, Mr. Roth said, is that its apps are accessed over a web browser.
In contrast, many of Microsoft's business customers run at least some of its business apps, such as Outlook, on their own data centers and servers -- even as it encourages them to shift to the cloud, said TJ Keitt, a senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. "If you're investing in Google you're investing in cloud-only services from day one," Mr. Keitt said.
ATB Financial, a regional bank in Alberta, Canada, with some 750,000 customers, switched to G Suite from Microsoft Office two years ago as a "first step into the cloud," said Wellington Holbrook, who oversees the company's information technology.
"We were really trying to change the culture of our organization and change the way we work," Mr. Holbrook said, adding that the move is part of a plan to shift all of the bank's IT into the cloud within the next two years.
Mr. Holbrook likens the decision to switch to G Suite -- after working for nearly 25 years with Office -- to choosing a place to eat: "If you go to the same restaurant all the time you're going to order the same thing all the time, but if you go to a new restaurant you're going to try something new."
Write to Angus Loten at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 08, 2019 18:32 ET (22:32 GMT)
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