Google Apps Godfather Making His Exit

The godfather of the Google Apps software suite is leaving Google, leaving the search engine giant’s business-to-business services unit in limbo.

Dave Girouard, the vice president of applications and president of Google’s enterprise group, is leaving the company to launch a business focused on startups. The Apps team will report to Sundar Pichai, senior vice president of Google’s Chrome Web browser and Apps, until a replacement for Girouard is found.

For the CIO using or mulling a move to Apps, Girouard’s departure comes at a critical time for Google’s enterprise unit. The business is trying to battle software superpower Microsoft for corporate customers, and to integrate functionality from the company’s young Google+ social network, such as group video chat, into Apps. Google Apps officials claim Google+ will improve collaboration capabilities for corporate employees.

Girouard joined Google in February 2004 and helped launch free and paid versions of Google Apps in February 2007. Google charges businesses $50 per user, per year to access Gmail, Google Docs and other applications over the web, an increasingly popular practice known as cloud computing.

Under Girouard’s guidance, Google Apps has landed over 4 million business customers. Barcelona’s BBVA bank has over 110,000 employees migrating to Google Apps this year. Google has also won the hand of several government agencies, including the General Services Administration.

Apps has had some speed bumps during Girouard’s tenure. Service outages have knocked Apps offline for minutes or hours at a time. Google also suffered a black eye last year when the City of Los Angeles police department reneged on its promise to use Google Apps, citing security concerns.

Still, Arun Sundararajan, a professor with New York University’s Stern School of Business, argued that Girouard has already done plenty to help Google become a leader in cloud computing. Consequently, he doesn’t believe the move should give pause to CIOs considering a switch to Apps, or concern CIOs who have already procured Apps for their businesses.

“Girouard’s leaving Google now is less serious than it would have been a couple years ago,” Sundararajan said. Girouard was such a strong presence in evangelizing Google’s cloud the last five years that CIOs of small and large businesses alike are comfortable with the platform and strategy, he added.

Yet Sundararajan did acknowledge that it’s difficult for any company to lose the main voice behind a new category of product.

More important is what Google’s senior management does about his exit, said Gartner analyst Tom Austin. Google could replace Girouard with someone who has strong enterprise experience, Austin said. On the other hand, a weak response from management would signal indecision, reinforcing concerns about the future of Apps.

That will open the door for some competitive attacks from Microsoft, which seeks to lure business customers for its competing cloud collaboration suite, Office 365. Microsoft cut prices for Office 365 by anywhere from $2 to $5 per user, per month, depending on the package.

Microsoft declined to comment on Girouard’s departure. However, Girouard scoffed at the idea that Apps will weaken and become vulnerable to Microsoft as a result of his departure.

“There’s zero reason to believe that,” Girouard said. “Google has an amazingly deep bench and the enterprise biz has never been doing better.”

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