Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Just say NO

Network World is running an article about a talk given by Dave Girouard, Google’s general manager of enterprise business. In his little talk, Dave states that he believes that businesses should outsource their core IT competencies so that they can “properly focus on the value-added [activities].”

His title alone should tip you off that what he’s proposing is a really bad idea. Basically what his job boils down to, in all likelihood, is trying to get people to use Google “enterprise” solutions, thereby bringing more revenue into Google. The content of the article backs me up on this. I’m going to spend some time picking apart his arguments.

He states that, to quote the article, “CIOs face strict regulations and an impending brain drain with many IT officials approaching retirement.” Every industry faces this every day. Would you like to know how they cope? They train new people. Given time and experience, junior level people BECOME senior level people. You don’t just wave your CIO wand and magically create an IT guru out of the mailroom boy.

The real problem is that far too many companies are trying to do what this fool suggests and are looking to other people to do important tasks for them. Once the people that have that knowledge have left the building without teaching someone else how to do it, it’s damned hard to get back. That’s one of the things that outsourcing important things does – it CREATES a brain drain in your organization.

The question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you can afford to have that brain drain. The honest answer will vary from company to company depending on what it really does and what they’re looking to outsource. Quite often, though, it ends up being a bad idea.

Your business doesn’t live only quarter to quarter. You have to make sure that your long term plans are viable. The share holders who only want to sell off your stock in 3 months when it’s gained $1.00/share do not rule all. Take a hint from companies like Coca-Cola who listen to the opinions of Warren Buffet.

Dave promotes the “software as a service” model (where you basically pay every month for the software kind of like you do for, say, water or power). This is a great idea for the companies providing the service – they get a nice constant stream of revenue without having to do much at all. However, it’s generally not such a great deal for the company that’s paying for the service. There are, among other things, security issues, service level agreements, and having someone else holding the fate of your business in their hands to consider.

Dave, however, says that you should do it anyway even if it does potentially put your data at risk. He compares it to the fact that, at one time, a lot of companies had a vice president of electricity and that, like the management of electricity, the management of many IT functions will be routine.

Sorry, Dave, but there is a very large difference between the two. If you chose a bad power company, it won’t sell your company secrets to the competition. It’s a sad fact of life that many of the places where large companies like to outsource their IT functions to do not have the same data privacy laws that we do. In fact, there have been quite a few cases where the outsourcing companies have taken the trade secrets from their clients, told the client to shove off, and started their own company using the “client’s” IP.

The rest of the article follows along the same basic argument. All it boils down to, really, is him trying to convince his audience to use services like the “enterprise” services that his company is now offering. He even makes it a point to mention them several times.

The only other thing that really needs to be pointed out is a rather amusing statement made by him. In an effort to assuage security concerns, Dave states that “Even if you broke into a Google data center and wanted to find the information for a particular company or customer, you really would have no reasonable means of doing so.”

This is patently ridiculous. I don’t care if they say they’re designed for anonymity. The data has to be grouped by some method whether it’s a folder that has the company’s name (let’s hope not), a unique identifier, or some other method. There HAS to be some method in place for making sure that a company accesses its own data and not the data of another company. With that simple fact in place, it is NOT unreasonable to state that someone could figure out what belongs to whom.

Sorry, pal, but I’m not in the mood for Kool-Aid. Your service may be reasonably secure, but your statement doesn’t hold water.

He claims that Google is a huge success because it is innovative. By the way he speaks, he tries to make it sound like everything Google does is both innovative and successful (not to mention profitable, since he throws out dollar figures in the article).

The only thing that they have done which was both successful and innovative was their search engine. Think about that. Google is, in essence, a one hit wonder. Granted, they’re a really BIG one hit wonder, but they are a one hit wonder with a lot of failures and mediocre products other than their one hit.

Blogger isn’t innovative. It’s nice, but it’s rather pedestrian. Its main draw is that it’s almost impossible to Slashdot because of just how massive their data center is.
Their checkout service is, for all intents and purposes, a bust.
Gmail is just hotmail with search and a really big inbox.
Their chat service isn’t used by nearly as many people as AIM.
Google Earth is kind of cool, but who really cares? What’s the practical use?
Their maps service is, personally speaking, worse than Mapquest.

And who really cares about their online word processor and spreadsheet programs? Most people and companies that I know prefer to have control of both the machine that the software is on and the data that they’re inputting into it. Why? Oh no, someone cut the fiber link to the building. Damn, now we can’t get to our data or the programs that alter it.

He states that their Google Apps “has hundreds of thousands of end users at hundreds of universities and tens of thousands of small businesses.” Want to know a little secret? While that may sound impressive at first blush, it isn’t. It’s a tiny little drop in the bucket. They are, by far, a minor player in this space.

The bottom line is that he’s trying to sell other people on his company. That’s his job. However, it’s your job to not fall for the hype, make reasonable decisions based on both short and long term plans, and realize that it is possible (and all too likely of late) to be penny wise and pound stupid in business.

Don’t deliver the keys to your kingdom to someone else. It’s a bad move. The sad thing is that a lot of businesses will fall for it – especially since it’s Google that’s trying to sell them on the idea.

Current mood: amazed
Current music: Evita Soundtrack – The Lady’s got Potential

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