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Google collaboration tools strong, but telephony lacking

Searching for Google UC services? The company offers strong cloud, collaboration and mobility features, but telephony and third-party integrations are limited.

Confusion remains over Google UC services. Google collaboration and communication services are varied, but the company's weak telephony offering practically assures other vendors to complete the offer. But multi-party systems are hardly rare. Google collaboration tools are quite strong, albeit difficult to integrate with third-party systems.

Google's business services are organized under its Google for Work brand. Separate and similar offers exist for the education and government markets. Google collaboration services are promoted as an enabler toward the digital workplace. The suite is designed as a cloud service with strong mobile capabilities via its Chrome browser and Android OS.

The centerpiece of Google for Work is a suite of applications known as Google Apps for Work, which are browser-based cloud services that include hosted email and calendaring, plus a productivity office suite. Google Drive provides permission-based cloud storage. The Google UC component is called Hangouts, which lets users participate in text, voice or video chats. Services are charged per user, per month and devoid of advertising.

A key advantage to Google for Work is its cloud-based, browser-friendly approach which simplifies workstation requirements.

These Google collaboration tools and services integrate nicely with Android-based devices, Chrome and the Google Chromebook. Services are nearly identical to Google's consumer versions with improved features for management and security. Businesses can use the services with their own domain. Both the Chrome Store and the Google Apps Marketplace offer a selection of add-on applications from third parties.

The key services from a UC perspective are Hangouts, Android and Chromebooks.

How the Google UC platform excels, falls short

Google Hangouts is a real-time communications platform and service that provides instant messaging (IM) and voice and video communications. The voice service is best suited for client-to-client communications with limited PSTN services and features. Hangouts are supported across Google applications. Chat history is automatically saved unless the user opts to turn off chat history.

A common enterprise UC feature is integration with voice telephony. Examples of integration include escalating an IM conversation to voice, or automatically changing your status to reflect when you're on a call. This is a challenge with Hangouts, as the application doesn't integrate with third-party systems or directly support telephone endpoints.

Google for Work can provide enterprises with rich communication capabilities, but enterprise collaboration is not Google's primary business.

Several options exist to integrate Hangouts with UC services. Some UC as a service providers actively market Google for Work services, including Dialpad, RingCentral and Vonage. These providers bring their services to the Google interface -- including click-to-dial, contacts and integrated calendaring -- but mostly use their own clients for IM, SMS and MMS features.

Dialpad offers a mobile app that allows seamless caller-ID substitution from the Android phone's native dialer. Vonage integrates with Google Talk, a predecessor to Hangouts, which supports presence and status. For customers who have Cisco or Avaya UC systems, Connect provides middleware that allows Google users to launch Hangouts from their UC clients.

For room-based video conferencing, Google offers Chromebox for Meetings -- now available in three sizes, providing support for rooms up to 20 people. This service integrates with Google Calendar and provides a control unit, an HD camera and a microphone that connect to standard displays. Also available from Google is Vidyo's Hangouts 2 Others (VidyoH2O) gateway product that interconnects to traditional H.264 systems. For audio conferencing, both UberConference and InterCall integrate with Hangouts.

Google collaboration tools, services focus on mobility, cloud, browser

The Android mobile ecosystem has proven to be very strategic for Google. Android offers a "Managed Profile" that runs applications within a secure environment. Enterprise applications can be contained separately from each other as well as from personal applications. Google does offer a mobile device management capability within Google for Work.

A key advantage to Google for Work is its cloud-based, browser-friendly approach, which simplifies workstation requirements. Enterprises have wrestled with simplifying costs of distributed workstations, such as for purchase, maintenance and upgrades.

Chromebooks, available from several vendors, run just the Chrome browser and provide an interesting low-cost option for Web-enabled workflows. Currently, a handful of Android apps work on Chromebooks, but there is speculation that more will come as Google bridges the gap between its ChromeOS and Android platforms.

Google collaboration tools meld business, consumer worlds

Google for Work can provide enterprises with rich communications and collaboration capabilities. However, enterprise collaboration is not Google's primary business, which mainly centers around consumer services and advertising. Google has consistently expanded its Google for Work portfolio over the years and recently appointed Diane Greene, co-founder of VMware, to bring more services -- such as its cloud platform, machine learning and language processing -- to organizations of all sizes.

Google for Work provides a robust set of features at a reasonable price. It also has the added benefit that most employees are already familiar with the consumer version, which can reduce training. The service is more powerful in Android and Chrome-based environments, but neither are required.

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