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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Google As The Enterprise Interface: Bad Dream

Nicholas Carr writes,"What Microsoft is trying to do with its new Duet partnership with SAP - provide a user-friendly way to tap into data from a complex enterprise system - Google is trying to do on a much grander scale. It wants to be a front end for everything. One wonders if the big application providers will really want to forfeit the user interface - and the power it represents - to Google. One also wonders whether they'll have a choice". Google's Dave Girouard's interview explains it further:

"Yes, because it's a development environment. Any given company mayhave all sorts of infomation that they would like to make available ,and they can make it all keyword triggered. You could type the word "contact" and then a name and it would go to Exchange. It's really upto the administrators to decide how they want to trigger it. But the user experience — and this is really important to us — entirely mimics how Google.com works. So,you don't have to get training; you can discover it over time; a friend can show you a OneBox that they think is particularly useful. For example, one of our partners is Oracle, and you'll be able to look up a purchase-order in your Oracle financial system because Google will recognize what a purchase order number looks like. Just like Google.com recognizes a UPS tracking number. The Enterprise system will know what an Oracle purchase order looks like, and it will insert that information right at the top"

Sukumar Rajagopal amplifies this further when he writes, "We have been using WIMP as the User Interface design strategy since the days when Xerox Parc and Apple Macintosh pioneered the GUI and subsequently made ubiquitous by Microsoft Windows. As everyone will attest software development costs time and money, so my argument has been that by eliminating development on the Read part of the application, we can save time and money. Search will make the WIMP interface obsolete for basic Information Retrieval/Foraging purposes. Of course, for more advanced information retrieval applications you will use business intelligence tools".

My Take: Somehow, on many fronts, I have reservation in endorsing Nick Carr's view amplified by Sukumar Rajagopal.
A. Google’s application centered interfaces are not that great – for example , its do not sort when you can search philosophy with Gmail is not exactly a great hit – I suspect that with my limited experience of using it, I end up spending more time in accessing information – this when I use my mailbox to 20% of its capacity.

B. Enterprise Information architecture is far more complex than what it seems to suggest ( generally speaking enterprise level rollouts are lot more sophisticated than consumer centric rollouts)– I have sat through/chaired numerous exercises/workshops/walkthroughs of taxanomy development inside large enterprises – several times getting to accept a common taxonomical structure itself could be elusive. I know of organizations (which are rated amongst top 3 best knowledge management organization in the world repeatedly) struggling to even converge on a common taxanomy framework – they are using three –four different frameworks (all in use simultaneously). The search/synthesis needs of large enterprises using multiple information repositories are best addressed through better information architecture frameworks and not on any technological standardized bruteforce approaches.

C. More enterprises uses specialized search engines like Verity, Autonomy, Fast Search etc for specialized retrieval and synthesis. One organisation that I am involved in consulting has sophistictaed web services deployment to power search across multiple repositories. An idea of complexity involved in workings of such solutions are best exemplified by this – Autonomy has bought Verity some months back – Their architectures and information retrieval mechanisms are quite different – integration challenges loom large at the product level itself – at organizations retrofitting new framework into established implementations – very tough. One may be surprised to see many organizations(who are otherwise amongst early adopters of technology) not even attempting to upgrade search implementations even under normal circumstances for several years for fear of disruption and deleterious loss in productivity owing to changes.

D. Even if we assume that technology improves and offer better results, I just want to point to Jakob Nielsen referring to Office 12 preview shows that the will be based on a new interaction paradigm called the results-oriented user interface and he has the best insight here –"If anybody else introduced a new user interface paradigm, it would probably remain a curiosity for years, but Microsoft Office has a special status as the world's most-used interaction design. We know from user testing that users often demand that other user interfaces work like Office. When you're used to one style most of the day, you want it in other applications and screens as well". If anything Outlook could become the light version of the elusive portal dashboard, so many enterprises seek.

E. Even in desktop search, one may find that Google is not the numero uno that it is seen as in the web world - lot many people still prefer search engines like Copernic over Google Desktop

F. Security concerns that enteprises may have would also be a critical impediment in adopting such frameworks across - this is not to say that solutions may not be found but this would be a big deterrant.

I do not think that the user world would accept a common interface – a google centric one that easily – the questions of demonstrated value would be far more difficult to answer.

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