Capgemini Opens Google Apps Services Practice

A lightweight rival to Microsoft Office, Google Apps offers hosted e-mail, instant messaging, calendar, word processing and spreadsheet applications through the SaaS (software-as-a-service) model. Capgemini, which supports 1 million outsourced desktop users worldwide, will add the service to its portfolio of enterprise desktop offerings.

Capgemini declined to say whether it's reselling and making margin on Google Apps Premier, which carries a list price of $50 per user annually. The financial arrangements around purchasing the service will vary for each customer engagement, according to Steve Jones, Capgemini's head of SOA (services-oriented architecture) for Capgemini's global outsourcing unit.

But where Capgemini sees its real profit opportunity is in the services around Google Apps. The firm will offer training, level 1 and 2 support, provisioning, security consultation and integration with corporate single-sign on systems, among other services, Jones said.

Capgemini sees two particular cases where a hosted solution like Google Apps will effective: for companies that want a low-cost way to push electronic communication out to workers in "uncarpeted" offices, such as manufacturing line employees; and for easing collaboration between geographically distributed teams. Serving as its own guinea pig, Capgemini's global outsourcing group adopted Google Apps internally and has found Google Docs particularly useful for collaboratively drafting and revising documents like white papers, Jones said.

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"Clients say to us, 'How do I enable collaboration?" Jones said. "What we found is that they weren't asking for Google Apps, but covertly, they were using it to do just that."

Google Apps has some significant limitations compared to the more robust, traditional desktop software with which it competes. Right now, it can only be used online, cutting remote users off from their data stash. (Google's Gears technology for offline document storage is under development.) The applications also lack all the bells-and-whistles of more mature applications like Microsoft Word.

On the other hand, the ubiquitous Web availability of Google's applications make them the best fit for some client needs, Jones said. Capgemini is currently working with one customer that is using Google Apps for call-center employees who share desks and workstations.

Microsoft, which is building out its own rival portfolio of Web-based applications, was sufficiently spooked by Capgemini's Google alliance to fire off a pointed critique. Microsoft's press office sent a mass mailing touting the company's Office partner ecosystem and tossing barbs at Google's downtime potential, "history of releasing incomplete products" in perpetual beta, and lack of "essential document creation features."

Capgemini's Jones was frank about Google's limitations. He cast Google Apps as an addition to a portfolio that will continue to feature rival desktop offerings from Microsoft, IBM and other vendors.

"The Google thing doesn't work for all customers. This is all about choice and flexibility," Jones said. "In some scenarios Google works, in some this other thing works, and in some, neither works and we're still looking for a solution. This is an iterative, changing market, and we're enabling clients to take advantage of that."