Audit requirements retard Google Apps adoption

Google's in-the-cloud productivity and communications applications have the functionality to replace Office in some circumstances, says the Burton Group, but lacks governance and audit trail features that many large businesses require.

Google Apps crossed the chasm in proving that SaaS is here to stay, but enterprise and SOA architects at large corporations still need to be cautious that they don't fall into the abyss, according to an updated report from analyst firm Burton Group.

"We've gotten past the place where business people think SaaS is a passing fad," said Guy Creese, vice president and research director, collaboration and content strategies for Burton.

Google Apps successfully proved that word processing and spreadsheets can be provided as Web services as a low cost, low maintenance alternative to Microsoft Office, he said. However, some businesses, most notably banks, are reluctant to store their data online, said Creese, the author of "Google Apps in the Enterprise: A Promotion-Enhancing or Career-Limiting Move for Enterprise Architects? Version 2.0", published this month.

While Google Apps are definitely here to stay in Creese's view, whether you become an early adopter or await further developments depends on the kind and size of your organization.

At colleges and universities regardless of size, Google Apps provide a no cost way to give students desktop tools for word processing and creating presentations, Creese said. In some cases students, who grew up on the Web and aren't in love with Microsoft Office, are demanding their school provide them with Google Apps, he said. However, he is cautious about using them at the administrative level when sensitive student data is involved.

Small businesses and startups, which are not highly regulated, can also use Google Apps as a low cost alternative to Microsoft Office, he said.

But for large enterprises operating under government regulations, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, or might be subject to audits or law suits, Google Apps does not yet have the safeguards and auditing capabilities required, Creese said.

"All the i's aren't dotted and the t's aren't crossed," the analyst said.

For businesses with high level compliance needs, audits are not that easy to do, Creese explained. There is currently no way to put a freeze order on documents, he said. So it is difficult prevent modifications to a set of documents that for legal or other reasons you need to preserve exactly as they are at this time.

Since in the SaaS model spreadsheets and documents are stored online it is going to require coding or manual labor to keep copies securely stored inside the enterprise, the analyst said.

"Your options are you could have a programmer write some code for your spreadsheets where the code would go out to the server and basically look through all the spreadsheets you have there and then save local copies," he said. "There would probably be a day or two of coding max and then you'd have this thing running that could do that."

But there currently there are no APIs to do that for documents created in word processing or presentations, Creese said. If a company needs to preserve unaltered copies of memos and presentations, for example, they would have to do it the old fashioned way with manual labor.

"Right now you would hire and army of folks who would sit there, go through your documents and save them locally," the analyst said. Obviously, the labor expenses would far outweigh any cost advantage of using Google Apps instead of Microsoft Office.

At the moment Google Apps seems to be a good choice for small businesses and for student usage at universities, although not for storing sensitive student data, Creese concludes. Meanwhile, Burton recommends that enterprise architects monitor the progress of Google Apps and its SaaS competitors, which include Yahoo, Adobe Systems Cisco Systems, as well as Microsoft itself with software plus services concept.

"It isn't that Google Apps is a bad choice for everyone," Creese said. "It's just at the moment I would say it's a choice that you need to wait to mature for larger enterprises."

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