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Google Hangouts apps for business carry uncertainties

The latest Google Hangouts apps are a competitive team collaboration offering from a vendor with a spotty track record in enterprise technology.

Google appears ready to tackle the enterprise communications market with the recent release of cloud-based Google Hangouts apps for business. But the internet company's fickleness toward products outside of its core business of search advertising begs caution for tech buyers.

Google launched last week Hangouts Chat for team messaging and Hangouts Meet for video and audio conferencing. The former is in limited release while the latter is generally available.

The Google Hangouts apps go up against similar offerings from other tech giants, including Cisco, Microsoft and Amazon. Cisco and Microsoft have made enterprise UC and collaboration a critical component of their product portfolios while Amazon's recent offering holds more promise than actual technology.

Google has the money and the expertise in cloud-based services to build competitive enterprise communication products. The company also has complementary email, calendaring and mobile apps, and recently introduced an electronic whiteboard, called Jamboard, for in-room meetings.  

Before the latest announcements, "Google was asleep at the switch with a neglected, confusing and incomplete enterprise [communications] portfolio," said Dave Michels, an independent UC analyst and TechTarget contributor. The new products "show that once again, Google is interested in enterprise communications."

"The question is if it will stay interested," Michels said.

Google's inconsistent track record

Google has a track record of pulling the plug on products that do not meet its expectations. They include Google Search Appliance, Google Site Search and Google Spaces, a chat app that the company will shutdown next month.

Nevertheless, Google has the resources to become a strong challenger against other multibillion-dollar suppliers in the UC and collaboration market. For example, to build a better competitor against Microsoft Office 365, the company will make the Google Hangouts apps a part of its G Suite collection of cloud-based productivity software.

But the seemingly limitless resources of Cisco, Google and Microsoft do not necessarily mean the companies lead the team messaging market in features. Startup Slack is in the lead on capabilities and integration with third-party products, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research.

Therefore, enterprises that have bought Office 365, G Suite or Cisco Unified Communications Manager would benefit most from collaboration apps built into the respective products, Lazar said. Other companies, however, should "look more broadly" and consider group messaging products from smaller players, such as Slack and Atlassian HipChat.

Meanwhile, Microsoft announced March 14 the general availability of Microsoft Teams, a team messaging service within Office 365 that was in limited release. Microsoft has made the tool available to businesses in 181 markets worldwide and in 19 languages.

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