Whirlpool CIO: Google's consumer-driven innovation led us to Apps

The home appliances giant will move about 30,000 employees to Google's cloud suite for email and collaboration

In another example of the blurred lines between business and personal computing, Whirlpool chose Google Apps because it's convinced Google's focus on consumers gives it a special innovation edge as a provider of enterprise software.

The way Whirlpool sees it, battling in the ferociously competitive and fast-changing consumer Internet market forces Google to innovate at breakneck speed and to stretch its technology vision into the future.

"With Google, you get the relentless consumer-based innovation pressure on the products that can then be promoted into the enterprise suite," Whirlpool CIO Mike Heim told IDG News Service after Google announced his decision last week.

Over the coming year, Whirlpool, the home appliances giant, will move about 30,000 employees globally from an on-premises IBM Lotus Notes email and collaboration system to Google Apps, which is cloud-based and includes Gmail, Calendar, Sites, Docs and Drive.

Ironically, Google rivals and critics often argue against Apps for the same reason that drove Heim to the suite. They point out that Google generates most of its revenue from online advertising delivered through its consumer online services, like its search engine and Gmail.

This, skeptics say, should give CIOs pause for reflection when considering Apps, and question whether they want their email and collaboration systems to depend on a company whose main business isn't enterprise software.

Clearly, Heim doesn't think this way. "We wouldn't have done this if we didn't believe that they are committed to the enterprise," he said.

In fact, it's the dual commitment to both the consumer and enterprise markets that makes Google such an attractive vendor for Whirlpool. "They're a consumer company but they're growing in this enterprise space," he said.

For Heim, Google practices the famous principle of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, who said the secret of his success was to skate to where the puck would be, not to where it had been.

"We get the chance to leverage that relentless innovation in their product into our core capabilities," he said. "We like that model."

Heim is quick to point out that Whirlpool wasn't using IBM's latest and greatest email and collaboration wares, and that the decision to switch to Apps was also driven by people's familiarity with Google's online services in their personal lives.

"We bought into the Google notion to work the way you live," he said.

In that sense, the Google approach is also a good fit with a Whirlpool corporate transformation program called The Winning Workplace that seeks to flatten geographical boundaries and foster broader, better and quicker collaboration.

"The cultural aspect of it is what drove our broader thinking that it was time to upgrade this set of capabilities internally," Heim said.

Google and Microsoft are in a slugfest in this market for enterprise cloud email and collaboration suites, where Apps competes directly with Office 365.

Just this week, Microsoft announced that Johnson Controls has decided to buy 180,000 Office 365 licenses for employees, partners and suppliers in a deployment that will take about two years to complete.

Juan Carlos Perez covers enterprise communication/collaboration suites, operating systems, browsers and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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