Wednesday 22 November 2017

Google aims to get online newcomers' heads into the cloud

The internet giant is passionate about making the web less intimidating for small businesses to ensure they're not left behind in the smart economy. By Peter Flanagan

Ronan Harris: 'We have worked with a number of enterprises who are now focused on the overseas market thanks to the web'
Ronan Harris: 'We have worked with a number of enterprises who are now focused on the overseas market thanks to the web'

THERE are a lot of myths about Google and how it treats its employees. You'd be led to believe the staff spend their days sitting on beanbags, surfing the internet and playing pool.

Well, the beanbags are there, and so are the pool tables. But there are also rows and rows of desks like any other office.

One of those desks is occupied by Ronan Harris, who, as a director of Google Ireland and director of online sales for Northern and Central Europe, is responsible for the company's business here.

Google's revenue was built on advertising but the company now provides consulting for client companies and specialises in beefing up a business's online presence, something Harris is keen to talk about.

"The vast majority of our revenue is advertising and sales but whereas it was just 'pay per click' advertising, now it's the full range of online adverts.

"We also advise customers on their digital presence. Where a business has a reasonable role online and is ready to invest further, we'll partner with them and build a full digital strategy.

"We tailor the package to what they want. They might say 'over the next 12 months our focus is on building market share' or it could be based on boosting profits or anything else so we'll help them develop a full digital plan."

Harris claims this can be "really successful," especially if the business is "prepared to invest the human resources and the talent it needs to make it work".

"We can throw a huge amount of resources at it from our side and success is when the business achieves its goal."

There is a hint of scripting when Harris talks about Google's services. One gets the impression he has given the sales pitch ad nauseum.

Ask him about Google's new Get Business Online (GBO) scheme, however, and there is real passion in his answers.

The scheme does what it says on the tin. Launched a fortnight ago by Taoiseach Enda Kenny, it is aimed at getting companies on to the web that have not previously done anything about their online presence.

"The internet can be an intimidating place for a lot of people and it's easy for a retailer or a plumber to focus on maintaining the business they have, especially now.

"What they don't realise is that business is moving online faster and faster and Irish firms are in danger of being left behind."

Over the past few years, we've heard endless words from governments past and present about how the "smart economy" and "innovation island" will lead us out of the recession.

While Harris agrees with the sentiment, he doesn't see it being put into practice. "At a macro level, attracting companies here and so on, we're fine; but where the rubber hits the road at SME level, as a country we aren't near where we want to be."

A survey commissioned by Google showed 40pc of Irish companies did not have a website while 60pc had a site but hadn't registered in a web directory, making them much harder to find online.

Low quality sites

Of the businesses who did have a site, the vast majority -- 97pc -- had very low quality, static sites, that didn't allow a customer to even register their details, never mind buy a product over the web.

It's something that clearly grates with Harris.

"What's the point? It's the online equivalent of renting a shop on Grafton Street, putting your name over the store, and then keeping the doors locked," he said.

This is where the Google scheme comes in. A business can register with the site, and by filling in a few details, can have a functioning website up in minutes.

"It's a simple process and produces a simple, but interactive site.

"Any company that wants to can fill in their details, upload some photos of themselves or their work, and provide details of previous projects worked on and they'll have a site that they can be contacted through.

"I set up a very basic website for my father-in-law who is a tradesman and he has got work through it. Sometimes they are big jobs, sometimes they are small but the important point is they are jobs he would not get without the website."

At a time when the domestic economy is in such doldrums, the overseas market is ever more important and Harris believes companies are neglecting online at their peril.

"We have worked with a number of enterprises that are now focused on the overseas market thanks to the web. One of our clients is a garage set up by a man after he was made redundant. He now employs 10 people and his exports are driving the business. That's the kind of thing that can be done with an online presence."

Harris is adamant Google does not benefit financially from the campaign. It is free for the first year and users pay a small fee to a web-hosting site not related to Google after that.

Clearly a company like Google is not running this GBO as a benevolent scheme, though. By getting more companies online, it strengthens the web-based commerce ecosystem and ultimately should lead to more business for the firm.

GBO is not the only development in the internet sector that Google is hoping will affect businesses.

Cloud computing has become the "idea de jour" for tech-based companies, with Microsoft in particular pushing it with an almost evangelical zeal.

While Harris has no doubts the cloud will become as important as Microsoft says it will be, he is not concerned with a company like Microsoft or IBM moving into what has previously been Google's space.

"The internet is growing faster and faster and as new technologies come on stream it will continue to expand.

"The cloud is a funny one because while our business is almost entirely based on it, it can be difficult to convince a company that they can 'trust' us to protect their data.

"Having said that, once they realise the savings they can make in their IT spend and their human capital if they embrace the cloud, they tend to come around to the technology fairly quickly."

Google is a poster boy for foreign direct investment in Ireland and Harris appears convinced that Ireland is right for the company.

"The corporation tax issue will look after itself. Our main concern is being able to attract the best talent here and we are still doing that.

'The people at the top of the company are delighted with Dublin. It continues to drive really great growth, and innovations here have become part of the modus operandi of the company overall.

"This is a key part of Google's global infrastructure."

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