Google office suite to take on MS

SEOUL - Google appeared set for further improvements to make up for the shortfalls of its online office applications to challenge Microsoft in providing a more flexible working environment in the fast-changing business era.

Participating at the Google Apps Conference 2013 in Seoul on Friday, Google Enterprise manager Kim Seon-il said, "Google will create an office environment in which people can work anytime and anywhere."

Google provides around 70 web-based applications including Google Drive, Google Docs and Google Sites, available for a yearly fee of US$50 (S$63.50) per account.

It has more than 5 million business customers worldwide including The New York Times and POSCO, the largest steel maker in Korea.

"Now many individuals bring their own digital devices to their office since companies hardly provide state-of-the-art gadgets for work," said Kim, emphasizing the importance of converging and recreating knowledge and promoting teamwork at a time when workers trot around the world for business.

High ranking officials of firms currently using Google Apps said they were highly satisfied with the services.

"After a year of Bukwang Parma using the office apps, 'sharing innovation,' a keyword much talked about in the business field, seems to fit Google's online services," said Kwon Soon-il, a director of Bukwang Pharm, a pharmaceutical firm.

"A top-down and military-like company culture, prevalent in the drug business sector, has somehow changed to one that is more horizontal or democratic with increased communication and cooperation among workers," Kwon said.

In fact, an official at a client firm for Google said Google's web-based office suite will likely pose "an immense challenge" against Microsoft Office, which dominates 80 per cent of the desktop office application market in Korea.

In April, consultancy Gartner, noting Google's aggressive expansion in the cloud office market, had already predicted that Microsoft Office's reign as the dominant productivity suite is under threat from Google Apps.

Around 30 resellers are in operation for Google Apps, giving educational lectures, and usage tips for Korean customers.

The office suite, however, is not without shortcomings.

Some participants at the event pointed out that there were difficulties in converting widely-used Microsoft documents to Google-based ones and that users should always be online to use the applications.

In addition, Google does not run a customer service centre or have a direct contact channel to the internet giant in Korea in regard to Google Apps services.

"Google may have to nurture more third-party firms to do the conversion works or make its services more compatible with the Microsoft software," said David Shin, managing director of Sonova, a Zurich-based hearing aid maker.

Regarding security issues which make potential business customers hesitate to sign up for the Google services, Kim Ji-young, an official at the human resources department of Google, said "since Google tracks all access of users to the office apps, it is easier to manage information security for businesses than other measures such as USB flash drives or paper documents."