Tarek Khalil, Head of Google Cloud MENA, explains how tech and collaboration work hand in hand.
What changed with the rebranding of G-Suite to Workplace?
Google Suite, our collaborative tools suite, has been rebranded to Workspace on October 6 to properly align with our new, ambitious product direction, encapsulating and integrating seamlessly the whole set of products – Gmail, Drive, Hangouts, Tasks, etc. – into a single workspace. We’ve also announced many different features into that new Workspace, which were [already] rolled out to the corporate/enterprise accounts and will be extended gradually to the consumer side beginning of next year. And the third part is mainly directed at corporate/enterprises accounts; we’ve segmented our offering in many different SKUs to directly address in a much more cost-effective way the different needs of different companies, whether they are small- & medium-sized businesses or on the enterprise level.
How much has Covid-19 accelerated these developments?
[Covid-19] accelerated the digital transformation journey before it accelerated the development of new features or services. There was always a gap at the human engagement [level], which was highlighted during the pandemic.
We wanted everyone to feel that they were still connected in real time and from any device. So, we pivoted to focus more and fast-track improvements on Google Meet, our video conferencing tool within Workspace. It was an immediate need – everyone was working from home and needed a channel to connect with their co-workers and families. People [also] used to run their jobs in their offices or any working space in a physical manner, and that was changing to digital. So, we’ve tailored this product in a very advanced development mode just to address these things. That’s why you were seeing many more features popping up every now and then on Google Meet during that period, like the blurry background and hand raise.
How are these products and services developed, exactly?
To start with, we usually use our own products before we extend them to the wider community, just to make sure that we are solving human needs, whether they are on the enterprise side or on the consumer side. We look at Workplace as a space where you can work the way you like to work. This is why we always keep in mind the end-users. At the end of the day, the end user always comes first. This is in our DNA.
Then, we collect feedback from our clients and users on how to enhance these products before commercializing them. We work on an early adoption program that can be extended to clients that are keen to take this journey with us. There is always a wave of ideas that comes from our external audience as well as our internal audience, and we factor that into our roadmap. For every requirement that we take seriously, we build a service, whether it’s a feature or bringing a set of products together. We refer to this as streamlining the whole collaboration process, where you can do things seamlessly at the tip of your finger.
I’ll give you an example. Back in 2004, when Gmail was first introduced, we wanted to look for tools that helped our employees collaborate in a much more productive and efficient way. And, unfortunately, we couldn’t find any. That’s why we developed Gmail. It started with a concept which we built for ourselves to solve a unique need: collaborating much more closely with different groups, because we believe that the more you are engaged with others, the more ideas can flow. Then, services started to accumulate on top of the platform itself. We got feedback internally and externally, and we worked on enhancing all these services. That’s usually how we evolve state-of-the-art services or products within Google.
And Google’s Workspace evolves with time. All of our concepts progress as we engage with them in a very dynamic way, based on our own experience and external experiences. Every now and then, we come up with a new idea, a new feature, a new service that will be integrated within an existing set of services. Take Google Docs as an example. I’m on a document, collaborating with a couple of friends. We can comment in real time, edit, discuss... But sometimes, it’s more effective to connect via voice rather than in a comment section. That’s why we integrated Google Meet into Google Docs, just to streamline the whole process instead of exiting the doc, starting a new service or a new app, and then talk.
Read the full interview, exploring the importance of external collaborations and the relationship between tech and collaboration, in the next issue of Communicate, out in December.