Google Cloud brings on 27-year SAP veteran as it doubles down on enterprise adoption

Thomas Kurian, the newly-minted CEO of Google Cloud, used the company’s Cloud Next conference last week to lay out his vision for the future of Google’s cloud computing platform. That vision involves, in part, a hiring spree to give businesses that want to work with Google more people to talk to and get help from. Unsurprisingly, Kurian is also looking to put his stamp on the executive team, too, and today announced that former SAP executive Robert Enslin is joining Google Cloud as its new President of Global Customer Operations.

Enslin’s hire is another clear signal that Kurian is focused on enterprise customers. Enslin, after all, is a veteran of the enterprise business, with 27 years at SAP, where he served on the company’s executive board until he announced his resignation from the company earlier this month. After leading various parts of SAP, including as president of its cloud product portfolio, president of SAP North America and CEO of SAP Japan, Enslin announced that he had “a few more aspirations to fulfill.” Those aspirations, we now know, include helping Google Cloud expand its lineup of enterprise customers.

“Rob brings great international experience to his role having worked in South Africa, Europe, Asia and the United States—this global perspective will be invaluable as we expand Google Cloud into established industries and growth markets around the world,” Kurian writes in today’s announcement.

For the last two years, Google Cloud already had a President of Global Customer Operations, though, in the form of Paul-Henri Ferrand, a former Dell exec who was brought on by Google Cloud’s former CEO Diane Greene . Kurian says that Ferrand “has decided to take on a new challenge within Google.”

 

Google Cloud, McDonald’s big tech acquisition, and motivating an engineering team

Our live conference call on Google Cloud Next

Last week at its conference in San Francisco, Google Cloud unveiled a bevy of new features, and we also got to hear for the first time from its head honcho, Thomas Kurian . TechCrunch was on the scene, with enterprise editor Frederic Lardinois and enterprise reporter Ron Miller covering all aspects of this major conference.

They conducted a live conference call with Extra Crunch members last week. In case you missed it, we’ve posted the transcript for members.

New Series: The Exit (this time with Dynamic Yield)

We talk a lot at Extra Crunch about starting companies up, but how do startups exit?

Lucas Matney, one of TechCrunch’s San Francisco-based writers, is developing a new series exploring why certain companies successfully exit. In this inaugural interview, he talks with venture capitalist Adam Fisher of Bessemer about his investment in Dynamic Yield, an adtech (but not really ad-based) startup that exited to (of all places) McDonald’s for a reported $300 million.

Lucas Matney: McDonald’s certainly seems like a bit of an unexpected buyer considering the early history of the company, but at what point in the company’s life cycle did it make sense that they would want to buy this tech? Or are you still a little surprised that this is the deal that went through?

Adam Fisher: Oh, yeah, with these kind of things you have to be skeptical until you see it in writing, and even then, skeptical. You know, as a VC, I’ve seen too many deals never mature to an offer, or even after the offer it’s pulled away. I mean, the less traditional the buyer, the more worried you have to be that something strange will happen, that somebody will change their mind, that somebody will get fired, that something unrelated will happen on the macro level.

So, you know, we were obviously skeptical until there was an offer.

But it was very clear, at a certain point, that the level of engagement was so high and so immense that they were serious, that this wasn’t just an idea that popped up after the had met Dynamic Yield, that they had been thinking about making such an acquisition for quite a while beforehand.

Google Cloud makes some strong moves to differentiate itself from AWS and Microsoft

Google Cloud held its annual customer conference, Google Cloud Next, this week in San Francisco. It had a couple of purposes. For starters it could introduce customers to new CEO Thomas Kurian for the first time since his hiring at the end of last year. And secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it could demonstrate that it could offer a value proposition that is distinct from AWS and Microsoft.

Kurian’s predecessor, Diane Greene, was fond of saying that it was still early days for the cloud market, and she’s still right, but while the pie has continued to grow substantially, Google’s share of the market has stayed stubbornly in single digits. It needed to use this week’s conference as at least a springboard to showcase its strengths .

Its lack of commercial cloud market clout has always been a bit of a puzzler. This is Google after all. It runs Google Search and YouTube and Google Maps and Google Docs. These are massive services that rarely go down. You would think being able to run these massive services would translate into massive commercial success, but so far it hasn’t.

Missing ingredients

Even though Greene brought her own considerable enterprise cred to GCP, having been a co-founder at VMware, the company that really made the cloud possible by popularizing the virtual machine, she wasn’t able to significantly change the company’s commercial cloud fortunes.

In a conversation with TechCrunch’s Frederic Lardinois, Kurian talked about missing ingredients like having people to talk to (or maybe a throat to choke). “A number of customers told us ‘we just need more people from you to help us.’ So that’s what we’ll do,” Kurian told Lardinois.

But of course, it’s never one thing when it comes to a market as complex as cloud infrastructure. Sure, you can add more bodies in customer support or sales, or more aggressively pursue high value enterprise customers, or whatever Kurain has identified as holes in GCP’s approach up until now, but it still requires a compelling story and Google took a big step toward having the ingredients for a new story this week.

Changing position

Google is trying to position itself in the same way as any cloud vendor going after AWS. They are selling themselves as the hybrid cloud company that can help with your digital transformation. It’s a common strategy, but Google did more than throw out the usual talking points this week. It walked the walk too.

For starters, it introduced Anthos, a single tool to manage your workloads wherever they live, even in a rival cloud. This is a big deal, and if it works as described it does give that new beefed-up sales team at Google Cloud a stronger story to tell around integration. As my colleague, Frederic Lardinois described it:

So with Anthos, Google will offer a single managed service that will let you manage and deploy workloads across clouds, all without having to worry about the different environments and APIs. That’s a big deal and one that clearly delineates Google’s approach from its competitors’. This is Google, after all, managing your applications for you on AWS and Azure, he wrote

AWS hasn’t made made many friends in the open source community of late and Google reiterated that it was going to be the platform that is friendly to open source projects. To that end, it announced a number of major partnerships.

Finally, the company took a serious look at verticals, trying to put together packages of Google Cloud services designed specifically for a given vertical. As an example, it put together a package for retailers that included special services to help keep you up and running during peak demand, tools to suggest if you like this, you might be interested in these items, contact center AI and other tools specifically geared toward the retail market. You can expect the company will be doing more of this to make the platform more attractive to a given market space.

Photo: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images

All of this and more, way too much to summarize in one article, was exactly what Google Cloud needed to do this week. Now comes the hard part. They have come up with some good ideas and they have to go out and sell it.

Nobody has ever denied that Google lacked good technology. That has always been an inherently obvious strength, but it has struggled to translate that into substantial market share. That is Kurian’s challenge. As Greene used to say, in baseball terms, it’s still early innings. And it really still is, but the game is starting to move along, and Kurian needs to get the team moving in the right direction if it expects to be competitive.

Google Cloud’s new CEO on gaining customers, startups, supporting open source and more

After Thomas Kurian, Google Cloud’s recently minted CEO, joined the company, he took hundreds of meetings to learn what the company’s prospective and current customers were looking for. The overarching theme of those conversations was always similar, he told me during an interview at Google’s Cloud Next conference: “Love the technology — amazed at it. [They] think that it’s the best of the best. But they want more people that can help them adopt it and improvements to how they do business with us.”

So that’s the first order of business at Google Cloud now. Kurian, who came to Google Cloud after 22 years at Oracle, said that the team is rolling out new contracts and plans to simplify pricing. Most importantly, though, Google will go on a hiring spree. “A number of customers told us ‘we just need more people from you to help us.’ So that’s what we’ll do,” Kurian said.

I asked Kurian whether he believes that his predecessors made a mistake by not doing all of this already. Always the diplomat, Kurian denied that (of course). “No, I think it’s just the natural evolution of every company. Growing up, understanding their business, seeing an opportunity,” he said. “When I look at it, isn’t it a great position to be in? When you have customers saying ‘please hire more people to help me’ rather than ‘please go away from me?’ ”

Enterprises want Google to figure out the enterprise, Kurian argues, because they want to use the company’s technology. “And so we’re trying to do that.”

No matter what he thinks about Diane Greene’s tenure at Google Cloud, though, Kurian undoubtedly has the opportunity to reshape the organization now. When I asked him about how his own philosophy is different from his predecessor, though, he argued that it’s all about listening to customers and giving them what they want. And what they want is more help, but also better collaboration tools, for example, as well as more industry-specific solutions.

Later on, though, he also noted that what Google Cloud will do going forward is to play to its strengths. “I think you will see us emphasizing our differentiators and strengthening the multi-cloud infrastructure,” he said, and highlighted today’s launch of Anthos as an example of what the company can do — and as a product that was developed in response to customer requests. “We’ve taken the area of security. We’ve taken the area of analytics. We’ve taken the area of AI — and we’ve invested a lot more in solutions there. And the reason is, that’s what customers want from us,” he added

It’s no secret that Google is definitely focusing on bringing more enterprises onto its platform. That’s not to say that Google Cloud doesn’t care about startups, though. “When we say we’re focused on enterprise, it doesn’t mean we’re stopping to focus on the small and medium companies — on the digital natives and the startups,” Kurian said. “Historically, the complaint has always been ‘Google doesn’t focus on enterprises, they focus on digital natives. […] The perception outside that Google doesn’t care about enterprises is not true. And the statement that we’re now going to focus exclusively on enterprises is also not true.”

Kurian argues that nine of the 10 largest media companies use Google Cloud, as well as seven of the 10 largest retailers and six of the top 10 enterprise companies. “Other cloud providers would have you believe that no one is using Google, which is not true,” he added.

Talking about other cloud providers, it’s also worth noting that Google is taking a very different approach to open source than some of its competitors, and especially AWS. That’s something that isn’t likely to change under Kurian’s leadership at Google Cloud. “The most important thing is that we believe that the platforms that win in the end are those that enable rather than destroy ecosystems. We really fundamentally believe that,” he told me. “Any platform that wins in the end is always about fostering rather than shutting down an ecosystem. If you look at open-source companies, we think they work hard to build technology and enable developers to use it.”

Kurian isn’t the kind of CEO who will directly attack his competitors in an interview, but he did come rather close to it in this context: “In order to sustain the company behind the open-source technology, they need a monetization vehicle. If the cloud provider attacks them and takes that away, then they are not viable and it deteriorates the open-source community.”

As for the future of Google Cloud, Kurian didn’t quite want to look at his crystal ball. Instead, he argued that as long as the company focuses on doing what its customers want — starting with hiring more employees to help those customers and making it easier to do business with Google — those customers will buy a lot more of their cloud technology from Google.

Google and IBM still trying desperately to move cloud market share needle

When it comes to the cloud market, there are few known knows. For instance, we know that AWS is the market leader with around 32 percent of market share. We know Microsoft is far back in second place with around 14 percent, the only other company in double digits. We also know that IBM and Google are wallowing in third or fourth place, depending on whose numbers you look at, stuck in single digits. The market keeps expanding, but these two major companies never seem to get a much bigger piece of the pie.

Neither company is satisfied with that, of course. Google so much so that it moved on from Diane Greene at the end of last year, bringing in Oracle veteran Thomas Kurian to lead the division out of the doldrums. Meanwhile, IBM made an even bigger splash, plucking Red Hat from the market for $34 billion in October.

This week, the two companies made some more noise, letting the cloud market know that they are not ceding the market to anyone. For IBM, which is holding its big IBM Think conference this week in Las Vegas, it involved opening up Watson to competitor clouds. For a company like IBM, this was a huge move, akin to when Microsoft started building apps for iOS. It was an acknowledgement that working across platforms matters, and that if you want to gain market share, you had better start thinking outside the box.

While becoming cross-platform compatible isn’t exactly a radical notion in general, it most certainly is for a company like IBM, which if it had its druthers and a bit more market share, would probably have been content to maintain the status quo. But if the majority of your customers are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy, it might be a good idea for you to jump on the bandwagon — and that’s precisely what IBM has done by opening up access to Watson across clouds in this fashion.

Clearly buying Red Hat was about a hybrid cloud play, and if IBM is serious about that approach, and for $34 billion, it had better be — it would have to walk the walk, not just talk the talk. As IBM Watson CTO and chief architect Ruchir Puri told my colleague Frederic Lardinois about the move, “It’s in these hybrid environments, they’ve got multiple cloud implementations, they have data in their private cloud as well. They have been struggling because the providers of AI have been trying to lock them into a particular implementation that is not suitable to this hybrid cloud environment.” This plays right into the Red Hat strategy, and I’m betting you’ll see more of this approach in other parts of the product line from IBM this year. (Google also acknowledged this when it announced a hybrid strategy of its own last year.)

Meanwhile, Thomas Kurian had his coming-out party at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in San Francisco earlier today. Bloomberg reports that he announced a plan to increase the number of salespeople and train them to understand specific verticals, ripping a page straight from the playbook of his former employer, Oracle.

He suggested that his company would be more aggressive in pursuing traditional enterprise customers, although I’m sure his predecessor, Diane Greene, wasn’t exactly sitting around counting on inbound marketing interest to grow sales. In fact, rumor had it that she wanted to pursue government contracts much more aggressively than the company was willing to do. Now it’s up to Kurian to grow sales. Of course, given that Google doesn’t report cloud revenue it’s hard to know what growth would look like, but perhaps if it has more success it will be more forthcoming.

As Bloomberg’s Shira Ovide tweeted today, it’s one thing to turn to the tried and true enterprise playbook, but that doesn’t mean that executing on that approach is going to be simple, or that Google will be successful in the end.

These two companies obviously desperately want to alter their cloud fortunes, which have been fairly dismal to this point. The moves announced today are clearly part of a broader strategy to move the market share needle, but whether they can or the market positions have long ago hardened remains to be seen.