Google Plugs More AI Into G Suite Office Apps


Google last week unveiled new capabilities across its G Suite, formerly known as "Apps for Work."

The company added some new apps infused with artificial intelligence to the mix.

Quick Access in Google Drive on Android, for example, makes the files most relevant to a user's work accessible when Drive is opened. It cuts the time spent finding a file by about half, noted Prabhakar Raghavan, vice president for apps at Google Cloud Research.

Machine intelligence also is incorporated into Google Calendar to help users allocate meeting times based on attendees' schedules, and to suggest available rooms based on previous bookings.

Explore in Google Sheets uses natural language processing to translate users' questions into formulas and offer an instant answer. Previously, users had to write the formulas.

Explore in Google Docs, another new G Suite feature, uses machine intelligence to make automatic recommendations of related topics to look up, images to insert, and additional content to discover. It's also useful for finding related documents in Google Drive.

Another new G Suite app, Explore in Google Slides, dynamically offers suggestions for the layout of slides for presentations, saving more than 30 percent of the time spent on formatting, Raghavan said.

The Team Drives capability lets teams share Google Drive storage. It helps with onboarding and offboarding of team members, retaining work done in the latter case. It lets team members share content ownership. Google previewed Team Drives with a few customers prior to launching the Early Adopter Program.

Google also previewed Meetings for Teams with a few customers, and it too is available through an Early Adopter Program. It generates a short link and dial-in phone number for every meeting. Attendees can join from any device, even without an account or data connection. There are no downloads or browser plug-ins.

Meetings for Teams can handle up to 50 video participants. It provides seamless integration into Google Calendar and offers instant screen sharing.

"The level of automation via AI is minimal," said Alan Lepofsky, a principal analyst at Constellation Research, but that is likely to change in future G Suite releases.

"I would like to see more of Google Now-type functionality worked in, showing people the areas they should be focusing on at work as well as the things they can deprioritize," he told the E-Commerce Times.

There's "nothing completely new about G Suite that would require additional training," Lepofsky noted. "Companies that currently use Google Apps for Work will be pleased with the updates that come with G Suite."

New customers comfortable with a cloud-only solution "will find it very easy to get started," he added.

Cutting deeper inroads into businesses might be where G Suite hits some roadblocks.

"The biggest challenge for Google is in proving itself as a company that has enterprises as its focus when its portfolio and other range of investments suggests otherwise," pointed out Rebecca Wettemann, VP of research at Nucleus Research.

"Google has taken a number of swings at the enterprise in past years, only to be quickly distracted by other projects with a clearly non-enterprise focus -- like YouTube," she told the E-Commerce Times.

Microsoft recently announced it was infusing AI into its Office Suite, with new capabilities such as Tap for Word and Outlook. It also introduced a new group that includes its Bing and Cortana products in order to help infuse AI through its infrastructure, services, apps and agents.

Microsoft currently is ahead in office apps.

Further, "the first release of G Suite isn't showing the levels of AI integration that Microsoft showed at Ignite for Office 365," observed Lepofsky.

Many vendors are investing significant sums to bring AI into their apps and productivity tools, Wettemann noted, so "simply putting AI into Google won't make its apps business more compelling to business decision makers."

Personal productivity tools like Apps or Microsoft Office "have a broad reach across the organization," and adoption can be highly disruptive, she said. Companies considering G Suite "will need to see a professional approach to product road maps and releases, support and adoption efforts, to say the least."

Richard Adhikari has written about high-tech for leading industry publications since the 1990s and wonders where it's all leading to. Will implanted RFID chips in humans be the Mark of the Beast? Will nanotech solve our coming food crisis? Does Sturgeon's Law still hold true? You can connect with Richard on Google+.

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