G Suite

David Brid­dock ex­plains why Google is in­tro­duc­ing ma­chine learn­ing tech­nol­ogy into the world

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If you’re one of the mil­lions of peo­ple us­ing Google Drive and its as­so­ci­ated pro­duc­tiv­ity apps, then you’ll be happy to hear that they’re get­ting even bet­ters – and it’s all thanks to ma­chine learn­ing. What does that ac­tu­ally mean, though? Well, we’ll let David Brid­dock ex­plain that a bit fur­ther…

Google is de­ter­mined to be seen as a se­ri­ous com­peti­tor to Ama­zon, Mi­crosoft and oth­ers in the cloud com­put­ing arena. Re­cently, we’ve seen the in­tro­duc­tion of the Google Cloud, which en­com­passes the Google Cloud Plat­form, and now we have some­thing called G Suite.

G Suite ap­pears to be a key el­e­ment in Google’s cloud-cen­tric mis­sion. The idea is to cre­ate a tightly in­te­grated pack­age of pro­duc­tiv­ity apps and ser­vices that ap­peal to in­di­vid­u­als, free­lancers, and the self-em­ployed, as well as large-scale in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies.

So, what ex­actly is G Suite, and what does it of­fer to you and me, and the way we work?

What’s In­cluded

G Suite aims to be­come the es­sen­tial core of some­one’s daily com­put­ing ac­tiv­i­ties. Ac­tiv­i­ties like per­sonal pro­duc­tiv­ity and or­gan­i­sa­tion, group com­mu­ni­ca­tions, so­cial net­work­ing, and dig­i­tal re­source man­age­ment.

G Suite’s pro­duc­tiv­ity tools com­pete di­rectly with Mi­crosoft’s Of­fice 365 and in­clude the now well-es­tab­lished Docs, Sheets, Forms, and Slides. While Gmail, Cal­en­dar, Hang­outs and Google+ han­dle the sched­ul­ing of both per­sonal or workre­lated in­ter­ac­tions. Be­hind all of these is Google Drive, which is there to en­sure ev­ery­thing you cre­ate is stored se­curely in the cloud, ready to be ac­cessed from a range of de­vices. In­deed, all

these apps and ser­vices are de­signed to op­er­ate in a rea­son­ably seam­less man­ner across smart­phones, tablets, lap­tops, and desk­tops. Some of them are even ap­pli­ca­ble to Google An­droid, or Ap­ple watchOS, smart­watches.

Hav­ing read that, how­ever, you might be think­ing G Suite doesn’t seem to be of­fer­ing any­thing par­tic­u­larly new. Af­ter all, this se­lec­tion of cloud-cen­tric apps was pre­vi­ously in­cluded in Google for Work, or even ear­lier with Google Apps. So, you might be ask­ing: ‘why has Google re-launched all this un­der a new brand name?’

Added In­tel­li­gence

Well, Google is claim­ing that it is en­hanc­ing the use­ful­ness these apps and ser­vices by in­cor­po­rat­ing ma­chine learn­ing in­tel­li­gence. What this means in prac­tice, ac­cord­ing to the firm, is we’ll now be freed from some of those repet­i­tive, me­chan­i­cal tasks that can take up so much time.

Of course, ma­chine learn­ing is a big thing at Google. Over the years it has an­a­lysed its colos­sal cache of user-cap­tured data to de­ter­mine the fea­tures and tasks we use most fre­quently and the sort of re­sults we are af­ter.

It must be said that this isn’t a com­pletely new idea for Google. Gmail has of­fered auto-gen­er­ated replies through some­thing called ‘Smart Re­ply’ for quite a while now. While not ex­actly ground­break­ing in­no­va­tion, it still has plenty of sup­port­ers. In par­tic­u­lar, it’s a fea­ture that’s been a big hit with smart­phone Gmail users want­ing to send off a quick re­sponse with the min­i­mum of ef­fort. In fact, Google claims well over 10% of all Gmail replies from mo­bile de­vices are now sent us­ing the Smart Re­ply fea­ture.

There’s much more in­tel­li­gence em­bed­ded in the G Suite app and ser­vice lineup, though. Here’s a guide to what’s on of­fer.

Smarter Drive

To date, Google Drive has been in­stalled on over one bil­lion smart­phones. It’s be­come one of the first G Suite prod­ucts to get the ‘be smarter’ makeover. Since the end of Septem­ber, its had a Quick Ac­cess ca­pa­bil­ity, which is de­signed en­sure the files you’ll need are right at your fin­ger­tips as soon as Drive is opened.

Quick Ac­cess works by analysing your Drive ac­tiv­ity, shared file in­ter­ac­tions and things like re­cur­ring meetings. For ex­am­ple, if you’re in the mid­dle of a col­lab­o­ra­tive project the rel­e­vant files will be im­me­di­ately avail­able. Google says its cus­tomer re­search in­di­cates Quick Ac­cess means you’ll find the files you need up to 50% faster on av­er­age.

There’s a new ad­di­tion to the G Suite lineup to as­sist those work­ing in dy­namic team en­vi­ron­ments. Called Team Drive, it is de­signed to en­able fast col­lab­o­ra­tive file shar­ing. VP of en­gi­neer­ing for Google Apps Prab­hakar Ragha­van said the fa­cil­ity aims “to get away from the no­tion that con­tent is owned by in­di­vid­u­als.”

With Team Drive own­er­ship, shar­ing rights and roles are all man­aged at the team level. This helps in two key ways. New team mem­bers in­stantly have ac­cess to ev­ery project file, and if some­one leaves all their work is still avail­able for the ben­e­fit of other team mem­bers.

In­tel­li­gent Sched­ul­ing

With G Suite, the Google Cal­en­dar app now comes with smart sched­ul­ing. Once again this fea­ture is de­signed to sim­plify and speed up the cal­en­dar book­ing process.For ex­am­ple, you can ask the app to ‘find a time’ for a meet­ing be­tween your­self and an in­vi­tee list. The re­turned sug­ges­tions take into ac­count rooms based on your pre­vi­ous book­ings. if there’s no ob­vi­ous free slot Cal­en­dar au­to­mat­i­cally sug­gests times where the con­flicts are eas­i­est to re­solve, such as one-to-one meetings.

G Suite aims to bat­tle head to head with prod­ucts like Mi­crosoft’s Of­fice 365

Hang­outs

Google has im­proved Hang­outs in a num­ber of ways. For ex­am­ple, by ap­ply­ing ma­chine in­tel­li­gence to the new G Suite ver­sion we should be able to make ar­range­ments more quickly and at times that suit ev­ery­one in­volved.

Firstly, it’s hope­fully go­ing to be a fair bit eas­ier to set up Han­gout meetings. When an event is created, both a short web link and a dial-in phone num­ber are gen­er­ated. In this way you can in­vite any­one who has ac­cess to a tele­phone, even if they don’t have a com­puter or smart­phone with them at the time.

Other fea­tures in­clude seam­less in­te­gra­tion into Cal­en­dar and in­stant screen shar­ing. While the up­dated user in­ter­face is said to han­dle up to 50 video par­tic­i­pants; although it’s un­likely many Han­gout users will want to go quite that far.

Ex­plore As­sis­tance

When it comes ev­ery­day pro­duc­tiv­ity apps, Google is adding a be­hind-the-scenes work as­sis­tant called ‘Ex­plore’ to Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Here’s how it ap­plies to each app.

In the case of Docs, it acts as a re­search as­sis­tant. For ex­am­ple, it can find ref­er­ences re­lated to spe­cific po­si­tions in a doc­u­ment with­out re­sort­ing to the search op­tion. Ex­plore can use ma­chine in­tel­li­gence to au­to­mat­i­cally rec­om­mend re­lated top­ics, ad­di­tional con­tent and as­so­ci­ated images. It will also lo­cate re­lated Google Drive doc­u­ments.

The spread­sheet Sheets app can now of­fer users a Nat­u­ral Lan­guage Pro­cess­ing in­ter­face. This means spo­ken, data-re­lated ques­tions can be trans­formed into a for­mula within the app. For ex­am­ple you might ask, “What’s the av­er­age weekly in­come mi­nus ex­penses?” and the spread­sheet will cal­cu­late things au­to­mat­i­cally. If it works as promised, it will surely prove use­ful for those who use Sheets in­fre­quently; to do their end-of-year ac­counts, for ex­am­ple.

Turn­ing to slides, Ex­plore ma­chine in­tel­li­gence can be used to dy­nam­i­cally gen­er­ate de­sign sug­ges­tions. If you like what’s sug­gested it’s ap­plied with a sin­gle click. Google claims it saves 30% of slide cre­ation time for most users by re­mov­ing the need for man­ual crop­ping, re­siz­ing or re­for­mat­ting.

Pric­ing

Although many of its apps and ser­vices are freely avail­able, the G Suite pack­age it­self isn’t free. How­ever, you can try out G Suite for noth­ing thanks to a 30-day trial. Of course, be­ing cloud-based, there’s noth­ing to down­load – and you don’t have to sub­mit any credit card de­tails. Af­ter this time you can choose from two low-cost monthly pack­ages. De­signed to be at­trac­tive to free­lancers, the self-em­ployed, and small busi­nesses the pric­ing pat­tern is very sim­i­lar to its Google for Work fore­bear.

The cheap­est op­tion is the £3.30 per user per month pack­age. For this, you get a sin­gle-user ‘your­name@your­com­pany.com’ email ad­dress plus any num­ber of group email aliases, such as ‘info@your­com­pany.com’.

You’ll also get video and voice calls, in­te­grated on­line cal­en­dars, 30 GB of on­line stor­age for file sync­ing and shar­ing, se­cu­rity and ad­min con­trols, 24/7 phone and email sup­port, plus tools to quickly build project sites.

The £6.60 per user per month pack­age may be more at­trac­tive to larger busi­nesses with ex­tras like un­lim­ited Drive stor­age (or 1TB per user if fewer than 5 users), ad­vanced ad­min con­trols, au­dit and re­port­ing in­sights, Google Vault for eDis­cov­ery and email ar­chives.

Billing is done on a monthly ba­sis, and both plans al­low users to be added and deleted at any time.

The Big Bat­tle

Cloud com­put­ing is cur­rently one the big­gest growth ar­eas in the IT in­dus­try. Gart­ner re­search pre­dic­tions sug­gest that cloud tech­nol­ogy adop­tion will at­tract around $1 tril­lion of global spend­ing over the next five years. Yet re­cent sur­veys show Google is los­ing the Cloud ser­vices bat­tle, trail­ing some dis­tance be­hind the Ama­zon Web Ser­vices, Mi­crosoft Azure and IBM’s In­fra­struc­ture-as-a-Ser­vice of­fer­ing. In fact, Ama­zon Web Ser­vices gen­er­ated a very healthy $10 bil­lion-plus in rev­enues all by it­self.

Now the fight would ap­pear to be on, though, and Google isn’t a com­pany that’s afraid to stump up hefty sums of cash to turn the ta­bles in its favour. It has in­vested heav­ily on in­fra­struc­ture, for ex­am­ple, to the tune of around $10 bil­lion last year alone. To put that into con­text, it’s al­most as much as Ama­zon and Mi­crosoft spent when added to­gether.

Google is adding a be­hindthe-scenes work as­sis­tant called Ex­plore to Docs, Sheets and Slides

Data Is The Key

G Suite’s ma­chine in­tel­li­gence is built on top of so­phis­ti­cated ma­chine learn­ing al­go­rithms for­mu­lated by in­ter­ro­gat­ing huge vol­umes of data col­lected from ev­ery­one who does a web

search, sends an email, uses so­cial net­work­ing and in­ter­acts with the firm’s on­line ser­vices and apps. We’ve long-known Google’s pen­chant for col­lect­ing masses of per­son­alised data for its hugely suc­cess­ful ad­ver­tise­ment tar­get­ing strat­egy, these source of its buck­ets of cash. Now, though, its bil­lion-or-so daily Cloud Plat­form users is af­ford­ing it ever-deeper in­sights into what apps we use, what we use them for and we’d ide­ally like them to work for us.

In ad­di­tion, Google is ex­pand­ing its cloud foot­print. There’ll soon be eight new Google Cloud Re­gions, which cover Mum­bai, Sin­ga­pore, Syd­ney, North­ern Vir­ginia, São Paulo, Lon­don, Fin­land and Frank­furt. More may be added in 2017 to fur­ther ge­o­graph­i­cally re­fine and tai­lor the op­tions and data.

It’s clear G Suite aims to bat­tle head-to-head with prod­ucts like Mi­crosoft’s Of­fice 365, es­pe­cially as Mi­crosoft is sud­denly adopt­ing Google’s ap­proach and seems su­per-keen to use Win­dows 10 to col­lect and an­a­lyse as much con­sumer data as pos­si­ble to its own end. So, you’d sus­pect, we can ex­pect more in­tel­li­gence to ap­pear in these prod­ucts too. How­ever, as we be­gin 2017, Mi­crosoft is set to jack up its UK busi­ness-level prices sub­stan­tially, thanks to the col­lapse in the value of the ster­ling against the US dol­lar. Ama­zon and IBM of­fer­ings are likely to be­come more ex­pen­sive too. This would make the G Suite pric­ing model look even more at­trac­tive if it holds at the lev­els we’ve dis­cussed.

Wrap Up

We’d all like to be more pro­duc­tive and get things done in a quick ef­fi­cient man­ner, and Google wants to make this a re­al­ity. G Suite, on the sur­face at least, is all about try­ing to make that hap­pen with a fa­mil­iar set of apps and ser­vices. It’s prob­a­bly just the start, though. The prom­ise is that G Suite will con­tinue to grow as time goes by, and the re­cently an­nounced Jam­board (see box­out) is a clue to how in­te­grated G Suite will be­come with up­com­ing Google-made hard­ware and soft­ware prod­ucts.

Whether all this added in­tel­li­gence works for you or your com­pany will de­pend on many dif­fer­ent fac­tors, but at least you can give it a try for free and find out for your­self – although, for things like Team Drive, you might need to sign up for the Early Adopter Pro­gram.

Is Google on the right track with G Suite? We’d love to know what you think so send in your thoughts to let­ters@mi­cro­mart.com.

G Suite Meet­ing car­toon

Google Apps

G Suite Team Hang­outs

G Suite Jam­board

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