The world of enterprise software and systems can make for very stable businesses, and therefore great investments. Enterprises, especially large ones, undertake significant security and business risks if they choose to switch vendors or systems. It's one of the reasons behind the rise and incredible staying power of Microsoft's (MSFT -2.61%) Windows operating system for the past 30 years.
But recently, the space has gotten competitive -- not just from start-up companies but also from cash-rich tech giants that had initial businesses in different fields, such as e-commerce giant Amazon.com (AMZN 0.48%) and Google parent Alphabet (GOOG -1.69%) (GOOGL -1.83%). In fact, Alphabet has been increasing its focus on serving large enterprises, which could threaten Microsoft's Windows franchise. Here are three ways Alphabet is taking on the industry.
Android Enterprise Recommended
These days, workforces are becoming increasingly mobile, and Alphabet has the largest consumer mobile operating system in Android. By providing more mobile solutions for workers, Alphabet has an angle toward providing enterprises with even more of their computing needs.
Last week, the company unveiled its Android Enterprise Recommended list of hardware vendors, which provides guidance for IT departments to implement a unified set of devices for mobile employees. The recommended list includes vendors that have minimum hardware, application, and security specifications, which can be dispatched in bulk deployments by IT departments, along with consistent software updates.
Said Alphabet Enterprise Director David Still: "Mobility has been critical to digital transformation for enterprises. We have listened to our customers and partners, and believe that the Android Enterprise Recommended program will help simplify and add confidence to decision making, allowing global IT leaders to focus more on their core business."
The initial list encompasses six large hardware vendors, along with Alphabet's own hardware, including the Pixel, Pixel XL, Pixel 2, and Pixel 2 XL.
With the renewed efforts to make Android devices more of an enterprise solution, speculation has arisen about a possible convergence of Android and Chrome OS, Alphabet's other operating system. Chrome OS, which has been around since 2009, was initially sold in lightweight notebooks that functioned mostly through a Web-browser interface via the cloud, as opposed to using an internal hard drive. Chromebooks made especially big inroads with K-12 schools, where they have roughly 60% market share today.
Thus, Chrome has two big things working for it today. One, a whole generation of young adults have been Chrome users in school and are now entering the workforce. Second, more and more enterprise applications are being delivered via the cloud, which suits Chromebooks' cloud-based design.
Last summer, Alphabet unveiled Chrome Enterprise, with features such as an enterprise application storefront, as well as increased security and support features. In November, Microsoft Office apps became available on Chrome via the Android app store, further positioning Chrome to become a serious enterprise contender.
In addition, Alphabet has hinted at efforts to further integrate the two platforms, in a continuation of efforts that have allowed Android apps to be used on Chrome devices for the past three years. The company has been continuously tinkering with making Android and Chrome more integrated, and there are even rumors that Alphabet is working on a new open-source system called Fuchsia, which will essentially be a convergence of the two.
That may not come to fruition, but it's yet another indicator that Alphabet is increasingly trying to merge its leading mobile operating system -- something Microsoft doesn't have anymore -- into a new lightweight and mobile enterprise computing platform.
Finally, Alphabet has been making substantial investments in the cloud. Despite the company's well-known prowess with artificial intelligence and data centers, it has lagged behind leaders Amazon and Microsoft so far. Amazon was a first mover in the space, and Microsoft was able to leverage its long history of enterprise relationships to develop a strong second-place cloud business.
But Alphabet claimed it was the fastest-growing public cloud platform last year, albeit off a smaller base, and said it was investing heavily in both sales and tech for cloud computing, hoping to convince businesses large and small that its offering is just as enterprise-ready as those of the other guys.
Putting these three pieces of the puzzle together -- Android Enterprise, Chrome OS, and Google Cloud Platform -- one can see that Alphabet is aiming to become a serious enterprise provider. The company groups its cloud and hardware revenue together in what it calls its "Google Other" segment, which grew 37.7% in the fourth quarter to $4.7 billion. Still, given the significant progress Alphabet has made over the past year, that may only be scratching the surface.