These days, technology evolves at the speed of light, as do the technology needs of small business. Rich Rao, Director of Worldwide Sales and Operations for Google, joins Brent Leary to discuss Google small business technology and the changing technological needs of small businesses.
* * * * *
Small Business Trends: Can you tell people a little bit about yourself and your background?
Rich Rao: I have been at Google for five and a half years and have been building up the Google Apps business during that time frame.
I came to Google because I wanted to be on the leading edge of technology. Hence, I wanted to make a move into the consumer market. But when I came here, I quickly realized what Google’s vision for the enterprise was. Essentially the company wanted to take all of this great, leading edge consumer technology and bring it to the enterprise.
So in a lot of ways, what I am doing now brings consumer technology to small businesses. Helping them to understand how to use that technology.
Small Business Trends: You have been at this for about five years with respect to Google Apps. What are some of the biggest changes when it comes to small businesses and their need for technology?
Rich Rao: I witnessed a three-phase evolution over the last decade. The first phase is what I would call one of poor choice. Essentially, small businesses were faced with a poor choice when it came to technology. Either they had to choose from software that was built for a large company that carried a huge price tag, or they chose inexpensive software that lacked the functionality they needed.
Then, right around 2006, comes cloud computing. All of a sudden, the playing field is level. For the first time small companies had access to all of the same technology that larger companies had and features that small businesses never dreamed of.
Right now I think we are in what I would call the third phase of technology for small businesses. This phase I would call “work the way that you live.” What has happened is employees have discovered that since the best technologies are in their personal lives, ‘I am going to try to bring it into work.’
Small Business Trends: What area has Google Apps had the most impact on regarding the way small businesses interact and collaborate in the Cloud?
Rich Rao: The first is this idea that we live in a multi-screen world. People just expect to do things on multiple devices from anywhere. Google Apps really enables that through its cloud computing technology. What we have found is that 90% of employees expect to do work across multiple devices.
The second effect that we have seen is this notion that the speed of business has increased. Technology has not only kept pace, but it has enabled the speed to occur. So real time collaboration is an area of huge investments for Google, one that we are seeing a lot of business take advantage of.
What they are finding is that the employees in small businesses can make edits in a document in real time and see what the other is editing. They can connect via video conferencing with Hangouts and it is all simply integrated within their calendar system. So it is an easy way to connect and do things in the real time. It is the second thing that I have seen.
Small Business Trends: Under the Google Apps umbrella, are there any particular applications that you think companies aren’t taking advantage of?
Rich Rao: Google+ is an example of a new product that we introduced. I think there are huge benefits of potential out there for small businesses in a couple of ways. One challenge small businesses face is around marketing their company. Google Plus provides some instant ways for a company to have a personalized page that allows them to connect with their own customers and partners in a very intimate way and develop those connections.
Google+ has integrated in a key feature that few people have and that is called Hangouts. That feature allows for multiple users to be in real time video conferencing with great, unique features.
Small Business Trends: How difficult it is to keep up with today’s small business looking to this technology to help them compete?
Rich Rao: That is a great question. Technology is changing so fast that there are so many small businesses who are developing their own dream scenario use cases. Part of what we do is, we study how our own customers are using our technology.
For example, if you are a designer, all of a sudden a dream scenario is becoming obvious to you. You can create an appointment in the calendar and if you include the address, Google will tell you when you need to leave your office to arrive at that location on time. Google maps will help you navigate there in your car. Then once you arrive, you have all of your information in Google Drive.
So as a designer, if you are meeting with a prospective client, you can review your designs and all of your content in real time on a tablet. You can take notes and when you return to your office, you can email that prospective client. You can follow-up and share the very content that you looked at in the meeting.
All of that is just part of what comes in the standard suite of Google Apps . We are also working on making even the most rudimentary parts of that easier.
Small Business Trends: I still feel a lot of small businesses and business people in general are living in their email applications. Are you seeing that as well? And will we see that going forward?
Rich Rao: There was something written about the death of email at one point and that hasn’t occurred at all. I think it goes to show that some of us can’t predict what will happen. But what we will certainly observe is that people are spending as much time in the emails as they have before.
In a lot of ways, the main change that has happened is that the connection points have been increased between email and other parts of application suites. So for example, with any email you can actually now preview a document right from your email. You can connect to the Hangouts I mentioned earlier from email. So I think that the integration points have become better, stronger and more useful.
As far as the future patterns, as I mentioned, we will see how usage evolves. Then naturally build functionality in the areas where we see users want to go to.
This interview demonstrating the Google small business commitment is part of the One on One interview series  with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.