Hoping to become less dependent on Internet advertising, online search engine leader Google Inc. (GOOG) is introducing a tool designed to make it easier for companies and their workers to find vital information scattered across a maze of complex software applications.
The latest upgrade to Google's 4-year-old search engine for corporate America underscores the Mountain View, Calif.-based company's determination to develop other revenue channels besides advertising, traditionally a volatile market vulnerable to unpredictable swings in spending.
With the improvement unveiled Wednesday, Google's corporate search engine will be able to fish through a deep pool of data and display the requested information in a box near the top of the computer screen so users won't have to scan through other pages.
This "one box" approach is similar to the system that Google deploys at its own Web site whenever visitors are looking for information about local weather forecasts or stock market quotes. In those instances, Google's search engine provides a snapshot of requested information at the top of the results page.
To make the tool work for corporate search, Google teamed with several other leading makers of business software. The list of partners includes Oracle Corp. (ORCL), Cisco Systems Inc. (CSCO), Salesforce.com Inc. (CRM), NetSuite Inc., Cognos Inc. (COGN), SAS Institute Inc. and Employease Inc.
The collaboration reflects Google's desire to play a much larger role in the business software market, said Whit Andrews, a research vice president for Gartner Inc.
Google's ability to "work well with other software vendors will be absolutely critical to its success" in the corporate market, Andrews said. "That [ability] hasn't seemed to be in Google's DNA."
Google has had limited success peddling its business software so far.
In 2005, Google collected less than $75 million from software licenses, a blip in its total revenue of $6.1 billion. Advertising currently accounts for 99 percent of Google's revenue.
"We are certainly much smaller than the mother ship, but we are doubling in size every year and are profitable," said Dave Girouard, who oversees Google's corporate search division.
Some companies have been reluctant to buy software from Google because they doubted a vendor specializing in consumer products would be able to protect their data from computer hackers and other trespassers, said AMR Research analyst Jim Murphy.
But Murphy suspects many of those fears will fade now that Google is working with well-established business software makers to make corporate search as quick and easy as looking up information on Google's main Web site.
"This opens up a whole new realm of possibilities for Google," Murphy said. "The other [corporate] search engine vendors are all going to be scrambling, trying to figure out where they fit in this environment."
The corporate search market remains relatively small, generating less than $350 million annually, Gartner estimates. The major players in the field currently include Autonomy Inc., Fast Search & Transfer and IBM Corp. (IBM).
If Google signs up more corporate search customers, it may open the door for the company to sell other software applications, such as its e-mail service and recently launched calendar service, CEO Eric Schmidt said in an interview.
Schmidt described Google's corporate search engine as "a strategic beachhead for solving interesting problems" in corporate America.