In three years desktops will be irrelevant – Google sales chief

3 Mar 2010

Google believes that in three years or so desktops will give way to mobile as the primary screen from which most people will consume information and entertainment. That’s according to Google Europe boss John Herlihy who said that smart phones enhance Google’s mission to make information universal.

Speaking at the Digital Landscapes conference at UCD, Herlihy said that the cloud-computing opportunity will make sure that every mobile device will be capable of doing rapid-scale applications.

“In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant. In Japan, most research is done today on smart phones, not PCs,” Herlihy told a baffled audience, echoing comments by Google CEO Eric Schmidt at the recent GSM Association Mobile World Congress 2010 that everything the company will do going forward will be via a mobile lens, centring on the cloud, computing and connectivity.

“Mobile makes the world’s information universally accessible. Because there’s more information and because it will be hard to sift through it all, that’s why search will become more and more important. This will create new opportunities for new entrepreneurs to create new business models – ubiquity first, revenue later.”

In fact, the disruptive effect that Sergey Brin and Larry Page had on the internet when they were maxing out credit cards in 1998 to buy servers to build their search engine haunts Google to this day, Herlihy said.

“The fear is the next Sergey and Larry will come up with a disruptive technology or service that will eliminate the need for Google. That spurs us on to deliver the best quality return on investment to advertisers in an open and transparent partnership that works for them.

“There is a tremendous opportunity for entrepreneurs to end the need for Google. It’s our challenge not to let that happen by continuing to drive innovation and value.”

Google methodologies for business success

Herlihy gave a unique insight into the methodologies Google employs for business success, which he quaintly summed up as “relentless brutality and execution.”

He explained: “The digital world is fundamentally different to the traditional business world. Things happen much faster, websites spring up from nowhere, a video could be a YouTube hit in hours.

“It’s not good enough to apply normal management disciplines – we think that scarcity breeds clarity. If, for example, we have enough resources invested in something, we halve it and eliminate overheads.

“The other thing we do is celebrate failure. Here’s an analogy – the Roman legions used to send out scouts in different directions. If a scout didn’t return, the army didn’t head in that direction. We seek feedback at every opportunity on something – we either kill it, adjust it or redeploy resources.

“When we build something we strive for ubiquity in usage and adoption. That helps us understand how customers react and then we build a revenue model.”

Best people translates into best products

Herlihy says that Google is intensive in its hunt for the best people because the end result is the best products, not average products. “We measure people every 90 days. We get 360-degree feedback on people every 180 days and that feedback is published to the whole company. People want reality. Ninety per cent of the rewards end up going to 10pc of the people.”

He said that bringing a concept to reality and employing feedback from customers requires relentless brutality and execution. “We seek ubiquity and then pray for luck. We learn from bad decisions. If something is wrong, we kill it as soon as possible, take everybody out and move onto a different project as soon as possible.”

He said that going forward in terms of the most important roles at the search and advertising giant will be in the area of statistics and analysis. “The sexiest jobs at Google will centre around mining data. For that we need the best mathematicians in the world, not just the average ones.”

Former accountant Herlihy says that the ultimate goal in Google’s complex matrix-like organisational structure is to hide that complexity from the customer. “Nothing gets in the way of giving value.

“Customers today have more choices and are more aware of our competitors’ offerings. Unless we can serve them 24/7, 365 days a year, competitors will eat our lunch. There is a level of paranoia there.

“At the end of the day it’s the customer who owns the cash. That’s why we construct our organisation to deliver value. The underlying framework is to make it easier for people to do business, solve problems and move on.”

For more news and video highlights from the Digital Landscapes conference, visit the event’s website.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years