After just over a year as a coveted, invitation-only beta, Google has officially launched Google Voice as a free service for all. Google Voice adds another component to the suite of tools available from Google providing small and medium businesses with cost-effective tools enabling them to conduct business like their much larger enterprise counterparts.
Large enterprises have the budget to invest in a robust networking, communication, and productivity infrastructure. Enterprise businesses also have the personnel resources to dedicate the expertise necessary to implement, maintain, and administer the tools. Small and medium businesses? Not so much.
Unfortunately for the small and medium businesses (SMB), though, they still have the same needs and similar business processes. They still need to communicate and collaborate in real-time with peers, partners, and customers.
Fortunately for SMBs, Google provides a diverse portfolio of tools that are free, or at least reasonably cost-effective, which allow them to appear much larger than they are, and compete on a level playing field with much larger competitors. Just look at the suite of tools available from Google:
• Google Voice
• Google Docs
• Google Buzz
• Google Wave
Combining these tools together, SMBs can create a comprehensive messaging, communication, and collaboration infrastructure comparable to enterprise-grade unified communications solutions requiring significant investment of financial and personnel resources. Google has a diverse and comprehensive portfolio to meet the needs of most SMBs.
There are two major issues with Google Voice, though, that Google will hopefully address at some point. First, SMBs that have an established presence have already built a reputation and developed recognition based on their phone number. Google Voice right now does not allow numbers to be ported, forcing SMBs to adopt a new Google Voice number.
Second, the voicemail to e-mail transcription is inadequate--and that is putting it mildly. My experience with the e-mail transcriptions I have received has been that they are completely useless in actually conveying whatever the caller said when the message was left. They do however, make for a good drinking game if you want to try to guess what the real words are.
Google has an opportunity to make Google Voice even better, though, and improve the entire Google SMB offering at the same time. It is reasonable to expect that Google will integrate Google Voice more tightly into the Google Apps infrastructure--delivering even more enterprise-grade unified communications functionality.
Google can also extend the presence of Google Voice and go head to head with Skype by incorporating functionality from its purchase of Gizmo5 last year. Google can provide Web-based VoIP service that will provide a fairly universal, cross-platform solution.
Google's products and solutions aren't perfect, and they may not work for all businesses. However, the price is right, and Google has earned a degree of respect in the business community, so SMBs should definitely examine how Google tools like Google Voice can be put to use.