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Nan Boden on how partnerships work in the age of cloud

The cloud is not only changing the way that companies create products and services — it’s also opening new ways for companies to partner together. Google Cloud’s Head of Technology Partners Nan Boden had a conversation with Quentin Hardy about the fundamental ways the cloud has changed the partner ecosystem, how companies now leverage partnerships for support their businesses, and how she’s seeing AI practically integrated.

Watch the videos and read the transcript below.

On the importance of partnering

Quentin Hardy: Talk a little bit about the importance of partnering, historically, in the tech business in IT, and how it's different in cloud?

Nan Boden: I think what's different now with cloud computing, is that the level of integration that's available is deeper than we've ever seen before. We've seen products integrated at API levels and now running on cloud platforms globally. Google provides this fantastic global infrastructure that is moving very quickly. But to be able to take that to all the customers, and all the applications in the world, we really need deep domain expertise. And we look at their technology and how can we help them make it better using Google's products and technology, but we also help them with business enablement. You know, how are their business models evolving? Because cloud is disrupting so many of the business models, and because we see a lot of these disruptions, we can help our partners do both better for their products and technology, and also for their businesses. It's a whole different world for us to be able to create innovations together with our tech partners.

Hardy: What are some of the really notable partnerships that back up that view?

Boden: Our flagship partnership with SAP. They have run so much — many of the world's businesses, and now what we're seeing is our technology put into their kind of applications means that the innovations that Google brings in our infrastructure platform, can be immediately available to a wide variety of businesses that really change the way they operate. One of our tech partners, Tableau, integrates deeply with bigQuery, which is a core data and analytics tool from Google. And so Tableau provides to enterprise customers the interface that they're used to, but also now capabilities for analytics that just weren't available before. For many of our customers, like Evernote, who was both a customer and a partner, their experience on Google Cloud has meant that they can bring great amounts of data and start to use that data with our analytics tools to create insights and to help their customers create more insights and to give them new, magical experiences.

Hardy: How many companies are we partnering with now?

Boden: Yeah, our partner ecosystem has been growing incredibly rapidly as we've made more and more of Google's infrastructure available to the public, and increasingly made the interfaces to it easier and easier to access.

On working with Google Cloud

Hardy: What is distinctive for them in working with Google Cloud?

Boden: The speed of innovation that we offer. We're able to partner with them, engineer to engineer. We're able to understand how their business models are evolving and to help them with that. So, our tech partners look at Google as a place where their innovation gets faster, and their market presence becomes more competitive.

Hardy: What's the best way for partners and customers to work together?

Boden: So, I've been a startup founder. I've helped run a startup business, and so I have deep in my heart, the understanding of how hard it is to run a small business. When I go to look for partners as a startup founder, I would say, "Do you understand my business? Do you understand what's important to me? Do you understand the levers of my business, what makes me succeed or fail?" And from that base, we can have a conversation about where we go next. And I think the good partners know how to meet customers at that point.

On the different kinds of partner ecosystems

Boden: Our partner ecosystem has essentially two types of partners. We have tech partners — those are the companies that build their technology and build their business by integrating with Google Cloud. We also have go to market partners, and that's system integrators, resellers, including the global system integrators, like Accenture and PwC, that are using Google Cloud as a foundation for how they help businesses with their digital transformation.

Hardy: And how is one different from the other?

Boden: Tech partners, the engagement with them is on technical enablement and business enablement, and then they begin to use our platforms to serve their customers and in their applications. For go to market partners, they put together solutions and go to customers to help them, say, with their digital transformation, using Google Cloud and often using tech partners as part of the solutions.

Hardy: Do you think this transition is similar to the client server transition?

Boden: In computing, we see platform changes maybe every decade or so. And we certainly saw that with client server. We saw that with mainframes. You've seen several of these transitions before — virtualization. To me, the cloud computing transformation is the biggest one of all of those. It's, it is changing the way IT is operating at a core level, sweeping away many of the inefficiencies that customers have had to deal with and now they don't, and enabling a global scale and the adoption of technology that's unprecedented. And I think it's that disruption in cloud computing at its core as an architecture that's allowing so much of the digital transformation in businesses.

Hardy: When we have this much computing power available to everybody, how does it change the strategies of a big company, and of a small company?

On cloud computing strategies

Boden: For large companies, it's allowing them an efficiency at scale that's never been possible before. And for small companies, this allows them to be competitive in markets where they might not have been had they had to have a lot of capital investment. So, that leveling of the playing field, making technology and innovation available to everyone, essentially simultaneously, is unleashing a lot of innovation from both big companies and small companies.

Hardy: The big change is not just a kind of geographic scale, but a sectoral and capability scale that's never existed before.

Boden: Partners are definitely that front line of engagement with customers, both for their needs and applications, but also for their reality and how they're changing their businesses. Are they changing the way IT is working; are they bringing in new software functionality and how to do that effectively. And changing their business processes, which certainly around cloud computing, there are a lot of changes in the business processes as well.

Hardy: What should they expect next from partnering from the cloud?

Boden: More and deeper partnerships with companies they already know. Our partnership with SAP is obviously having a lot of impact on the market and on the ability for mainstream businesses to start to accelerate their journey toward the cloud. Transformation this large as cloud computing is, is really something you need to be working with leaders both in your industry and also in platforms, so that you can be positioned to be very successful in the future.

Boden on businesses moving to the cloud

Boden: As tech partners move to the cloud, they do discover that some of what they have been good at, and what they've been challenged with has changed. And so they can, in many cases, let go of a lot of the challenges they've had. For example, you know, how do we distribute software? You know, how do we keep our customers up to date with it? All of that changes in the cloud, where so many of the SaaS applications are delivered and updated instantly. On the other hand, you can also leverage these new capabilities to do better distribution of your core technologies. And so we're finding most tech partners see that their businesses, when they get to the cloud, are in much better shape because they're able to focus on their core innovations.

Hardy: What are the most interesting ways in which they're thinking about cloud at this point?

Boden: They realize that working with us, we can both innovate faster and get better products and technology into the market more quickly.

Hardy: And what concerns them most about moving to the cloud?

Boden: It feels to them like a foreign place. And a lot of what we do in our tech enablement, is make that gap between where they are and where they need to be, shorter. I mean, we help them with their integrations; we help them understand how business models change. Once they're in that new world and they're able to bring their own technologies to the cloud, then it's really wonderful to see how much that unlocks their business value.

On customers realizing the importance of AI and the cloud

Hardy: What is driving the customer?

Boden: We've seen many customers coming to tech partners knowing that they need to be cloud enabled, but they're not quite sure how to get there and what difference it will make. Particularly around AI, customers understand that AI's moving core metrics in their markets by sometimes double-digit percentages. And this kind of disruption is rare.

Hardy: What do you think is the best way for them to think about AI?

Boden: AI is going to be one of the great enabling technologies of the next decade. It's available in so many ways and targeting very specific use cases and having dramatic improvements. And one doesn't often get that kind of dramatic improvement in core activities, like click-through rates or fraud detection rates. You know, when you see really large moves in those core metrics, then you see market disruption and market opportunity. And so I think people should be looking at how AI applies to the kinds of problems that they're already dealing with, and then see what kind of impact they can get from it.

Hardy: The customers are smart, and they have very valid concerns. What do you find is uppermost in the customers' minds?

Boden: Eighteen months ago, we had customers asking, "Well, I'm not sure if the cloud is secure. I don't — I'm not sure if I can put my data there." The nature of the conversation has changed dramatically. Now customers realize that data and applications running locally are not by default, more safe. In fact, the cloud is often the safest place to put data and assets because there are so many safeguards put in place, and it's so much easier to see what's going on with the data in the cloud. Having the security for data and applications managed in one place by someone like Google, gives partners and customers the assurance that they know what's happening with their security. It's been a liberating effect on many customers and partners to know that the security is being taken care of by Google.