"We're about not ever accepting that the way something has been done in the past is necessarily the best way to do it today," Merrill says.
Among other things, that means that Google often doesn't deploy standard business applications on standard hardware. Instead, it may use the same text parsing technology that drives its search engine to extract application input from an e-mail, rather than a conventional user interface based on data entry forms. Instead of deploying an application to a conventional server, Merrill may deploy it to a proprietary server-clustering infrastructure that runs across its worldwide data centers.
"We say our mission is to organize information and make it universally accessible and useful," Merrill says. "We had to figure out how to apply that internally as well."
Consider how Google handles project management. Every week, every Google technologist receives an automatically generated e-mail message asking, essentially, what did you do this week and what do you plan to do next week? This homegrown project management system parses the answer it gets back and extracts information to be used for follow-up. So, next week, Merrill explains, the system will ask, "Last week, you said you would do these six things. Did you get them done?"