Interview with Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer, Zoho, on Info-Tech's Tech Insights podcast, also available here.
Chennai, India–based Zoho Corp. is releasing several major additions to its self-described “operating system for business” platform that are aimed at helping enterprises bring their employees together to collaborate even as the post-pandemic context splits them up among the office, home, and various field locations.
Zoho is rolling out five new applications and three new services that are wrapped up in its Zoho One product, a cloud-based platform that offers a long and growing list of software solutions for one monthly fee per employee (currently starting at US$37 per employee). The new releases focus on helping teams in a hybrid operating model stay on the same page with a connected workflow. There are some modern new features powered by machine learning and augmented reality to help deliver it, and it’s all tightly integrated into the big platform. Zoho is also expanding the number of its total applications available to Zoho One subscribers from 30 to 45.
Delivering more value to Zoho One and driving customers to the platform are at the center of Zoho’s strategy. Zoho One’s customer base more than doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, growing from just under 20,000 customers in 2019 to more than 40,000 customers as of October 2021.
According to Zoho’s Chief Strategy Officer Vijay Sundaram, the platform growth was driven in part by customers that adopted Zoho Remotely in early 2020 when it was freely available to help companies coping with a sudden shift to remote work due to local lockdowns. When the free ride on that package ended at the end of 2020, most companies not only stuck with Zoho but also expanded their use of the platform.
“People stepped up to other suites in Zoho that included business processes…and many people sprung from Remotely to go to Zoho One, which has all of the business tools required to run the business,” he says in an interview. “We did see a year-to-year growth of about 65 percent just on Zoho One.”
Zoho has benefited from the accelerated digital transformation seen during the pandemic. It’s not an accident, Sundaram says; it’s due to the philosophy that Zoho’s founders took when they created the software firm. They want to enable fundamental operational flexibility by providing ubiquitous tools that allow people to solve problems regardless of where they are and when they’re working.
“When you federate these tools it creates ways for people to be able to work in this kind of environment where they can connect and engage in ways that used to be formalized through physical meetings,” he says.
Connecting people based on how they work together is core to Zoho’s entire platform approach and it’s evident in their newly announced applications.
Image: AR remote assistance for in-depth collaboration.
Zoho Lens connects field workers with company experts to help them with jobs they are completing onsite. If you can’t have an extra set of hands to help, the next best thing is a second set of eyes. That’s what Lens provides by combining real-time voice and text chat with annotation on shared images.
Zoho describes the feature as augmented reality, but that suggests users could see live digital information overlaid on top of the real world, and that’s not quite what’s being done here. Instead, it is annotated images that guide the workers to get the job done. That should be useful, but in future the tool could be improved by adding true augmented reality so workers can be interacting with the real thing with added guidance from experts connecting with them remotely.
Zoho Learn is a learning management tool that allows teams to build out courses that include interactive training programs and assessments. It promises to centralize different types of organizational knowledge and nurture employee growth.
If you’re tired of forwarding emails between team members, this is one way to avoid taking that extra step. Just as its name implies, it’s a central email inbox to be shared among team members. How that might differ from setting up a shared email address for a team to add to their email reader of choice isn’t immediately clear.
Zoho becomes a Shopify competitor by adding a way for retailers to build online stores. The suite provides tools to build a website, accept online orders, track inventory, process payments, manage shipping, do online marketing, and analyze data. It can also integrate with third-party payment gateways so retailers can use their already-established payment partners.
The commerce app is a natural extension for customers already using Zoho for inventory and order management. Customers that add Commerce will automatically see their products from those systems as ready to sell online. It’s one more piece of the puzzle for running a complete retail operation on Zoho.
Image: Data preparation and analysis with machine learning.
Data quality is always a big challenge for organizations looking to enable data-driven decision making and unlock more AI-powered assistance, but combing over data to improve it is a tedious and difficult task. The DataPrep tool aims to make that job easier with a sort of super-charged spreadsheet. Users import data and can immediately visualize how much of it is valid. The software uses machine learning to provide a list of suggestions to improve data that’s not meeting the bar. From there, users can integrate with Zoho Analytics or a third-party tool to probe for insights in the data.
Now let’s look at the new services Zoho is bringing to its platform.
This back-end service maps interactions between people, resources, systems, and processes unique to every employee and translates them into time-saving suggestions and automations. For example, when a worker wants to share a spreadsheet, they might typically send it to one set of colleagues, but when they share a presentation deck they may send it to another set. Work Graph will learn about your routine work habits and suggest the right person or people to share with at the moment you’re looking to do it.
Zoho positions Work Graph as an industry first for business software. But the work graph concept connects back to 2011, when Facebook started talking about its social graph and how it provides a contextually different experience to each user based on their relationships with other users and content on the platform. In 2013 the idea of the work graph was explored by companies like Asana to break down organizational silos and foster better information sharing. Still, considering Zoho’s expansive platform and the number of different business solutions it offers, adding contextual intelligence could do wonders to boost employee productivity and should remove friction from many workflows.
Another tool that can help with remote work, Mobile App Management is an enterprise-grade solution for managing applications on employees’ mobile devices. This service leverages a 2014 Zoho acquisition, ManageEngine, which offers mobile device management. Now the application management aspect of that is available to Zoho One users. It allows for provisioning, setting app permissions and policies, and remote locking and wiping of devices.
It’s amazing how often companies struggle to define certain terms that they use every day. Zoho wants to solve that problem by offering a central dictionary that incorporates employee and product names. It will also remove the hassle of having spell check constantly flag the spelling of the organization’s commonly used proper nouns.
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