Zoholics 24 – exciting news from the Zohoverse

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Zoho’s annual main customer event Zoholics took place in Austin, TX last week. The company presented updates to products and strategy and gave partners the opportunity to present themselves on a big show floor. In parallel to the event, Zoho published some interesting news about product enhancements in four areas, namely security and privacy, CRM for Everyone, collaboration, and platform tools. In addition, Zoho reaffirmed its AI strategy.

Of course, CEO Sridhar Vembu set the scene in his usual humble, yet no-nonsense way. He detailed out, why Zoho is truly different. Zoho’s strategy of transnational localism with a clear focus on investing into employees is well known by now, and we see it working. Explaining the strategy with another twist, Vembu laid out five principles that will continue to be essential for every business software vendor to thrive:

  • Investing in a full product portfolio with breadth and depth
  • Offering attractive bundles that have deep value
  • Investing into exceptional service and support
  • Improving interoperability with more prebuilt integrations
  • Getting close to the customer with a strong local partner ecosystem

With 55 tightly integrated apps and growing, value-oriented bundles, and a thriving ecosystem, Zoho is certainly on a strong way following these principles.

Another topic is the way applications get built by software developers. Vembu compares developers to artisans and postulates that software development will become ten times more efficient with the help of generative AI. The developer’s role will change to become far more one of a scientist, leaving the mundane tasks to the system. This way, the whole development cycle as such changes considerably, also enabling vendors to deliver more value by keeping cost in check – or ultimately at close to the cost of the infrastructure that is needed to run the necessary code generators. It will be interesting to see how Zoho’s internal as well as external development environments evolve, based on this prediction.

AI

Apart from development tools, Zoho’s aspiration is to sprinkle AI contextually across the board, i.e. have relevant – productivity increasing – AI capabilities in all applications. Doing this, Zoho focuses on use cases where AI actually adds value. What is interesting is that, defying the current LLM hype, Zoho insists that not one LLM fits it all but that there is an ongoing need for more specialized, narrow, small, and medium models.

Acknowledging user choice, Zoho besides the own ZIA also supports systems delivered by OpenAI, Anthropic, cohere and Vertex.ai.

Collaboration

Zoho Projects as well as Zoho Notebook get enriched by AI capabilities by adding NLP capabilities to Zoho Projects and smart summarization, tagging and task management plus more in a significant upgrade to Zoho Notebook.

In addition, Zoho invested into making Blueprint, the company’s visual workflow technology available in Zoho Projects, Zoho Workdrive, Zoho Sign. What is more interesting is that Zoho uses collaboration and workflows to offer vertical capabilities, first for the construction, healthcare, manufacturing, and aviation industries on top of the collaboration apps. The overall goal is improving collaboration through a combination of industry specific workflows, automation, and AI. Taking the manufacturing industry as one example, manufacturing companies can now leverage Blueprint in Zoho Projects to chart and manage their process pipeline, as well as automate steps in processes like prototype testing, phase gates, or inventory management. Manufacturing companies can also take advantage of Project’s integration with Zoho Lens, allowing off-site managers to track and troubleshoot on-site operations using AR technology. Or, Zoho Workdrive now includes workflow automation. This empowers users to map, manage, and automate content procedures across departments and teams — which in turn reduces human error. This includes legal policy or contract review and approval, streamlining data collection for seamless onboarding, consistent HR operations, and more transparent task management.

Integrated security

“Security should not be the price any of us should be paying” is a good headline for this topic. To follow through on this aspiration, Zoho offers a suite of 4 integrated applications with

  • Ulaa, Zoho’s privacy first browser, which got enhanced by M/L-based phishing detection, crypto mining detection in addition to the already strong ad blocking
  • Zoho Directory, Zoho’s workforce IAM. It now helps businesses manage their users, apps, devices, and networks securely and from one single console with one secure credential. With conditional access and routing policies IT Admins can securely automate access management Users can upload their own encryption keys from an external key manager to encrypt their data thereby ensuring that only they have access to it using the Bring Your Own Key (BYOK). With Zoho Directory Cloud RADIUS, businesses can also now authenticate enterprise WiFi networks and VPNs. Additionally, Windows, Mac, and Linux devices can now be authenticated using Zoho Directory.
  • OneAuth, Zoho’s multi-factor authentication solution, now offers Smart Sign-In to provide faster ways to log into their Zoho accounts by scanning a QR code. MFA can be enforced more easily. Accounts can be locked via a tool named Restrict Sign-In. Unauthorized sessions can be easily killed using Remote Logout.
  • Zoho Vault, the company’s enterprise password manager. It offers a password generator, policies, breached password detection, compliance reports, browser extensions, and mobile apps. Additionally, Vault provides storage of confidential data, including credit card information, private notes, and software licenses, allowing administrators to set and maintain access privileges for employees based on need and compliance. Vault offers browser extensions, mobile apps, and desktop apps for all popular platforms.

CRM for Everyone

CRM for Everyone is what puzzled me most. It is the implementation of the idea that by far not all teams that are involved in customer operations activities have access to the CRM system, which leads to siloed information and broken workflows – or in the words of Mani Vembu, Zoho’s COO, lacking context. “This is fundamentally antithetical to a great customer experience. Zoho CRM for Everyone breaks down those silos for the first time, enabling different teams in a sales process to contribute productively by reducing CRM complexity and encouraging participation.”

CRM for Everyone is a strategy to break the silos and to enable cross-departmental workflows and collaboration, in an enterprise security context. One can think of it as a step towards breaking down the artificial differentiation between front-end and back-end users. CRM for Everyone does this with the help of three main innovations:

  • Team modules that can be built by business teams while being governed by IT, to support their specific needs. Team Modules can have their own fields, permissions, workflow automation, and other customization that is specific to each team. These modules are housed within a dedicated space for each team. Together, this helps unite all customer-facing processes onto a single platform enriched with complete customer context.
  • Requester Profiles support the raising of trackable requests of deliverables from, or the contributions of, a colleague from a different team. A requester can simply raise a request in the appropriate team module and track the status of their own requests, eliminating any guesswork involved in collaborative work.
  • A refreshed user interface that supports better organization of data and a better usability.

Customers and partners

Zoholics is predominantly a customer and partner event. So, I spent what little spare time I had on the shopfloor talking to some partners and customers about what traction they see in the Zohoverse.

The short version is that the present partners are quite happy. One objective for participating in an event like this being leads, I heard general happiness with the quantity and quality of attendants. They were also happy with their own access to Zoho. Good news.

Customers came with various objectives in mind. The ones who are already Zoho customers, however, often claimed getting fast and efficient support as one of their main challenges. This means that Zoho – like pretty much every other software vendor – is still on a way of fulfilling. However, this is something the company actively works upon, and it is also something that partners can and do help with.

One other topic might become a bit more of a challenge. Zoho wants to provide value while maintaining a reasonably low price point. And the company does a good job at this with a wide set of fairly well integrated apps. Still, at one point, partners come into the picture. They need to charge market rates. This reduces the cost advantage that Zoho has to some extent. And there is no perfect solution for this, as consulting is a people business. I am quite interested in seeing how this topic evolves – and of course also happy to help.

All this together shows how unusual Zoho really is. Starting from a culture angle, the company looks at challenges vastly different than the usual software or technology company. The breadth and width of software and the hardware stack that reaches from communication via collaboration, business apps and productivity apps, on an own technical infrastructure is matched – ok, probably surpassed – only by Microsoft. No other vendor has this broad and deep functionality, not Oracle, not Salesforce, not SAP, not Odoo, and surely not any other mid-sized vendor.

Kudos!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Thomas Wieberneit

Thomas helps organisations of different industries and sizes to unlock their potential through digital transformation initiatives using a Think Big - Act Small approach. He is a long standing CRM practitioner, covering sales, marketing, service, collaboration, customer engagement and -experience. Coming from the technology side Thomas has the ability to translate business needs into technology solutions that add value. In his successful leadership positions and consulting engagements he has initiated, designed and implemented transformational change and delivered mission critical systems.

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