Zoho presented analysts with a deep look at its strategy and roadmap at its July analyst conference, describing how it intends to meld its many business applications together through integration at the level of the platform. The company, which is privately owned and funded, has generally sought to build its own tools rather than buy or partner. This approach has allowed the firm to create a suite of tightly linked tools that share a common interface.
Zoho’s offering consists of more than 50 software applications that each focus on a specific business problem but link together into bundles aimed at teams. Those bundles create what the company describes as an “operating system” for business – a unified suite of tools working across departments.
The market has been gravitating towards suites from point applications for some time, thanks to the advantages of cloud deployment and a desire among many buyers to reduce the number of vendors supplying technology. Ventana Research has noted this phenomenon in previous Analyst Perspectives. Zoho’s portfolio has been focused on the small to medium-sized business marketplace, but is now looking to move upmarket. To do this, the company has invested in infrastructure, a global footprint and core underlying technology that feeds into the applications (like artificial intelligence and automation).
Ventana Research asserts by 2025, one-third of SMBs will have adopted cloud-based integrated suites for multiple service, sales and marketing functions, making it easier to orchestrate more complex and satisfying customer experiences.
Zoho’s apps appeal to SMBs because of the simplicity and pricing model, and because they are full-featured despite that apparent simplicity. Apps cover everything from human resources needs to customer support to financial planning and IT management. In effect, Zoho has been adding apps horizontally as needs are identified, often by adding tools incrementally within an area (like customer support) as they get momentum within a segment. But the development has been geared to finding useful technology advances and then maximizing those advances across multiple apps, even if the advance itself isn’t productizable. For example, the company has created a privacy-focused web browser, which it gives away for free. Does the world need another browser? Not precisely. But the privacy features that it sports are likely to find their way into many tools down the road, and they will be embedded at the platform level, so there will be a consistent approach across the entire Zoho suite.
This means that even if Zoho is today associated with the SMB market, the company is correct in assuming that its tools have viability in a larger enterprise. One of the themes the company emphasized at its conference was how fully the underlying platform integrates all of the apps, along with its data, permissions, communications and user IDs.
Within CX, Zoho has put forward a medley of service tools that include customer relationship management, service management, interaction channel management and some communications capabilities. All of these tools connect to similar ones for marketing, sales and back offices, creating a seamless way to get a complete view of a customer life cycle.
And it is the steady investment in the platform at the base of the stack that makes it possible to meld applications together, even those aimed at different personas and business processes. For example, the company discussed a framework for its analytics tools that focuses on unifying data across the platform in multiple significant ways. This echoes the broader strategy for its suite articulated at the conference: Investments in infrastructure flow across products, so advancements in (for example) AI or the internet of things or even privacy features ultimately make their way into the applications based on the use cases Zoho can identify, without duplication and integration headaches.
Another example is the addition of voice to the suite, gradually making its way from the communications apps into the service and support tools. It makes sense to treat voice as one of many digital channels that can be harnessed via the cloud. Within the Zoho One applications that are part of the CX basket, the company appears to be focusing first on the functions and processes in CX, rather than on the contact channels. This is a smart way to move forward and go around the footprints of the large, contact center-centric companies. It looks like Zoho is building the suite with the line-of-business user at the center, providing that person with an underlying platform that contains all of the enabling technologies (AI, automation, etc.) needed for them to cherry-pick specific applications as needed, with a low learning curve. This idea was echoed repeatedly by Zoho executives who noted that the boundaries between apps will increasingly disappear. That’s what one would expect if developing with the LOB user in mind, rather than an idealized IT buyer. And it suggests that the value of a tool is in its immediate availability, and in the way it harmonizes with the other tools in the box.
Taken together, the CX elements of Zoho One are improving in important ways. CX buyers should feel comfortable with the way Zoho has built a solid platform at the base, allowing fast delivery of problem-specific applications for many common processes. Buyers for mid-market enterprises who still think of Zoho as a fit mainly for the SMB market should take another look.
More information on customer experience tools and practices can be found at Ventana Research’s CX expertise area.