Here is a cross post from the AppGap that I wanted to share with you as it speaks to an interesting collection of online applications. I recently spoke with Raju Vegesna, the Zoho Evangelist, about the large suite of online applications that they offer and continue to expand. Zoho aims to provide the complete suite of online office and productivity applications for small to midsize businesses (SMBs). It is part of AdventNet, a private company that has been around for 12 years. AdventNet has been profitable without outside funding since the beginning.
Zoho wants to be the IT department for SMBs. In 2005 they launched their first product, Zohio Writer. Now there are 14 principal apps and a number of utilities. As an individual you can obtain most of these tools for free. For businesses, at $50 per person per year, they provide an integrated on demand suite with additional functionality and support. This capability is contained within Zoho Business that integrates all the applications into a single system. Here is a list of what they currently provide:
Zoho Writer – word processor
Zoho Sheet – spreadsheet
Zoho Projects – project management
Zoho Show – presentations
Zoho Meeting – web conferencing
Zoho Creator - creating database applications
Zoho Notebook – note taker
Zoho DB & Reports
Zoho Mail - with calendar
Zoho Planner - organizer
Zoho Chat - chat links to all the other apps
Zoho Business - integrates all of the above
Zoho Viewer - view and share documents online
Zoho Polls - surveys
Zoho Challenge - online testing
Site 24 x 7 - website monitoring
These apps are all designed to take advantage of the web with good collaborative features. You do not have to send emails with attachments to provide access to documents. You always see the latest version online and teams can make and see changes real time. Chat is integrated into all the apps so teams can discuss these changes.
I can clearly see the advantages of all this transparency and shared access, like that found in other enterprise 2.0 apps. So I asked Raju why someone would object to this online approach and how are they handling these objections. He said that when Zoho Writer first came out the functionality was very basic and not as robust as a standard desktop WP. So now they are adding new features to the Writer and other apps to be more competitive.
The next objection is security. They now provide security on the transport layer, as well as data encryption capabilities. Then there is the question of offline access, something blogs have not addressed as I write this post in Word at the airport, being too cheap for the $9.95 they want for wifi. Zoho is now offering offline apps, beginning with Zoho Writer. Later I edit it on the plane, hoping I get wifi in my hotel room. They built their offline capability with open source code from Google Gears. When you go back online, data is synchronized. You have the option to merge data or make your version the latest. This will require some team coordination on version control but is a good feature for business adoption.
Raju said the free apps for individuals act as a good Trojan horse for getting into companies. Most of their growth so far has been through word of mouth referrals. Now they are moving to create awareness through other channels. Many of their users are located at the end of the long tail of the businesses. They have small law offices, doctors, plumbers, real estate offices, and other similar types of businesses. They are also starting to see departments within large organizations using Zoho.
I noticed that their Zoho blog has a very high Technorati rating, especially for a company blog. I asked Raju to what did he attributed this success. He replied with several factors. They write a lot, often several posts in a day. They use the blog to communicate software updates. There are several major updates in a week and regular users are interested in these updates. This is a great motivator for building a regular readership. They also provide their perspective on industry trends. Each Zoho app has its own blog but they are integrated into a single blog for a common access point. You can see that this aggregation also helps their blog ratings.
Zoho provides open APIs and plug-ins to MS Office. These allow you to save Office data into Zoho for online group work. Raju said that their biggest competitor is Google. However, Google’s entry into the market in 2006 was a big plus for Zoho as it helped validate the market. There is plenty to go around and many people want an alternative to Google. There is often a split between online collaborative tools and desktop personal productivity tools. Some collaborative tool vendors are offering MS Office integration. Zoho does this also but, in addition, they offer a way to get out of siloed desktop apps all together.
Here is a good example of how Zoho can help a small business. Integra Technology Consulting is a
30 person company that uses Zoho. David Russo is a director there and has this to say about Zoho, "I highly endorse the use of Zoho Online Office Suite. I use it regularly because my clients don't always let me
bring my laptop into their facilities, so to have access to my documents, spreadsheets, project plans and presentations, I rely on Zoho Online Office Suite. The recent feature release of working offline via
Google Gears is terrific because it reduces my need to be online all day to do my work. I can get the documents I need in the morning, then sync up the changes at the end of the day. My children have also started using Zoho Online Office Suite for their homework at middle school and
college. The sharing capability and access from anywhere are key features for them."