Outlook 2021: Work From Home Culture Has Brought Cloud-Based Apps into the Limelight

Hyther Nizam, the President for MEA at Zoho Corp. speaks about the opportunities to look forward to, in 2021

How was 2020 for the industry and your company?
The IT industry has undergone a dramatic shift this year, moving completely to a remote work model. This was a major challenge for IT companies, who had to quickly align their workforce to this operating model. This year also brought great opportunities for IT companies to serve the digital transformation needs of enterprises.

As for Zoho, we have managed to do well during the pandemic. Because of the lockdown and the growing remote working trend, businesses have turned to cloud solutions that enable continuous operations from afar without worrying about IT support. We have benefited immensely from this trend. Customers, particularly SMEs, have become more rational and cost-conscious in their buying decisions as part of their pivotal measures. Customers today prefer flexible pay-as-you-go plans and Zoho offers exactly that, subscription-based pricing with monthly payment models, which businesses can try, use, and then upgrade.

What sort of opportunities did 2020 bring along?
The Work-from-Home culture has brought cloud-based apps into the limelight. The Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) industry provided businesses the required tools to stay relevant to their clients, and having the broadest portfolio of business applications has placed us in a good position in the market. Particularly, our enterprise collaboration, communication, and productivity tools such as Zoho Meeting (online meeting and conferencing) have seen a massive surge in demand. We have also launched applications like Bigin, a pipeline-centric CRM for micro and small businesses.

Did you face any challenges in 2020?
One of the key challenges was managing the customer churn induced by the global pandemic. The tough times are hardly over but we have been able to retain our customers by extending priority support as well as subscription fee waivers through a set of relief programmes.

Another challenge was to make sure our business partners stayed on course. We understood their predicament and accommodated deferred payment requests to soften the cash flow impact. We also used this as an opportunity to provide our partners with in-depth training about our suite of 45+ applications and also equip them with the know-how to optimize revenue and future-proof their business.

What were your key achievements in 2020?
This year has been difficult for all businesses, and that is true for us as well as our customers. We adopted the approach of transnational localism, where we rooted our growth in serving the local community and economy. We helped our customers, other businesses, and the local community with various initiatives like Vertical Relief Programme and Small Business Emergency Subscription Assistance Programme. We were fortunate because we benefited from the rise in demand for cloud software, integrated platforms, and cost-effective solutions. We have managed to do decently well, and many of our customers who had availed relief with our programmes have also managed to get back on their feet.

In continuation of our transnational localism approach, we partnered with Dubai Economy and BNI for helping businesses in the UAE digitise their operations by lowering the entry barrier to enterprise-grade software. More than 500 businesses have already benefited from our partnership with Dubai Economy.

What promises does 2021 bring along?
The pandemic has forced businesses to adopt value-conscious approaches to remain financially viable. Today, businesses understand the benefits of such cost savings and are skeptical about reverting to their pre-pandemic expenditure levels. So customers will become even more rational in their IT spending and as a result, vendors who provide great value at an affordable cost have better chances at survival in 2021.

Considering the SaaS market particularly, we are going to see more consolidation down the line, and vendors providing end-to-end solutions will be most preferred. The recent Slack acquisition by Salesforce is testimony to where the market is heading. At Zoho, we already have Zoho Cliq which competes with Slack and is available at a fraction of Slack’s cost. Zoho Cliq also comes with built-in integrations and extensible options that allow it to work seamlessly with other Zoho apps as well as 50+ third-party apps without writing any code.

Do you see opportunities in the regional markets with new markets opening up?
Our flagship offering, Zoho One, which packages all 45+ apps as one solution with unified pricing is really attractive for regional markets, especially among SMBs. We will focus on making Zoho One available in each market with local pricing and support integrations with local payment gateway vendors. Zoho One is a compelling offering to navigate into regional markets.

Aside from working with government bodies and business accelerators to support local businesses, we are also engaging with service providers who are interested in packaging out offerings into their solutions. We recently entered into a partnership with Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), which has a presence across 46 nations. This is a great opportunity for us to accelerate our upmarket momentum in the large enterprises segment.

What will be your key focus areas for 2021?
Transnational Localism – Going forward, we will adopt a “think global, act local” model which we refer to as ‘Transnational Localism’. We will be setting up local offices in major GCC markets with local hiring to provide the best customer experience across our sales, consulting, and support services. We will also concentrate on local community upliftment and contribute to regional technology advancement initiatives wherever possible.

Creating the right self-service content for our partners and customers – Our focus is on top-of-the-funnel content that is deeply educative. We will create an expansive database of self-service materials and knowledge base to help our prospects quickly choose the right software for each of their functional and departmental needs so that they can direct their time towards growing their business rather than figuring out technicals.

Our commitment to privacy – We will continue to build products that uphold our strong data privacy and security policies. Zoho does not allow any third-party trackers to monitor usage behaviour and will never sell any customer data to ad-based companies. Because Zoho has built its entire technology stack from scratch, we are able to offer the most secure experience to our users without any compromise on data privacy. Users have our assurance that their data is confidential and protected, and only users themselves maintain the ownership of the data.

What milestones have you set for 2021?
GCC is one of the top five growth markets for Zoho. We want to double down on this momentum through increased adoption and usage of our products. Zoho One has 45+ apps, we want to widen product usage inside Zoho One so that our customers derive the best value for what they are paying for. User registration is the ultimate business driver and we aim to reach millions of new users in the region in the coming years.

What would you like to do differently in 2021, when compared with 2020?
Provided the pandemic effects wear off in the next few months and situations improve, we will have more physical meetings with our customers and prospects. Virtual meetings cannot replace personal interactions. At the same time, we will also embrace the new norm where some customers would still prefer virtual meetings. The needs will differ in every country and market and we need to align our team to meet such local demands.

Since we anticipate more consolidation in the SaaS market, we also need to build expertise to assist customer migrations from local and global vendors as they move away from expensive solutions.

Do you plan to enter new markets or add new products/applications to your portfolio in 2021?
Yes, we will open offices in all major markets soon. We are strengthening our channel too. We make certain that assistance is provided in every form to our channel partners in order to jointly provide the best customer experience. We are also planning a couple of new products that cater to niche business functions and fill the gaps in our offering, while also improving our existing offerings.

GCC is a strategic market for Zoho and we are deeply committed to it. We will expand our product offerings with local flavors like local payment gateway integration, local taxation, and VAT support, etc. We want to emerge as the trusted software provider that is seen as a compelling, value-rich alternative to expensive solutions.

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Chris Fernando

Chris N. Fernando is an experienced media professional with over two decades of journalistic experience. He is the Editor of Arabian Reseller magazine, the authoritative guide to the regional IT industry. Follow him on Twitter (@chris508) and Instagram (@chris2508).

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