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  • SAAS RESEARCH

    SAAS RESEARCH

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Techaisle Blog

Insightful research, flexible data, and deep analysis by a global SMB IT Market Research and Industry Analyst organization dedicated to tracking the Future of SMBs and Channels.

Culture is the strongest foundation of Zoho and applications are its biggest strength

Five years ago, I flew in from Newark into Mineta San Jose International Airport. At the baggage claim carousel, I noticed a massive advertisement of Zoho with the tag line – operating system for the business. I was both intrigued and non-committal. It was my first introduction to the company. Before that day, I had either not paid attention or had not come across the name. When I reached home, I sent an email to my team with a question, does Zoho appear in any of the surveys as a cloud business application that SMBs and midmarket firms are using. Two hours later, nearly midnight, I was pinged by my overseas team with an answer. Zoho's penetration had been increasing since 2009. I still did not give Zoho the serious consideration that it deserved. In 2019, during my several visits to Dell Technologies' events, I began noticing the remarkably colorful Zoho banners at the Austin, TX airport. During the same timeframe, the number of inquiries from our SMB panel of respondents seeking our take on Zoho increased. I knew I had to call Zoho's analyst relations, and I did. It was a turning point. I contacted a company where customers come for the products and get enriched by Zoho's ethos.

I first met Sridhar Vembu, CEO, Zoho, in January 2020. Unassuming, unpretentious, and unassertive, he was standing in his "chappals" and "bush shirt." He poured out his passion for building a company that cares for the underserved communities, hires, educates, and develops talent from underprivileged families. He is committed to keeping Zoho private and debt-free, fiercely protect its customers' privacy and security, and spread its offices in the rural areas of India, the US, Europe, and Japan. I knew I had to learn more. Soon enough, I also got swept up into Zoho's product portfolio. A collection of 50+ apps running on single database architecture and purpose-built on Zoho technology stack consisting of services, software infrastructure, network infrastructure, and hardware infrastructure deployed on Zoho's data centers to ensure performance availability, security, and privacy. It is not for small businesses only. Zoho's fastest-growing market segment is the midmarket. Salesforce, Microsoft, and SAP are the established brands within the midmarket; Zoho is the challenger, not by deliberate design but by a sheer and silent commitment to customer success. I have interacted with many Zoho senior executives, product evangelists, and customers in the last year. The pervasiveness of genuine fondness to learn, desire to challenge the status quo, develop themselves as great human beings and develop solutions that exceed customer expectations is palpable. Zoho has as many micro-cultures as there are apps, fifty.

Zoho has been 25 years in the making. With 9000+ employees, 60+ million users in 180+ countries, annualized 5-year revenue growth of 34%, and a 97% customer retention rate, Zoho seems to be just getting started. Using a hub and spoke model – major city and adjacent rural areas – Zoho has opened 15+ small offices in the past six months to support local economies and partnerships. Sridhar Vembu, the recipient of Padma Shri, one of India's highest civilian honors, calls the model a cloud-enabled rural revival. He returned to India from the US in September 2019 and has settled in a small rural village, Tenkasi, where even the street lights are non-existent.

Sridhar is setting the tone for the next 25 years. He aims to continue enhancing a vertically integrated technology stack (from the data center to applications) and building horizontal integration where different groups, micro-cultures, and departments feel empowered and collaborate seamlessly. The deep-seated culture is evident in the enthusiasm of Zoho's empathy and responsiveness to the pandemic. It instituted a 6-month subscription waiver for small businesses. To meet remote workers' needs, it launched Remotely, a suite of 11 free productivity tools. To enable workplace re-opening, it has announced the BackToWork app, free for a year. For Zoho, free does not mean using customer data for monetization. Zoho does not run on public clouds, has removed all adjunct surveillance, and does not collect or store any customer data.

Zoho's latest versions of Zoho Projects and Zoho Analytics (with 1500 built-in dashboards) are comprehensive, customizable, secure, scalable, and intelligent. Zoho's universal NLP (Natural Language Processing) search – across all apps and data pillars - provides contextual answers, processes 16 million search requests a day, and performs 150 million indexing jobs a day. Zoho's offering is the Low-code platform to empower citizen developers with last-mile customizations. It incorporates many new functionalities, including Zia (Zoho's AI platform), assisted development, and sandboxing. Zoho's other recent notable offerings include the Employee experience platform and Marketing platform.

Agility is essential to managing business uncertainties. It also translates into business process automation and rapid deployment, and enhancements to business applications. Specifically, the smaller a business is, the less likely it is to have dedicated staff developing custom applications to support unique processes. From pro-code to low code to no-code, Zoho Creator Platform can appeal to a broad swath of citizen and professional developers. For citizen developers, it reduces complex functions to one-click or drag-and-drop actions. For experienced developers, Zoho has added controls to build customized applications and services from the ground up. Like everything Zoho, the platform has been 15 years in development, rendering the learning from organizations of all sizes to better user experience and scalability. For specific vertical industries for whom governance is a vital issue, the platform is SOC2 Type II and GDPR compliant. It also provides authentication, encrypted data storage, and full lifecycle management. Zoho's low code platform, Zoho Creator Platform, currently has 13,000+ paying customers, which is up by approximately 30% during the pandemic year. A testament to how the platform empowered businesses to pivot with agility to respond to employee and customer needs.

Although Zoho is known for its focus on the small business segment, which continues to grow, it also gains traction within the enterprise segment. Zoho's largest customer is IIFL, with 28,000 employees using 45 of the 50 apps. Zoho is a genuine one-of-a-kind visionary firm. It is the complete CRM platform and has the most comprehensive toolsets for hybrid, co-modal work. Its flagship, Zoho One, has over 50 products designed for multiple business needs across productivity, finance, marketing, HR solutions, etc. I am glad I made the call to Zoho analyst relations. Zoho will continue to be within Techaisle's vendor research radar for a long time. It should be on the evaluation map for SMBs, mid-market firms, and enterprise customers.

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Top 10 SMB and Midmarket Predictions for 2021

In all sectors, 2020 was a challenging year – and as a result, 2021 is challenging from a market planning perspective. The disconnect between 2020 and 2019 was so severe that it rendered spend forecasts virtually useless: IT suppliers reacted to shifting market trends in real-time. As we enter 2021, IT product and service suppliers look to create a context for understanding the range of outcomes that the new year may bring. Techaisle's 2021 report series illuminates issues and requirements in the vast SMB market to support that effort. To start 2021, here are our top 10 predictions.

1. Digital inequality will be more important than the digital divide
2. Quest for reinvention, innovation, resiliency will drive bursts of incremental transformation goals
3. The hybrid workplace will require HR focus and drive adoption of workspace, workflow solutions
4. Meaningful customer partners and not trusted advisors will determine supplier success
5. Pragmatism will overtake progressiveness in technology adoption for a future-ready organization
6. Requirements for automation and enhanced IT services will become time-critical
7. Security and risk mitigation will focus on a safe middle ground
8. Systems of insight will move into the analytics mainstream
9. AI will arrive as a capability integrated within other solutions
10. Open source adoption will become an indicator of cloud success

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Zoho addressing the Rule of 5 for SMBs and Midmarket firms

The first entry point to cloud for 51% of SMBs has been SaaS (cloud business applications). However, most businesses often obtain only fragments of cloud’s potential benefits because applications deployed usually lack the integration needed to enable a seamless enterprise-wide business process that supports agility, efficiency and growth. Discrete cloud solutions offer immediate relief from problems in many areas but disconnected cloud applications introduce friction. SMBs and midmarket firms are increasingly taking an integrated approach for a zero-friction future. The “rule of 5” refers to sources of complexity in an SMB and midmarket firm’s business related to:

1. Information timeliness/accuracy problems
2. The problem of incomplete information
3. Business process problems
4. Customer service and experience problems
5. Cost and consistency problems

This is where Zoho steps in. Zoho One - Zoho’s flagship cloud-solution, marketed as the operating system for the business, runs on a unified database with a unified data model with data pillars that enable seamless integration to deliver single truth for the business empowering users with a unified experience. A collection of 45+ apps running on a single database architecture and purpose-built on Zoho technology stack - services, software, hardware and network infrastructure - deployed on Zoho’s own global datacenters ensures performance, availability, security and privacy. Clearly, a visionary design architecture, which is being replicated by other CRM and ERP-focused vendors. But Zoho is ahead.

Why Zoho has the right solution to address the “Rule of 5”

Zoho’s secret sauce lies in its interconnected set of data pillars that feed all relevant apps. Each data pillar contains very specific metadata of employees, communications, customer information and opportunities, finance, assets, and inventory. Consistency has a lot to do with vertically integrated systems, a design paradigm that Zoho follows religiously. Although Zoho One is the holy grail for digitalizing business processes, most Zoho customers use a set of nine apps: CRM, Analytics, Books, SalesIQ, Expense, Invoice, People, Social, Inventory.

Zoho has the right solution to address the “rule of 5”.

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Accelerating Artificial Intelligence adoption within SMBs and midmarket despite budget constraints

Techaisle’s survey research of 1256 US SMBs shows that 9% of small businesses and 29% of midmarket firms are either currently using artificial intelligence (AI) or are conducting pilots. Comparing data from last year indicates an increase of 80% within small businesses and only 12% increase in midmarket firms. Answer to slower rate of adoption within midmarket firms is present in several follow-up questions. 53% of midmarket firms are finding that AI technology and expertise is too expensive and does not fit within their current budgets. In addition, 42% of midmarket CIOs say that the importance of AI, its benefits and immediate returns are not clear to the executive management thus hindering adoption. As a result, in only 10% of midmarket firms, AI has been designated as a technology priority for internal IT staff. However, of the 36% of midmarket firms that are planning to deploy AI, 31% are conducting trials. This number has nearly doubled from 17% a year ago.

For all of SMBs, data shows that use of AI is among the top 20 on the list of IT priorities for 2020. Cloud, mobility, security, managed services, HCI, unified workspace, SD-WAN, analytics, collaboration and virtualization have higher priorities. This opens up opportunities for channel partners, consultants and AI-technology suppliers to not only evangelize use cases but also build a blueprint for easy understanding, deployment alacrity of AI solutions that can deliver previously unimaginable business outcomes.

The entry point for most SMBs is when AI is embedded in cloud business applications. 25% of small businesses are contemplating using AI for HR and recruiting, a challenge that small business owners constantly face.

Not only is the adoption trend different between small and midmarket businesses, the expected benefits and application usages also differ. 41% of small businesses believe that use of AI in improving customer experience will be integral to their business success whereas 30% of midmarket firms believe that use of AI in fraud analytics and 27% in web/social media analytics will help drive better operational excellence and customer intimacy. For example, a midmarket firm that provides hostel and budget accommodations wanted to deliver analysis and personalized communication to over 500 micro consumer segments. After adopting AI tools from Persado (a marketing language cloud that uses AI-generated language for digital marketing) enabled the company to deliver more precise marketing content resulting in double-digit engagement uplifts and improved customer loyalty.

In fact, survey shows that customer experience improvements and strategic operational excellence are becoming the SMB themes for 2020 and beyond which will likely drive adoption of analytics and AI. 38% of small businesses believe that the use of AI will provide benefits to their customer support, sales/marketing teams as well as assist the entire organization in driving better business strategy. Similarly, 43% of midmarket firms believe that pervasive use of AI could provide benefits to make more informed strategic decisions.

All data and analysis in Techaisle’s upcoming research report SMB and Midmarket Analytics / Artificial Adoption trends.

techaisle us smallbusiness ai adoption trends 450

techaisle us midmarket ai adoption trends 450

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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