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Zoho One adds SSO, telephony, workflow, for midmarket push

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright September 12, 2019
Zoho has added new features to its flagship all-you-can-eat application suite that extend its appeal to larger midmarket businesses

Zoho One admin panel

The promise of suites is that they cover everything you need. The drawback is that there's always something else. Today, Zoho adds new services and applications to its growing Zoho One suite, with the emphasis on integration across and beyond its 40+ business applications.

Today's announcements include much to support Zoho's push into the midmarket space, with a new central administration panel, the new integration and workflow capabilities, and the launch of new premium support and implementation services for larger businesses. To cater for buyers that want to implement Zoho One in just part of their business, it has introduced a new $75 per-user pricing option in addition to the existing company-wide $30 per employee.

Zoho describes its flagship Zoho One bundle as "the operating system for businesses." Targeting small and midsize businesses — with typically a few dozen users up to a few thousand — it covers most common business needs across functions including sales and marketing, finance, HR and operations, all on a unified technology platform with built-in search, messaging, AI and other services. Customers like the predictability of having all this functionality delivered for a known price, says Raju Vegesna, Zoho's Chief Evangelist:

We have had some customers describe it as not buying software at this point, they are basically buying peace of mind. They don't want to deal with licensing every single application, negotiating multiple contracts with multiple vendors and not knowing how much their bill is going to be at the end of the month.

SSO, telephony and workflow - plus blockchain

More than 20,000 customers have signed up for Zoho One globally. Most use more than 16 of the applications and over a quarter use more than 25. Adoption typically grows over time. Today's additions to the suite cover three main areas:

  • SSO and provisioning — Zoho One now becomes the gateway to other applications with the opening up of its single sign-on (SSO) and application provisioning capabilities. This is now available to approved third-party apps as well as homegrown applications built with its own Creator tool. It supports SAML 2.0 and connects to major identity management platforms including Okta, Microsoft ADFS and Azure, Google and OneLogin. A new admin panel provides a centralized capability to manage and analyze application usage across the organization.
  • Telephony — a new Phonebridge utility connects telephony services from more than 50 providers directly into the Zoho One platform. Outbound calls can be initiated from inside any Zoho application, while incoming calls can be automatically matched to customer and prospect records in the system. Phonebridge piggybacks onto the existing messaging layer and contextual capabilities which run through the suite.
  • Business workflow — Orchestly is a new no-code tool for building business workflows that run across applications within the Zoho One suite. This makes it possible to automate end-to-end processes that cross multiple functions, such as purchase approvals, content publishing, asset management, and onboarding.

In its first step into the world of blockchain, Zoho also reveals that its electronic signature application has adopted blockchain-based timestamping through Ethereum to provide a neutral verification record of the transaction. But it's the more mundane identity and telephony services that are likely to be of most interest to midmarket buyers. Vegesna comments:

These are not really sexy, but it's very, very essential to an operating system, this digital plumbing, it has to be taken care of.

Skin in the game

Zoho's service offerings have been growing although most have been free-of-charge. Its Concierge service advises potential customers on Zoho One adoption, while Jumpstart assists through initial implementation. Enterprise customers can now also request premium support as a paid service. But Zoho will retain its commitment to free-of-charge support to ensure customers get started on the right foot, says Vegesna:

Customers commonly complain that vendors simply sell their software and disappear. They think vendors should have skin in the game, and we completely agree ... If we do not succeed implementing Zoho, we are not going to be completely paid either. So we love that approach.

He also says that Zoho will continue its policy of operating from its own data centers, rather than starting to use external cloud services or platforms.

We don't think Zoho can be built in a public cloud, especially in an economically viable manner. So we believe in taking that full stack approach to building a platform.

In the long run, we believe it is going to be a big advantage ... we are taking the hard route. But we believe that this is the right way to do it.

My take

As more and more businesses move their internal applications to the cloud, the overhead involved in getting dozens or even hundreds of different services to work together is mushrooming. As I've written recently, there's even a new breed of IT professional emerging who work with their business colleagues to help manage automation across this complex landscape. So it's no surprise that some businesses are turning instead to integrated solutions like Zoho, even though the vendor's approach is very different from the horizontally layered architecture we've seen emerging elsewhere.

In today's connected world, however, no all-in-one suite can be an island. There will always be some novel, specialized or outlying capability that's not in the suite. As Zoho moves further into larger enterprises, there's also the consideration of having to connect into the existing landscape, even if the ultimate aim is to swap in the Zoho equivalent. Large organizations generally don't go in for overnight rip-and-replace implementations. So the decision to introduce SSO and provisioning for third-party applications is a smart one. The introduction of an administrator console also shows a growing willingness at Zoho to think about and cater to the needs of larger customers.

The final element of interest here is the emergence of a set of services offerings, many of them free-of-charge, alongside others that are tailored to the expectations of larger businesses that want SLAs under contract and are prepared to pay for that premium level of service. Zoho is well aware, however, that as with any SaaS vendor, its best interests are served when customers find success with their products. Its commitment to handholding customers through the implementation process and beyond is admirable but also good business sense — provided it can manage to scale that assistance as economically as its technology platform.

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