Zoho zips up digital teamwork with WorkDrive document sharing

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright November 8, 2019
Zoho WorkDrive rounds out the cloud-based business application vendor's digital teamwork capabilities, offering an all-in-one collaborative canvas

Business team hands joining jigsaw pieces in cloudy blue sky © hin255 - Fotolia.com
(© hin255 - Fotolia.com)

In the same week as announcing it has reached the milestone of 50 million business users, Zoho has launched an all-new digital file sharing app, WorkDrive. This rounds out an impressive digital teamwork proposition at the heart of its comprehensive suite of business tools.

WorkDrive is a team-centric replacement for the old Zoho Docs app, which provided cloud-based file management for individuals. The new product reflects how much the world has moved on in the past decade, says Vijay Sundaram, Zoho's Chief Strategy Officer:

We've seen document collaboration change fundamentally in the world of teams.

Zoho Docs was for a consumer, individual audience. We had to reverse it from the individual to the team and make it something that underpins all the business applications.

The cornerstone of WorkDrive is, it's built around the team. The unit of engagement is not the individual any more. You set up your WorkDrive to reflect the teams in your business, which can be overlapping teams, and the system just works. When you create a document in the team folder, it's automatically a team document.

This is all underpinned by the Zoho platform's built-in directory services, ensuring that access permissions are handled automatically, based on predefined roles. There's flexibility to vary permissions on the fly, so that if someone tries to share a document or folder with someone who doesn't have the right permissions — such as an external collaborator — a pop-up allows them to easily grant permission, if they have the necessary rights. There are admin, audit and reporting functions to ensure all this can be managed and tracked at a team or enterprise level.

Bringing teamwork into applications

The move from individual to team collaboration is similar to the evolution undergone by other file-sharing platforms, most notably Dropbox, but Zoho believes its mix of productivity, teamwork and business tools gives it a unique edge over other teamwork vendors, including Box, Dropbox, Slack, Google and Microsoft, as Sundaram explains:

We have a full-fledged office suite — that's a fundamental differentiator with the pure storage guys.

Where we differentiate from Microsoft and Google is the fact that we are totally integrated with business products and business software.

Whereas other digital teamwork vendors rely on integrations to connect their platforms into the business applications people use every day, Zoho offers its small business and midmarket customers a full range of business applications all running on the same platform — as well as integration options to third-party functionality. This means that WorkDrive — working alongside various other Zoho teamwork applications such as Cliq messaging and Orchestly workflow management — can make documents available in the appropriate context throughout an end-to-end business process, says Sundaram:

A proposal may turn into a sales contract and then into a service level agreement. In this case, the customer engagement went from prospecting, to sales, to service management. By understanding the connections between these documents — hence their underlying context — a documentation management system can connect and engage the relevant people.

Collaboration platform

This is all enabled by a unified file system at the platform level, which Zoho is in the process of extending across all of its business applications. The goal is to have any relevant data from each application available as context for the documents in WorkDrive. The file system also has access to system-level services within the Zoho platform, so that WorkDrive inherits functions ranging from encryption and virus protection to file preview, image recognition, grammar checking and intelligent search.

To coincide with the release of WorkDrive, Zoho has updated its Workplace collaboration suite. There is now a user-customizable dashboard that incorporates widgets from each of the teamwork apps, including Cliq, Connect, Meeting and WorkDrive for messaging and collaboration, productivity apps Writer, Sheet and Show, along with Notebook and Mail, and on-demand training app ShowTime.

WorkDrive also has integrations to Gmail and Microsoft Office, with the ability to attach WorkDrive files from directly with Gmail, or access WorkDrive as a menu option within Office applications. Files saved in WorkDrive can be opened directly into the relevant Office app.

WorkDrive comes with the Zoho Office suite of Writer, Sheet, and Show built in, or is available as part of either the Workplace suite or the complete Zoho One suite of more than 45 business applications.

My take

When I recently wrote about the need for enterprises to organize digital teamwork tools into a collaborative canvas across the organization, I wrote that "no one vendor offers a complete collaborative canvas." It looks like I may soon have to revise that verdict. Zoho still has to round out some functionality and application integrations, but its offering now ticks all of the important boxes.

What is particularly impressive is its ability to cater to all four of the main teamwork patterns that a collaborative canvas must support. It already has conversation and messaging, WorkDrive adds content, and its offerings in both workflow and applications are particularly strong. The underlying Zoho platform completes the four other crucial components of sync, search, permissions and identity.

In Zoho's core market among small and mid-sized businesses, there's a lot of appeal in having everything on a single platform. There are some exceptions — I've written about the new breed of fast-growing digital businesses who are happy to stitch together a patchwork of dozens or even hundreds of best-of-breed applications. But the majority of businesses don't want to build a big IT function to do this work. They want to focus resources on their core operations, and have someone else worry about tying it all together.

So while there's a lot of attention being paid to the rapid growth and high ambition of the likes of Slack, Box, Dropbox and others, the mainstream business market still leans towards vendors that can offer an integrated suite. That means business application vendors in the midmarket need to offer built-in digital teamwork capabilities rather than counting on their customers plugging in a third party product — some will want to, but many will prefer their vendor to do it for them. This is a market where Zoho now has a very strong offering.

And with 50 million global users already, even though not all of them are currently using these teamwork tools, Zoho can claim a global footprint that's in the same league as these other players. While it's not as large as the 200 million claimed for Office 365, it certainly overshadows the spat between Slack and Microsoft Teams over user numbers in the 12-13 million range, or Dropbox's 14 million. With its newly revamped offering, Zoho has to be considered a serious contender here.

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