Skype, FaceTime and now Zoom.
Each of the past several iterations of videoconferencing have a few things in common. First, they became part of the consumer lexicon, becoming verbs, in fact. Second, they became popular because of their use by, and availability to the general consumer. Only Zoom, however, grew at what can be described as an explosive pace. Yes, the pandemic is the main reason for this huge uptake, but as many others have pointed out over time, it is also because Zoom just works! Not only does it work, but it is free to consumers. Once people start using the product at home, they quickly want to see it at work — and the product is easy to use in both environments. FaceTime is perhaps as easy to use as Zoom, but it never intended to be an enterprise product and is limited to use by people in the Apple ecosystem. Since most businesses do not use Apple products, it is never going to gain that corporate foothold. This is the opposite of Teams, where the product is only available to the corporate environment, so is never going to catch on in the consumer environment. Plus, it’s hard to imagine Team ever being a verb. Who would ever say, “Let’s Team.”
Here is where the Zoom story gets really interesting though; while the company is providing this service to the consumer market, it is also developing an impressive enterprise product. The enterprise product is also the perfect example of what UCaaS (Unified Communication as a Service) really is. In fact, this year Zoom was named as the leader by Gartner in the UCaaS magic quadrant.
For several years, Zoom has been developing a cloud phone product to replace your standard POTS system in the corporate environment. Its service provides all the major needs of a corporate phone system including auto attendants, voicemail, direct in dial and “phone trees.” For anyone who runs any sort of call center (including small help desk type centers), it provides services like listen, whisper, barge and take over. These allow supervisors to listen to the calls being handled by the call center, talk just to their staff, join the call that is happening and even take that call over. Along with providing a soft phone product that you use on your device (computer or cell phone), they also are compatible with a long list of traditional desktop phones. Over the past few months, several of the group email lists that I follow have CIOs talking about their experiences with the Zoom phone product — and they are impressed. There is a general concern with the cost (it’s steeper than other products), but in general, people feel that the service it provides is worth the extra cost.
The other piece of Zoom’s unified communication service is its text-based chat. Most people who have used Zoom have used its chat service while in a videoconference. Are you aware, however, of the robust chat features outside of videoconferencing? The Zoom app itself has a button on the top for chat. Take a moment and open up your application right now. Take a look at it — because it is likely to surprise you. The chat features the company is developing are very similar to a Slack or Teams environment. You can chat directly with people in your organization, and you can create channels to chat with groups of people. It shows you who is online, offline and whether they are in a video meeting. Since Zoom already integrates Google Calendar and Office 365, the chat features can show you your calendar for the day and let you know if your colleagues are busy in scheduled meetings. Just like Slack or Teams, you can also integrate other apps. Zoom’s website currently lists about 80 apps that can be integrated into the chat application.
This quiet but robust feature set puts Zoom in a very strong position against the two main competitors, Microsoft (Teams) and Salesforce. With Salesforce’s recent acquisition of Slack, there are questions about the cost and feature set of the product going forward. Slack does have some voice and video features built in and these features are nice but would need to be developed significantly to compete with Zoom. Slack would have a difficult time getting the type of buy in that Zoom already has because Slack does not appeal to the average consumer. Salesforce has never had a strategy, or product, to appeal to the consumer, and that makes sense. Never underestimate the power of an executive who uses technology at home, and then demands it end up in the workplace. I believe that consumer tie-in has been a big reason for Zoom’s massive success.
A typical Zoom workflow now looks like this: You can be chatting with a colleague about a project. You run upon a question that another colleague can answer, see if they are available and if so, bring them into the chat. If discussing it over the phone makes it quicker, one click of a button starts that call. Finally, when you think you need to share a screen, you click a button, and you are in a video call collaborating on a document. Through this entire process, every step of the way, you have not left the Zoom application. Unified Communication at its finest!