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Zoom Authors a New Take on the Enterprise Ecosystem

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Zoom Authors a New Take on the Enterprise Ecosystem
    

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14 Oct 2018
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Sometimes the biggest ideas reveal themselves in the quietest of moments.

Such was the case this week for Eric Yuan, chief executive officer of Zoom, in a one-on-one chat just minutes after finishing his keynote at his company's "Zoomtopia" end-user conference held this week in San Jose.

"Video is the new voice," Yuan said in an almost matter-of-fact tone. To me, perhaps no single phrase has more neatly summarized the promise of an entire technology market since Sun Microsystems' Chief Scott

McNealy regularly preached that "the network is the computer" in the early days of the Internet age.

But Yuan was not talking like a marketer shouting a tag line. Rather, he was just stating a seemingly obvious conclusion drawn from nearly two decades of pioneering work in the enterprise collaboration field - first as the leader of the company that created WebEx and now as the man directing Zoom's ascent in the world of hosted video collaboration.

Yuan's apparent nonchalance, though, is no excuse to overlook the implications of "video is the new voice." For the careful listener, the phrase can serve as the Rosetta Stone helping to unlock the underlying meaning to be drawn from a bevy of announcements made by Zoom at what will likely be remembered as a landmark end-user conference for the company.

If you happen to believe that "video is the new voice," (as Yuan and Zoom do), then this year's Zoomtopia can be considered nothing short of an audacious land grab with Zoom pulling all the levers at its disposal to inject itself into the middle of a new breed of enterprise communications ecosystem.

The beauty behind "video is the new voice" is that its meaning runs several layers deep and can be equally relevant to technology novices and industry veterans alike. The most direct meaning, of course, suggests that younger users accustomed to using video technologies will eschew audio calls in favor of richer, more engaging video links for real-time conversations. It's a vision that implies that workers of the future will do quick-hit information exchange via text and graduate directly to video when needing to talk directly. In this world, audio calls are seen as more cumbersome than texting and less engaging than video - a combination that will ultimately make audio seem like the enterprise communications' market equivalent to the buggy whip.

How soon this will happen is anybody's guess, of course. It took nearly two decades before McNealy's "network is the computer" vision became fully recognized in today's cloud computing revolution. "Video is the new voice" very well could follow a similar time trajectory. But once it arrives, it will have massive ramifications for the enterprise.

Though I spend most of my waking hours thinking about how video is used in the business setting, even I must acknowledge that audio rules the enterprise communications roost in today's market. From web conferencing tools to unified communications platforms, the bulk of collaboration activity hinges on using audio calls blended to some extent with on-screen data sharing. No matter the application used, audio is the fabric that knits together the collaboration experience.

But let's think about a world where video does become the new voice and emerges as the center of gravity of the enterprise communications experience. Viewed through this prism, the product direction unveiled by Zoom this week takes on a whole new meaning.

Take the introduction of ZoomVoice - the integration of a cloud-based PBX and soft phone capabilities into the Zoom service slated for commercial roll-out in the first quarter of 2019. At first glance, the feature looks like an effort to catch up with comparable phone offerings seen from the likes of Microsoft's Office 365 Cloud PBX and Google's pending Voice integration to Hangouts, in addition to the universe of native UCaaS providers like RingCentral, 8x8, and Vonage Business.

Zoom Head of Product Management Oded Gal introduces Zoom Voice

But when viewed from a "video is the new voice" perspective, the Zoom voice capabilities appear to be less focused on building product parity and instead should be seen as a bridge that makes it easier to introduce traditional audio users into the world of video-enriched communications. This direction makes a lot of sense, and likely resonates with those enterprises who find their teams spending more time collaborating on a meeting platform than making point-to-point traditional phone calls.

Already Zoom is making headway in transforming audio usage patterns in the enterprise. The Zoom client already appears to foster greater use of no-fee Voice over IP options compared to metered public switched telephone network (PTSN) alternatives, at least according to end-users speaking at the Zoomtopia conference this week.

IT executives from Wal-Mart, for instance, spoke at Zoomtopia this week about the retailer's global implementation of Zoom during the year. Prior to putting Zoom into place, roughly half of the company's 60 million meeting minutes per month were carried on PTSN. That total has dropped to just 22% of all conferencing minutes used by the company now that Zoom is in use, Wal-Mart executives say. Integration of a full soft phone provides another tool for pushing audio traffic online, trimming costs while getting end-users exposed to video alternatives.

While working to make itself more audio friendly, Zoom continues its march on the traditional video front, as well. The company drew a ton of Zoomtopia attention by announcing plans for creating dedicated room-based appliances for accessing the Zoom service with a range of manufacturers including Dell, Polycom, HP and Crestron. 

The company also announced some nifty plans for enhancing chroma keying capabilities. By the end of the year, Zoom desktop users will be able to use the Zoom system to superimpose static backgrounds behind presenters without necessarily having to use green screen backdrops. The chroma capabilities already are available on selected iOS mobile devices (iPhone 8 and higher)

Even as the core video capabilities improve, Zoom is making itself more relevant to enterprise communications that could complement its offerings. At this week's conference, the company announced the launch of an "app marketplace" for software solutions designed to run in conjunction with the Zoom platform. In the Zoomtopia keynote, the company showcased the add-on features of Chorus, a company that uses machine intelligence to track sales reps' performance during sales calls. Zoom envisions a host of other applications to be offered in the marketplace to provide enhanced scheduling and specialized applications tuned for specific markets, such as tele-medicine.

While establishing a marketplace designed to help outside developers, Zoom at the conference also announced plans to inject its video capabilities into offerings from collaboration solution provider Atlassian and file sharing hub Dropbox. In both cases, the companies said they have made minority investments investments in Zoom, giving each a financial incentive to weave Zoom's capabilities into their product solutions.

In the case of Dropbox, that means making it easier to retrieve a Dropbox file for those using the Zoom services while making it easier for Dropbox users to initiate a Zoom meeting at they are reviewing a file in the Dropbox workspace. Likewise, Atlassian will bake in capabilities that make it easier for its users to launch a Zoom meeting incorporating Atlassian collaboration capabilities.

Put all the Zoomtopia announcements together and you get a portrait of a company aggressively pushing to insert Zoom video into every existing communication and collaboration process. It's building bridges to make it easier for audio users to get exposed to video alternatives. It's stepping up efforts to get into rooms. It's making its core service snazzier. It is serving itself up as the video anchor for outside developers, and it is injecting itself into the workflow of several flagship applications needed for a comprehensive enterprise workflow.

Simply put, this is a company that is "going for it." Wherever video lives - in the conference room, on the desktop, embedded in other applications - Zoom is seeking a role in enabling that video. And - in a world where video ultimately does become the new voice - that would place Zoom at the epicenter of the enterprise communications conversation.

Yet it would be a mistake to begin viewing Zoom as just another contender with aspirations of building an entire suite of communications and productivity solutions under a single Zoom umbrella to compete with the Microsoft and Google universes. Rather, the partnerships with Dropbox and Atlassian - as well as the move to launch an app marketplace of its own - hints at a Zoom that would much rather become the supplier of video (and audio) capabilities integrated with an array of best-of-breed stand-alone enterprise productivity solutions.

So, what does Yuan think? Is it possible to create a federation of interlinked stand-alone companies that can integrate a suite of siloed solutions to create an ecosystem that serves as a viable alternative to enterprise worlds now being developed by Microsoft and Google?

"I don't know," Yuan says. "But I hope so."