Zoho is finally tying it all together. The business application and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) company today announced Zoho One, a unified platform and licensing model connecting its dozens of mobile, native, and web apps into a single offering. For $1 per day per employee (or $30 per employee per month), Zoho will give businesses customized access to the full Enterprise editions of its 35-plus apps through a new, centrally managed Admin Panel.
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Zoho is framing Zoho One as an "operating system [OS] for business." The notion of an OS is a bit of a misnomer as it's not actually an OS, but the idea behind it has some footing in the deep customization and management abilities you get with the new admin console. Zoho's Chief Evangelist Raju Vegesna said this is what Zoho has been building toward since 2005: a fully customizable, cloud-based platform through which you can oversee your company's apps and services—all of which come from a single vendor and integrate seamlessly with one another and with hundreds of third-party services. More importantly for businesses, Zoho One layers the user management, access control and provisioning, and security features on top to make it a viable solution for IT departments.
"These are not just individual modules. These are deep applications that can compete individually with any other vendors in the market, all coming from Zoho," said Vegesna. "We call it an operating system because it's an underlying fabric from which business can be done, end to end."
Bringing Zoho's Apps Together
Zoho One makes a lot of sense for a software company that has spent the past dozen years releasing cloud-based apps that cover just about every business category PCMag reviews. These categories include accounting and finance, customer relationship management (CRM), expense reporting, human resources (HR), low-code app development, online surveys, social media management, and more. The fact that it's taken this long for the company to unify them all under a single offering is honestly a bit surprising.
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Zoho will still license individual apps and offer bundled suites, though, and existing customers will not be forced to update their plans. Zoho currently offers three app suites: CRM Plus, the Workplace bundle, and the Zoho Finance Plus bundle. The CRM Plus suite bundles CRM and email marketing with apps such as Zoho Desk, Zoho Social, and newer apps such as Zoho SalesIQ and Zoho Motivator. The Workplace bundle is focused on workplace communication, online collaboration, and productivity, and the Zoho Finance Plus bundle packages apps such as Zoho Books, Zoho Invoice, and Zoho Inventory.
In total, the company now has all of its bases covered from small to midsize businesses (SMBs) up to large enterprise organizations. These three models—individual app licenses, bundled suites, and now an all-in-one package—represent a markedly similar approach to that of Google and Microsoft, the two biggest software giants Zoho is punching up against in many of these categories. Both technology companies offer a slew of business and productivity apps that they've gradually rolled up into SaaS offerings such as G Suite and Office 365, the latter of which has now been swept up into an even more all-encompassing business cloud package with Microsoft 365.
Zoho has more new apps in its development pipeline as well. According to Vegesna, the company plans to roll out several more apps that will be available within Zoho One, tackling business tasks and scenarios including e-commerce, mobile device management (MDM), and payroll.
Zoho One in Action
In terms of actual new software in Zoho One, the key here is the Admin Panel. From here, a company's IT department can manage security policies such as Single Sign-On (SSO) and two-factor authentication (2FA), designate admins for specific departments and teams, and provision access to specific applications and users, so that a given employee only sees the apps they're authorized to see when they log into their customized Zoho One dashboard.
Vegesna said Zoho One is also built atop a custom Zoho Directory, giving admins deeper user control when modifying specific app permissions. The platform also integrates with Active Directory (AD).
"Every single application is modified directly to systems, with the admin panel built directly on top of it to manage users, applications, security policies, etc., while respecting the directory structure," said Vegesna. "So, in the Admin Panel, the admin could create a group called Sales Team. From that group they could provision that in Zoho Chat, create a space in Zoho Docs, a group in Zoho Connect, and a project in Zoho Projects. All of this provisioning has to come from a central place."
Maybe the most interesting aspect to Zoho One is its user-driven customization. Vegesna said a user's app dashboard can also include custom apps built with Zoho Creator, the company's visual app development tool for building apps without any coding.
"What if a user needs to create their own custom applications? IT teams can now build apps they don't have using Zoho Creator, which are deployed just like any other Zoho app and respect the directory structure," said Vegesna.
Zoho has been piloting Zoho One with more than 300 customers, one of which is a small election software company called KnowInk. Based in St. Louis, MO, this 30-employee company offers tablet and mobile polling apps plus election management software, currently live in 19 states and Washington, D.C.
Timothy Vlach is a Sales Manager at KnowInk who joined the company earlier this year. Vlach has overseen the small company's evaluation process and organizational transition to a new CRM and marketing platform. Vlach told PCMag that KnowInk initially test-drove Zoho because of its 30-day free trial option, but landed on Zoho One because the cost savings and customization made the difference.
"My previous company used Salesforce, which is great software. But customizing it wasn't always the easiest and required expensive add-ons. When I came over to KnowInk to figure out how they would expand sales and marketing, I evaluated a couple solutions," said Vlach. "After I started testing out Zoho, a sales manager called up about Zoho One. The cost savings sparked the interest: no add-on prices for this module and that module, this task and that task. Then, the first night I started using it, I ended up working until midnight just customizing the CRM part of it. No instructions, all on my own, going in and setting up the fields I wanted. Then, every day, we started customizing it more and more."
Vlach said he has found the Admin Panel useful as a salesperson on the go, convenient for enabling or revoking employee app access with a button rather than going into 20 different apps. KnowInk began looking for nothing but a good CRM and marketing automation platform but Vlach said, because of how easy the platform makes it to adopt other apps at no extra cost, the company is starting to transition more aspects of the organization onto Zoho One.
"Now we're starting to work with other ones like Zoho Vault, the password keeper, and Zoho Docs, where it's easy to bring over documents without having to convert anything. The next stage we're looking at is project management [PM] and bug tracking for our development team. You don't have to do it all at once so we've been able to slowly grow into the product."