Amidst all the privacy and security concerns, Zoom has witnessed a surge in the number of participants, from 10 million to 300 million, in a span of just three months. In an interaction with CRN, Sameer Raje, General Manager and Head of India, Zoom Video Communications shares the success story and the compelling reasons behind the worldwide acceptance of the company’s unified communication platform
It is said that challenges lead to opportunities. How has Zoom transformed the current challenges into opportunities for growth?
In the area of collaboration tools per se, India was a little bit behind in adoption of cloud-based collaboration services. While certain industries have been leveraging these solutions, it is still lagging in many sectors. The COVID-19 situation has put the adoption of UCC tools in a fast-forward mode and expedited the acceptance of these solutions. Even though people are probably not aware of cloud-based collaboration services, they know video conferencing solutions do exist in the industry.
Secondly, this unprecedented condition has forced us to think in a very different manner. Life after COVID-19 will not remain the same. So far, we don’t know what’s going to happen even if the lockdown is lifted or after the pandemic ends. People are going to be hesitant to travel. The entire thought process has changed over time.
Thirdly, there’s an emergence of a completely new line of business wherein enterprises, schools, colleges, doctors are adopting innovative technologies to stay connected. For instance, coaching classes or tutors have started teaching virtually. IIMs are launching a full-time executive MBA course on our platform using virtual tools.
Unified communication is not new, but it was not much talked about in the industry. Do you agree that the current scenario has brought back the discussions revolving around UCC platforms and made it mainstream technology?
Our platform, Zoom, is a unified communication platform. Zoom takes friction out of every aspect of video communication, from purchase and deployment to everyday use and management. Zoom brings mobile devices, desktops, phones, and conference rooms together, and provides a consistent, intuitive experience across devices and spaces.
We also have Zoom Rooms to share files, websites, and other content across the internet during a meeting. This means you can communicate seamlessly without stopping the meeting. With the one-of-a-kind Zoom Rooms, Zoom tackles the three biggest pain points of the conference room – booking a meeting, starting a meeting, and sharing content. These are the reasons why our platform is a complete UC platform and has seen so much of success.
Do you agree that popularity of your platform with features like Zoom Rooms has compelled other players to come up with some innovation in their offerings? How are you looking to stay ahead in this competitive landscape?
I think the reason where we have reached today is for the fact that we are closest to our customers. We always listen to their requirements, take feedback, and incorporate their suggestions into our solution. It’s all about the customer for us.
We have an edge over our competitors and we don’t really look at what they are doing. We will continue to progress ahead and look at what our customers want. If there are more customers or competitors in the market, then we are going to emerge more stronger, as this will help us develop more features in our offerings. We have always been the leader and the leadership position comes from listening to the customers and not looking at what the competition is doing. We will continue to be close to our customers and continue giving them what they want.
Zoom has received an overwhelming response, wherein it has crossed 300 million participants globally. However, this popularity has been surrounded by the privacy and security concerns. How far have you been able to resolve those privacy and security issues and what sort of efforts are being put to win back users’ trust?
One can look at Zoom as a platform and it has always been a secure platform from the beginning. And that’s the reason why so many customers across the globe are conveniently using it. It has always been an enterprise grade platform, wherein as a user, you have to follow a certain discipline and be aware of using the tool in a certain way. For instance, there are different ways in which we use an official device as against a personal one. But with the COVID-19 situation, we saw a very different kind of users coming on board; we had not anticipated this trend.
While being at home, people are using Zoom for socialising like house parties or getting married or just having a friendly conversation. Besides, we allowed schools to use our platform at no cost. This platform is available in more than 20 countries and more than 90,000 schools have signed up for our services. When these new users came on board, they brought in a different usage pattern. For them, it is about simplicity, wherein everything is done at a click of a button.
Secondly, we witnessed a humongous surge in the number of participants – a jump from 10 million to 300 million in a span of 12 weeks. To get this kind of growth for any organisation, even a period of two years is not enough, but we achieved it in a very short span of time.
In terms of privacy and security concerns, we have tried to address them in the best possible way. Firstly, we took upon ourselves to coach and guide new users who were coming on board. We have elevated some of the security features in our platform like hiding the Zoom Meeting ID, making it less visible to users and in turn, preventing unintended sharing on places like social media. We have also added a new security icon to the Zoom meeting controls for all hosts to help them quickly access in-meeting security features, including the ability to remove participants and lock meetings, among other actions.
We have forced some safety protocols, especially in classroom sessions. For example, users cannot start a meeting without a password. We have enabled meeting rooms so that students should seek permission from the teacher to enter the session. Also, the host has been given the facility to limit screen-sharing while hosting kids less than 16 years of age. We have also made some safety features mandatory to pop-up in case the teacher forgets to activate them during the live session.
For every meeting, setting up password is mandatory and we are advising people not to share passwords on social media. With the help of our blogs and websites, we are constantly sharing the do’s and don’ts with individual users.
As far as the enterprise users are concerned, we took corrective measures and fixed the issues in less than 24 hours. Additionally, we brought in three upgrades in less than 14 days. The fourth one is supposed to be released shortly, which is going to be called Zoom 5.0. With this, we will be able to take our secure and robust platform to the next level. When the subsequent versions of Zoom will come out, it will probably be three or four generations ahead of any of the solutions available in the market.
For example, we were already providing the industry grade encryption and now we have taken it to the next level with AES 256-bit GCM encryption, which provides more protection and greater resistance to tampering. I am sure this is rarely used by other players in the market.
We have also brought in a host of other security features. We have created a 90-day plan and set up a CISO committee, wherein leading CISOs are on the panel, advising us in terms of the best practices. There is a weekly progress report, which is getting published on our website and blog through which, we are keeping the users informed.
Recently, the government issued an advisory against the usage of Zoom in the country. What proactive measures are being taken to address the issues raised?
Firstly, we are constantly communicating with the people about what all the processes and security protocols that need to be followed while using the platform. We are also reaching out to them through various mediums and trying to give them a clear picture of how Zoom platform works.
For the enterprise customers, I am very sure about their stickiness with us. Whenever they have raised questions, we have given them the requisite information and clarification and also provided them the technical support if required.
With regards to the Government of India, we have reached out to them, sharing all the necessary information pertaining to security, privacy, and robustness of our platform and tried to convince them on how safe and secure the users are.
Zoom takes user security extremely seriously. A large number of global institutions ranging from the world’s largest financial services companies and telecommunications providers, to non-governmental organisations and government agencies, have done exhaustive security reviews of our user, network and data centre layers and continue to use Zoom for most or all of their unified communications needs.
Is it true that the Zoom platform was initially designed for the enterprise segment, but with COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, it has now become a mass product?
It’s absolutely correct. Zoom is an enterprise product which was developed keeping in mind the requirement of large organisations. And yes, we had not anticipated this kind of mass response. In fact, we didn’t imagine that the platform will be used by individuals or consumers at such a large scale wherein they will either socialise, or get married or for that matter, use it for any other personal reasons.
If you’re attending a Zoom meeting via a laptop or mobile device, it is totally encrypted. But you also need to understand that this is a collaboration platform and not a one-to-one calling tool. The moment you bring in a third-party tool into it, the questions related to encryption will be raised.
When you make a phone call to join a Zoom meeting to a Zoom cloud, it is not encrypted. It gets encrypted only from the Zoom cloud. When additional tools and platforms like PSTN audio conferencing are brought into the Zoom cloud, this is where the encryption pattern changes and might lead to the platform getting infected.
Tell us about your operations in the India market
In India, we officially commenced our operations in September 2019. Currently, we have two data centres – one in Mumbai and other in Hyderabad. These are not development centres, but used for data routing. We work with partners to do deployments in the enterprise segment. Currently, we have partnered with some of the leading telcos in India.
Apart from these, we also have partnerships with a lot of AV integrators who not only resell our services, but also successfully deploy them at the customer end.
Looking at the market response towards Zoom platform, have you designed a go-to-market strategy for 2020 and beyond?
Post the onset of the COVID-19 situation, we’ve been working day and night to ensure continuous services and support to educational institutes, healthcare people, and governments. We are also providing business continuity plans to large organisations.
Having said that, our growth in the India market will be in line with the global projections and plans. At this point of time, we don’t have any answer in terms of what we are going to do six months down the line or next year. Right now, our complete focus is on customer services and ensure that people remain connected.
Our CEO says, “10 years down the line when somebody looks back and asks what happened during COVID-19, they should remember Zoom as a company that helps humanity.” This our goal right now and we’re not focusing on anything else.
Industry reports suggest that remote working is going to become the new normal. In such a scenario, what are the best practices that your customers and partners should adopt? What’s your preparedness to handle such requirements in the future?
I would like to pass a critical message to the people of our country that they need to be very careful in this cyber world and lead their virtual life cautiously. In our physical lives, when we step out of the house, we ensure to lock it or bring in a security guard to keep a watch.
Similarly, while setting up virtual meeting, we need to enable the passwords as well as a Virtual Waiting Room feature. With this, we will have the right to allow or disallow anyone from being part of the meeting. There are hundreds of people walking outside in the cyber world and anybody can walk in, especially if you don’t have a password or have shared the information on the social media.
Our company believes in delivering happiness to customers and that’s why we are very close to them every single day. Needless to say, this makes the product, which has been built on the same culture, very strong. We continue to listen to our customers and lead from the front, in terms of building new features, functionalities, and capabilities in the product.