Two years after exploding into the consciousness of almost every Internet-connected person needing to work and collaborate remotely, Zoom is making its next big move. During an event for partners and customers in Johannesburg this week, it unveiled plans to turn the videoconferencing platform into a powerful digital working tool for businesses.
Not that it wasn’t already more than just a video meeting app before, but that was about as much as people knew about this apparent upstart. Its legacy in fact goes back more than 10 years, to its founding in 2011 by former Cisco engineer Eric Yuan. He thought he could make a more user-friendly version of his employer’s WebEx platform.
Ironically, Yuan struggled to raise funding because investors thought the videotelephony market was saturated. But a name change from Saasbee to Zoom in 2012 and seed funding from WebEx founder Subrah Iyar, among other, set it on a path to steady growth. The Covid-19 pandemic made it a household name.
Sam Tayan, Zoom managing director for Middle East and Africa, told us that the growth in this region had occurred in three phases. Watch the video here.
“Prior to the pandemic Zoom was doing very well, growing very quickly, profitably as well. During the pandemic that went on steroids, so growth was turbocharged as zooming became a verb. Since the end of 2021, we’ve continued to grow our customers in South Africa, with many users continuing to develop and enhance their use of Zoom.
“There are many applications of Zoom which are particularly well suited to the African continent in general, especially in bridging geographical distances. Colleagues, patients and doctors, students and their teachers, who might live far apart, are able to communicate with each other and continue their activities. Obviously, there’s an ecological benefit. You don’t have to drive. Johannesburg is a wonderful city but the traffic is challenging, as it is in many cities around the world. The ability to conduct meetings, catch up with people, while avoiding that five o’clock traffic just to get to the last meeting of the day, is something that people do appreciate.”
Now, there will be somewhat more to appreciate. This week it showcased a range of applications designed for businesses, including Zoom Phone, a voice-over-IP communications system that will operate in tandem with existing connectivity, and Zoom Contact Centre, to help optimise call centre operations. It also presented a range of developer tools, including Software Developer Kits (DSKs) and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), which allow third parties to create apps that integrate with Zoom. To this end, it has set up an App Marketplace, which will host Zoom Apps.
Zoom Phone in particular represents a dramatic example of maturity of a platform, positioning the company firmly at the heart of the lucrative Unified Communications (UC) industry, which integrates enterprise communication tools like voice calling, instant messaging and content sharing. Zoom Phone takes UC into the cloud, or its enterprise-oriented “as-a-service” (aaS) segment. Combined, UC and aaS become UCaaS, an arena previously dominated by Microsoft and Cisco. Now there is a new player.
“Zoom phone is the UCaaS continuation of the Zoom story,” says Tayan. “It’s a unified communications product that gives you great flexibility and fabulous features. And it is available in South Africa.”
Dion Smith, Zoom director of Europe, Middle East and Africa channels, said the event represented the launch of a channel ecosystem for South Africa.
“Over the last few years, we’ve been building a partner ecosystem in Western and Eastern European countries aggressively,” he said at the Johannesburg event on Wednesday. “Today was about launching and announcing our relationship with First Distribution and allowing our partners to learn more about our partner programme.”
More than that, however, the formal launch of a channel ecosystem is a sign of maturity: it tells the user that Zoom no longer has to be only an app.
* Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee.