image of Microsoft Kaizala
PHOTO: Microsoft

If you've never heard Microsoft Kaizala, you aren’t alone. But, depending on where you live, it may already be part of the Office 365 subscription you own. 

What is Kaizala? Well, it's sort of like the business version of WhatsApp, the wildly-popular messaging app now owned by Facebook. On second thought, it’s exactly like WhatsApp.

The name Kaizala doesn’t leave much doubt that it was modeled after WhatsApp. The word Kaizala in Marathi means “what happened” (काय झाले). Kaizala was the result of the Microsoft Garage project run out of India, which also happens to be WhatsApp's largest market. Garage is a Microsoft program that encourages employees to work on side projects, even if they have no connection to their day jobs.

One difference between the two apps is Kaizala was designed specifically for business. According to Microsoft, “Kaizala is a phone-number based, simple, and secure mobile chat app that enables you to connect and coordinate work across your network — your organization, vendors, partners, suppliers, and customers.”  

WhatsApp also has a mobile business app with which “businesses can interact with customers easily by using tools to automate, sort, and quickly respond to messages.” But this offering was an offshoot from its wildly-successful consumer app.

Microsoft has a history of releasing copycat products that are identical to successful productivity and collaboration products. Past examples include Internet Explorer (Netscape), One Drive for Business (Dropbox/Box) and Teams (Slack). Similar to these earlier instances, the competitor (WhatsApp) has a huge advantage in terms of usage, with 1.5 billion users as of January 2018. Starting far behind the pack never seems to deter Microsoft, which uses the domination of its platform, in this case, Office 365, to penetrate the market by bundling the new product with an existing offering.

But in this case, WhatApp Business is free (at least for the moment). So why would businesses use Kaizala when they (and their customers) already have WhatsApp? One reason is Kaizala's ability to integrate with other Office 365 products, like SharePoint Flow, Excel and PowerBI, products businesses already own. On the other hand, WhatsApp’s owner Facebook has just announced plans to integrate WhatsApp with Facebook and Messenger. Facebook is currently a popular platform for businesses to share information with customers.

Related Article: What Marketers Need to Know About Facebook's WhatsApp Business API

WhatsApp vs. Kaizala: Is There a Difference?

WhatsApp Business, with its consumer pedigree, naturally focuses on business to consumer interactions, offering the following unique capabilities:

  • Each account has a business-centric profile that includes an address, description, email address and website link.
  • "Quick replies" provides users with frequently-used messages to answer common questions.
  • "Labels" enables businesses to organize customers by tags, so they can be found quickly. Examples of labels include "new order," "order complete" and "pending payment."

Kaizala, designed from the start with business in mind, focuses more on project team collaboration. In addition to a basic set of chat functions, Kaizala offers the follow team collaboration functions:

  • "Job" enables users to assign tasks to colleagues and track completion status through chat messages.
  • "Location" allows a user to request a colleague’s GPS position, or share their own location with colleagues.
  • "Poll/survey" helps users design a custom poll to get gather information from customers or colleagues.
  • "Submit bill" captures a photo of an invoice and shares it.
  • "Checklist" shares a list of tasks with a group.

One wrinkle is Kaizala’s confusing use of the existing Office 365 term "group." An Office 365 Group is “a set of people that you wish to collaborate with and easily share items, like an Outlook inbox, shared calendar or a document library.” A Kaizala Group, on the other hand, is one of the following:

  • Flat groups are a collection of people that can be messaged as one unit. This is similar to WhatsApp groups and is suitable for project teams.
  • Hierarchical groups enable organizations to create sub-groups of groups, where a group might be the entire company, while sub-groups might be individual departments. 
  • Public groups allow group members to "private chat" with the group administrator. For example, government agencies that want to share information with constituents, or organizations that want to communicate with individual customers.

Overlapping use of terms and capabilities between the Microsoft products is an ongoing source of confusion for customers.

Related Article: Don't Know Which Microsoft Collaboration Tool to Use? You're Not Alone

Whats(The)App For You?

Unless you have been living in a cave for the last few years, you are almost certainly using WhatsApp, or at least know what it is. So, it’s a safe bet that your customers are also using WhatsApp, if they are using anything at all. Yet few businesses are using WhatsApp to communicate with customers, at least in the US and in Europe. On the other hand, Kaizala enables you to integrate with other Microsoft products you are already using to manage your business. So, which product is the right one for your business?

One thing to note is Kaizala is not yet available in most countries. The commercial version of the product, Kaizala Pro, is currently available in 28 countries as part of Office 365 commercial plans, mostly in countries where business has traditionally taken place primarily via mobile devices, like India and other Asian countries. Notably, the US is not one of these countries. In the US, only a preview version of Kaizala is currently available.

Both products offer an API to integrate with third-party products. And pricing is also a wash, since both products are currently free or part of an existing subscription.

For now, the massive adoption of WhatsApp is likely to be tip the scales in its favor. But Facebook's ownership of WhatsApp might prove to be a long-term liability if the current backlash against Facebook continues. It’s still early, but wherever the chips fall, it is almost certain we will soon be chatting with businesses on our mobile devices, not with dedicated apps, but rather, with generic chat platforms like WhatsApp, Kaizala … or some other contender.