Zoho CEO and co-founder Sridhar Vembu shared the company's vision of releasing an "operating system for businesses" back in May.

Today it realized that ambition, with the release of Zoho One, an operating system designed to accomplish any work-related task. Zoho One integrates the company's 36 apps as well as 40 mobile apps for Android and iOS in one central system, accessible through single sign-on. 

With the release, Zoho also introduced a new, simplified licensing model that makes the apps accessible for anyone from independent workers to large enterprises.

Bringing Zoho to a 'Billion Users'

This licensing will help Zoho grow its business, said Raju Vegesna, Chief Evangelist of Zoho, by creating a market for its productivity apps where none existed before.

“We are thinking about a billion users. Anyone that does work we see as part of our market. Our target market is a billion users and the new pricing is designed to enable this. Think about the independent worker that uses even a few apps on mobile. That’s what we are thinking. We are expanding the market, expanding the pie. We are creating a new market,” Vegesna told CMSWire.

Founded as AdventNet by Sridhar Vembu and Tony Thomas in 1996, Zoho — which rebranded in 2009 — today offers a suite of online productivity tools and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications. It is based in Chennai, India, with official headquarters in Pleasanton, Calif.

Raju Vegesna
Raju Vegesna
For the last five years, Vegesna explained, Zoho’s ambition has been to pull all these apps together and offer them as an integrated operating system.

Over the years it has built a number of enterprise suites which, with each release, has brought the company a little closer to realizing its “operating system” ambitions —like its Email and Collaboration suite, CRM Plus suite, or its Finance Plus suite.

Centralizing Apps in Zoho One

Zoho One builds on these previous releases and takes them one step beyond. 

Zoho One provides all the applications a company needs to acquire and serve its customers (marketing, sales, support apps); run its operations (finance, recruiting, related HR apps); and for employees to work collaboratively and get work done (office suite, email, personal productivity, collaboration apps). 

While all of these apps already exist in the Zoho portfolio, Zoho One offers hundreds of different integration points and a single point of access. It is this integration work that took so much time. Vegesna estimates that about 80 percent of the development happened at the back end, with the remaining 20 percent focused on the admin center.

“This has been a dream for a long time. It has taken at least the last five years to get to here because we also had to build underlying applications too. But it is the biggest release so far for the company,” Vegesna said.

“In order to create an operating system we had to centralize all this these applications. To do that we had to build a better version of Active Directory for the cloud, then change every single Zoho application and make sure that they adhere to the new directory structure. Then we built the admin panel on top of it.”

Learning Opportunities

Admin Panel Plays Key Role

The admin panel is the linchpin. It provides one account sign-in access to all of the apps. With it, administrators can configure individual access, giving workers only  the apps they need rather than being overwhelmed. 

Admins can enforce security settings like two-factor authentication through the panel, or delegate control through service admins, for individual departments or groups.

In any given week, we hear of at least one major release in the productivity space that is described as "game-changing." In this case, Zoho One might actually deliver on the promise.

Zoho's Transparent Licensing

However, it’s not just the new product that makes this a game changer, it’s also the new licensing model. Zoho One dispenses with traditional vendor pricing strategies — upgrades, add-ons, multi-year contracts, usage restrictions — designed to chain the customer to the vendor and make real pricing opaque.

“The beauty of it is we are offering everything in a simple package and simplifying licensing. It’s not just the applications that we have today, we also plan to add additional applications as we move along. This year for example we will launch three or four applications that will be included by default,” Vegesna said.

With Zoho One customers get an operating system, at one price, with one support team that could potentially run an entire business. More importantly, it is an integrated system — which is key at a time when businesses spend roughly five times more on integrations than on software.

"You don't have to deal with multiple contracts. It’s not the nickel-and-dime kind of pricing you get with a lot software. We hate that, we don’t want to do that,” Vegesna added.

Zoho One is priced at $30 per employee, per month. Businesses must purchase a license for every employee in their organization to get this pricing.

“We are really, really bullish about this. There is no equivalent. It’s like getting G Suite, plus all the offerings from Salesforce plus every offering from NetSuite, plus Workplace by Facebook and Office 365 — and for $30," said Vegesna.

"This comes as a welcome change for a market littered with vendors with bloated business models offering individual, overpriced applications. Zoho One changes the game by offering an all-you-can-eat application suite at an unheard of price."

Vegesna believes this differentiation is the key to Zoho developing a market of one billion users. At $30 per user for the entire offering, it is sure to attract interest from a market that has slipped through the expensive nets of Google and Microsoft.