Like all businesses, the Indian software giant Zoho Corporation has been forced to dramatically transform how it operates over the last few weeks. But it has moved faster than many companies of its size. In late February, while many businesses were still assessing how the coronavirus outbreak would impact them, Zoho was busy helping its 8,000-strong global workforce to return home.
The company was well placed to manage the transition. While most companies would have had to grapple with new remote working tools, Zoho’s employees were unusually familiar with those at their disposal. After all, they had built them themselves.
Earlier this month, as Zoho prepared to make a number of its services freely available to customers, we caught up with Rajesh Ganesan, vice president at ManageEngine, the company’s IT management division, to discuss how the organisation has adapted to the coronavirus outbreak and what tips he has for other businesses seeking to overcome the same challenges now.
These are uncertain times for all businesses. How is the outbreak affecting ManageEngine?
We sort of caught the trend early. In the last two years, we have been doing a lot of field marketing so people started travelling a lot for meetings, workshops, seminars, trade shows and all of that. We also have people sitting in customer locations; it was very clear that this could spread quickly inside the company so what we did in the second and third week of February was to call everyone back home to our headquarters in Chennai, India. By the third week of February we made a call that everybody, all 8,000 workers, will work from home.
That’s had a big impact on how we typically run because culturally we want to meet people face to face. Visiting customers and doing those calls went through a lot of disruption. But because Zoho as a company completely runs on the cloud platform, the switch to working remotely and working from home was not very difficult.
But that’s not to say that also it was very smooth because as you would imagine, we are an R&D heavy company. Of our 8,000 people, 5,000 or so would be active developers. They need access to the repository and that was a huge challenge because we can’t put all of the source code on the cloud so even though all of our other applications run on the cloud – collaboration, communication, content creation could happen on the cloud – those core repositories could not exist on the cloud. How do you build the software and deploy it to the cloud?
For two or three weeks, the teams worked really hard to get this working when most people are logging in remotely; that’s been a big disruption for us, but in terms of how we run the business, conduct the business, not a lot changed because we could very quickly get telephony addresses. For a lot of our sales people, pre-sales people, customer support, there was not a lot of disruption because the calls that were supposed to land at their desk, we were very quick to divert them to their laptops and that minimised the disruption.
When you speak to your clients, what do they say are the biggest challenges they’re facing and how are you helping them to overcome them?
When we talk to large enterprises, their problems are around how they enable remote working. Because most have not made the switch to cloud entirely – especially those in financial services and healthcare – even though they had some portion moving to the cloud they were absolutely not ready to making the shift. They did not have the tools, they did have the expertise, the cultural readiness so this is why they came to us, so what we could we do here?
With smaller organisations, some of them are terrified about whether they will even exist next week. The concerns were completely different because these are people that are much closer to the consumers because consumers are stopping all activities; for them, all their revenue sources are drying up and people are asking them for refunds. It’s not a good situation to be in. So they come and ask: “right so my licence is expiring next month so can I get an extension?” So it’s a completely different challenge that we see across the spectrum in terms of difficulties that companies are going through.
You’ve offered free licences for your remote working tools until 1 July – why should businesses take up the offer?
Some important functions like IT need access to critical systems in the infrastructure like servers, applications, databases, and network devices. Given the associated security risks, most organizations are not in a position to open up remote access to such systems. ManageEngine has tools that help organizations build multiple layers of security to enable remote access to critical systems.
Considering the distressing situation faced by businesses, especially those in the small and medium segment, ManageEngine has made available fully functional versions of our secure remote access toolkit, comprising Access Manager Plus and Remote Access Plus, to IT teams free of cost till July 1, 2020.
On the Zoho.com line of business, we have the communication and collaboration tools and remote working tools. We launched a bundle called Zoho Remotely, which includes your email, your collaboration, your chat and your online video conferencing. All of that is again free for businesses till July 1, 2020.
On top of that, Zoho has launched the Small Business Emergency Subscription Assistance Program (ESAP). Under the scheme, if you are a small business of 25 people or less and severely impacted by the Coronavirus outbreak, we will waive the cost of every single application you currently use until 1 July 2020.
Based on your own experience of the crisis to date, what tips can you offer businesses seeking to adapt to new ways of working?
It is a time of crisis; there’s no doubt about that. But it’s a time for some opportunities right so use this to speed up your move to cloud. Most companies have moved to cloud but not entirely so they will move probably their support process to the cloud but most will not. There are three reasons; it could be budget, it could be cultural, it could be “if everything moves to cloud I won’t have a job”. So there are many factors but this is an opportunity that clearly demonstrates that we are going to have this new normal, so this is an opportunity to make the switch to the cloud.
In terms of leadership, they should also look at this as an opportunity to create a work-from-home budget. In our company, we have a workstation budget for every employee. So you need to have some space, a table, so you are giving them cafeteria access, you have various facilities. But when people work from home it’s typically not something leaders even worry about; how would people be productive from home? So you need to give them some revenues, some facilities, so they can be as productive from home as they are from the office. It is not just from an equipment or software point of view; it’s also in terms of facilities.
This is also the right time to take security really seriously. In the wake of this pandemic, it is easy to bypass all your processes. Build it from the ground up; the last two years were wonderful. GDPR coming from the European Union was a game-changer, but we need to make sure we continue to address security and privacy at the foundation level.