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What Is Zoom in 2023?
What is Zoom in 2023? At their annual Zoomtopia conference held Oct. 2-4, I was primarily interested in this question of identity. A unified mission was clear during the pandemic – Zoom helped many of us through this period (in both personal and professional settings) through its intuitive video conferencing tool. Zoom excelled in providing communications software. However, Zoom’s market value has now flatlined to pre-pandemic levels. Post-pandemic, Zoom's move is to reposition itself as the vendor that can meet the communication, collaboration, and productivity needs of a hybrid workforce.
Zoomtopia 2023 was an opportunity to bring this new vision to life and, with an interesting productivity application announcement for "Zoom Docs," to get everyone excited again. Did it work? Unfortunately, I left feeling more confused than excited about the exact value proposition of Zoom's productivity applications. After all, Zoom’s goal is no small feat; Microsoft, Google, and Zoho, to name a few, already have established office productivity suites for hybrid environments. Moreover, as Zoom proliferates its solution portfolio across multiple use cases, my concern is whether Zoom is stretching itself too thin too quickly – losing its sense of self in the process.
In this post, I use Zoomtopia 2023 as a launchpad to explore this question of Zoom’s identity, addressing:
- What major product releases and upgrades Zoom announced at Zoomtopia 2023.
- What these announcements mean for Zoom’s market positioning in 2024.
What Did Zoom Announce at Zoomtopia 2023?
Zoomtopia’s central theme was how to power communication and collaboration within the hybrid workspace. Given 74% of US companies currently or plan to implement some hybrid work structure, Zoom’s emphasis is grounded. Significantly, a crucial component of Zoom’s roadmap for 2024 is joining its competitors in leveraging generative AI functionality. Zoom’s approach to AI is federative, incorporating Zoom’s own LLM with other foundational model providers (including OpenAI, Meta, and Anthropic). The benefit of this approach for organizations should be an opportunity to tailor how generative AI can be utilized by their employees.
However, the unique aspect of Zoom’s approach to generative AI is to make access to this functionality available at no additional cost. Paid plan users can now use these features by simply toggling on Zoom’s “AI Companion.” Formerly “Zoom IQ,” the AI Companion integrates across all Zoom products. In practice, the AI Companion works to provide summaries of conference calls (even if not recorded), extract information across channels and other enterprise applications to contextualize long team chats, appear as a virtual agent within the Zoom Contact Center, offer schedule forecasting and agent coaching in the Zoom Workforce Management platform, and more.
A fundamental use case for the AI Companion, though, is being part-and-parcel with Zoom’s flagship product announcement: Zoom Docs. To be released in 2024, Zoom Docs is a modular workspace for documentation, project tracking, and task management. This product’s intended USP is to redefine the concept of how we work within a document. Jeff Smith, Zoom’s Head of Products, Meetings, Spaces, and Whiteboard, states that MS Word and Google Docs are limited in that they simply replicate paper; Zoom Docs aims to overthrow working within an 8 ½ x 11-inch paradigm to enhance the way people virtually collaborate. In this way, Zoom Docs is intended as a collaboration hub for both simultaneous and asynchronous shared work.
When combined with the AI Companion, users can request Zoom Docs to format or structure certain types of documents, review documents for tone and style, and directly attach documents to a meeting itself for quick access.
Additional Zoomtopia releases included:
- Zoom Phone now being in beta within India. Zoom Phone is currently available in 47 countries.
- A Virtual Agent and Workforce Management platforms to become available within the Zoom Contact Center.
- Employee engagement and communication solutions via Zoom’s acquisition of Workvivo (a Zoom company). This platform offers an intranet-style interface that can include wayfinding, visitor management, and space management for enabling hybrid work.
- Addition of “Intelligent Director” within Zoom Rooms, adapting attendee’s faces into their own frame within a virtual meeting and adding name tags to them.
- Zoom Clips, which captures highlights of meetings you weren’t in. This product will be available later this year.
- An enhanced Meetings tab, integrating Zoom Calendar, Scheduler, and Notes.
- Utilizing AI Companion for Zoom Events, auto-composing invitations and sessions.
- Utilizing AI Companion for auto-drafting responses in Zoom’s Team Chat.
What Should We Make of Zoom’s Announcements at Zoomtopia 2023?
The first item to comment on is the ongoing concern with data privacy in the Zoom platform. Zoom’s CEO, Eric Yuan, made heavy emphasis that organizations can trust Zoom with their data. The immediate context for this goes back to August 2023; several news articles attacked Zoom on changes the company had made to its Terms of Service back in March 2023. In theory, the change of terms enabled Zoom the right to use video, audio, and chat data (collectively “Customer Input”) for training its foundational model. Simply using Zoom gave implied consent. Upon the bad PR received, Zoom quickly changed its terms to specify, “Zoom will not use audio, video, or chat Customer Content to train our artificial intelligence models without your consent.” However, the changed terms only apply to customer input and not “service-generated data,” which is any “telemetry data, product usage data, diagnostic data, and similar content or data that Zoom collects or generates in connection with your or your End Users’ use of the Services.”
Do organizations have to worry about this distinction? I believe that sharing service-generated data should remain within the risk tolerance of most organizations. It is typical practice to share diagnostic data with a vendor to assist with performance issues. However, if your organization remains uncertain about this distinction, I recommend pursuing an initiative for data governance policy. (For Info-Tech Research Group members, templates for such policies can be found here.) In any case, a data governance initiative should be foundational if your organization is also thinking of leveraging generative AI functionality.
Second, I struggled with linking Zoom’s stated mission (of meeting the communications and collaboration needs of hybrid work settings) with the range of applications either being upgraded or announced. In particular, I don’t see Zoom leveraging its strengths in enabling communications for bolstering a strategic market position in office productivity. Let me frame it this way: I worry Zoom risks spreading itself too thin with its dual roadmaps of communications (in conferencing, telephony, sales, and customer service) and office productivity (with email, calendaring, and now Zoom Docs).
Following Zoom’s success with video conferencing, the release of Zoom Phone and subsequent product lines into telephony, sales, and contact center made sense. Zoom has made strong progress down this path; for example, Zoom’s sales enablement tool, Revenue Accelerator (formerly Sales IQ), grew in revenue by 4x from Q1 to Q2 in 2023. Here, Zoom can lean on its strengths of conferencing and communication to positively impact the core of most organizations: driving revenue and supporting customers. This is where I see Zoom’s identity as being most secure and where the company can best flourish.
But this was not the central focus of Zoomtopia. With Zoom Docs being the flagship announcement, Zoom is concentrating on developing an office productivity suite alternative; Zoom’s positioning for meeting the needs of the hybrid workspace is meant to justify this investment. Yet, I don’t quite make the connection here. The value of a cloud-based productivity suite is that I can work from anywhere and from any device. However, this is does not entail working in a hybrid environment – it could readily mean I work remotely without ever having to visit the office. If the focus is on hybrid environments specifically, Zoomtopia might have centered on other products – namely, Workvivo’s employee experience platform for wayfinding, visitor management, and space management. If I am implementing a hybrid work environment, these are the types of products I will be most interested in leveraging.
In fact, where I see Zoom Docs' natural market positioning has little to do with whether people are working in a hybrid environment: it would simply be appealing to pre-existing Zoom users who are not necessarily product aware but are looking for quick access to notetaking tools within Zoom itself. I have especially seen this need within education verticals, where Zoom is heavily used for classes, lectures, conferences, and other events. Once Zoom Docs is released, it won’t take long for these Zoom users to request IT to enable this product.
Of course, the question will come down to pricing; on that, Zoom has not yet set a pricing strategy for Zoom Docs. Will there be a strong enough business case for additional spend on another document tool? I don't immediately see IT teams giving the go ahead, especially given functionality overlap (likely with MS Word or Google Docs). Furthermore, if demand for Zoom Docs is driven by the type of scenario I outlined above, we might have another issue: is there an additional risk Zoom Docs’ value is reduced to the idea of a notepad solution within Zoom itself? Zoom Docs obviously goes far beyond being a notetaker, but its marketing needs to effectively communicate that to this audience.
I understand what value proposition Zoom is trying to make with Zoom Docs. It is intended to provide a fresh view for collaboration that challenges the assumption of needing to replicate document structures online. However, I’m not convinced it will revolutionize collaboration any differently than MS Word (with Copilot) or Google Docs (with Duet AI) will. Worse still, Zoom appears just to be mirroring its competition without a secure strategic position on productivity applications. It doesn’t have to be this way – Zoom is already well-positioned for growth in the communications space, particularly for sales and service. As such, my (likely unpopular) view coming out of Zoomtopia 2023 is that Zoom’s office productivity roadmap is an opportunity cost.
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