Zoom recently announced yet another wave of new features for their Zoom Rooms offering. While there is lot to cover here, I have two top level takeaways. First, Zoom is putting serious development efforts into this offering and clearly see it as a priority in their portfolio. Second, this is part of a larger, multilayered strategy (including recently announced partnerships) to further establish the Zoom brand as a fully enterprise ready video vendor. Let’s address each of these in turn.
I’ve been excited about the software meeting room product category since the first ones started popping up a few years ago. Zoom was in on the software room concept early and I covered their first iteration back in August of 2014.
The concept is pretty simple. With the quality and affordability of today’s peripherals (cameras, mics, etc.), it is very tempting for users to go for a DIY approach and build their own room system, running cloud video software. This would save the cost of a traditional video meeting room system, and provide the flexibility, ease of use, and other benefits of cloud video. Unfortunately, running a desktop/mobile video client in a meeting room does not provide an optimal experience as there is a different call workflow in the meeting room than at the desk. Cloud video vendors like Zoom have solved this problem by creating new video software offerings designed to meet the needs of the meeting/huddle room.
Since the first release, the company has been constantly innovating and adding features to Zoom Rooms. In the latest round of updates they added a new mode to their app which allows it to function as a Scheduling Display (to be run on an iPad hung outside the room). While the in-room iPad mini in the Zoom Room kit already displayed calendar integration for easy meeting creation (as do competitive solutions), this new mode is designed to be displayed outside of the room. This allows users to determine room availability, and schedule both the physical room and the Zoom call, without entering the room and disturbing any meetings in progress. A great example of Zoom developing their room software to support the meeting room workflow. I believe this may even be a differentiating feature for Zoom among cloud video vendors.
The recent releases also included a lot of improvements to the way video is displayed, camera controls, audio quality, etc. While some line items in the feature list may seem small, it all adds up to improving users ability to use Zoom to control more and more in the room and make to make the video and audio experiences optimal.
Perhaps even more interesting to the IT manager are the continuously improving Zoom Room management and deployment support tools. It is great that Zoom Rooms makes it affordable to set up hundreds of rooms in disperse offices. However, once set up, these rooms must be managed, so Zoom has created robust administrative tools and dashboards for environment-wide control. In addition, Zoom offers professional services to help customers select hardware for Zoom Rooms in different room types and deployment scenarios. This commitment to simplifying setup at scale again shows Zoom’s focus on enterprise.
Last year Zoom released Zoom Rooms for Touch, adding brainstorming and whiteboarding to their Zoom Room meetings. Recently, they have released a new version which allows users to start, join, and manage meetings directly from the interactive touch display (before you had to have an iPad controller). With Zoom Rooms for Touch, multiple users can whiteboard at the same time with multiple points of touch for true real time collaboration at one location, while remote users can also co-annotate from any location. All session work can be saved as an image for later reference to continue the project work at another time.
Zoom for Enterprise
Zoom has found success through a different model than the traditional business video vendor. In the past, enterprise (and even SMB) videoconferencing was a pitch to the high-level decision makers. The C-level executive with authority over IT and AV. These leaders were sold on the higher productivity of video meetings and the ROI of enabling remote workers and reducing travel. The executives then had to push down hard on their teams to make them use the technology so they could actually achieve ROI.
Zoom’s initial approach was a bit more direct. They simply made a product that their users loved and shared with friends and colleagues. They also made it easy for these friends to create their own (freemium) accounts, become new users, and then share with their networks. In other words, rather than going top down, Zoom went bottom up and enjoyed a level of growth that was the envy of the industry. Please see our recent white paper detailing how Zoom found “A New Approach to Video Conferencing Adoption and ROI“.
The only downside to this approach is that old-school CIOs may not realize that a new-school freemium app can be enterprise ready and meet his/her needs and requirements. In other words, having consumer level ease of use and adoption comes with the cost of being perceived as a consumer app (or a SMB tool at best). This is where Zoom’s focus on their room product becomes part of a larger strategy. It isn’t enough for Zoom to support rooms, they need to show leadership there to further their perception as an enterprise ready video vendor.
Perceptions aside, Zoom has long been enterprise ready and supports a growing list of enterprise customers. Naturally, they have the “table-stakes” feature set, including options such as single sign-on, branding, API availability, security, dedicated support, etc. They also have some higher level enterprise capabilities, such as their hybrid deployment support. This allows enterprise customers to keep sensitive video traffic within their local network, without having it go up to the cloud.
Despite their enterprise credentials, some may still perceive Zoom as a freemium SMB app vendor. With this in mind, their focus on enterprise facing offerings such as Zoom Rooms serves two purposes. It improves their enterprise portfolio, and it shows their commitment to supporting enterprise. After all, one of the first things an enterprise customer will ask a cloud video vendor is “What about my meeting rooms and huddle spaces?”
It is also worth noting that Zoom is simultaneously using a partnership strategy to get into even more enterprise meeting rooms. Many rooms already have videoconferencing systems in place, and a new Zoom Room setup would be redundant. Zoom has long offered its H.323/SIP Connector service, to allow these endpoints to join Zoom meetings, avoiding the need to “rip and replace” existing equipment. Now, thanks to a few new partnerships, the Zoom cloud service can better support these third party VC systems by allowing one click to join. The recently announced partnership with Polycom was very big news in business video circles, followed soon by similar announcements for Cisco and Crestron. The result is that a very large number of enterprise meeting rooms suddenly have the ability to one-click join Zoom video meetings.
Five years ago I would have recommended strongly against a software video, peripheral based, setup for a meeting/huddle room. The peripherals themselves, and the services to support them, generally didn’t have the ease of use, ease of deployment, manageability, affordability, etc., that they have today. Now it is a completely different story, both on the hardware and software fronts.
There are a number of vendors offering software room kits, so users have plenty of choices to find the right solution for their needs. I recommend taking advantage of free trials whenever possible, such as the 30 day free trial offered by Zoom Rooms.
Get used to the idea of software video in meeting rooms. It makes sense and customers are liking it. We are going to be seeing a lot more software based systems, particularly in huddle spaces. We are also going to see our traditional systems connecting more easily to cloud services. With the grassroots popularity of Zoom in mind, it’s a fair bet that Zoom is going to claim a lot of these enterprise rooms.