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“Rural empowerment a key focus”: how Zoho’s digital transformations benefit small and regional businesses

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Zoho, a software solutions company, provides integrated tech solutions for businesses globally. They offer 45+ integrated apps, ranging from CRM to financial management. We talked to Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer at Zoho, about their current work and their passion for helping small and regional businesses through these challenging times.

Tell us a little about Zoho. When were you founded and where are you located?

The company was founded in 1996 by Sridhar Vembu in California, and currently holds offices in seven countries with a global headquarters in Tamil Nadu, India. Zoho launched its operations in Australia in February 2019, and the local market and the businesses that call it home are a key strategic focus for the company in both the short- and long-term.

We’re passionate about empowering businesses through digital transformation, and that is at the heart of everything we do. The company has been profitable since its inception in 1996, and we’ve never accepted external capital. For us, organic, sustainable and internally funded growth is our MO. Today we have more than 8,000 employees and serve roughly 51.3 million users across over 180 countries – including companies such as Tesla, Netflix, Nike, Amazon, major financial institutions and airlines. We have eight data centres worldwide, including two that use 100% renewable energy here in Australia.

How big is the team? And what’s the future for the company?

We have about 8,000 employees globally, a number that continues to grow as businesses realise the vast potential of digital transformation As this revolution continues to manifest itself, we want businesses – particularly those who dearly need it – to benefit from the power of technology. It has always been our goal to make technology that is not only industry-leading, but affordable and accessible to any business, no matter where it is.

Are there any case studies that come to mind on how you’ve helped them?

We’re proud to help each and every one of our customers; all of whom have a great story to tell. Though one, in particular, springs to mind: Water Filters Australia. For almost 20 years, the NSW-based small business was working on old, cumbersome technology. But in 2018, the company realised its outdated systems were restricting its growth and preventing it from becoming the company it wanted to be. In August of that year, they decided it was time to embrace 21st-century technology. Despite having little-to-no previous technical know-how, the team on-boarded Zoho’s cloud software technology across the business.

The fascinating thing is that the team are exclusively all over the age of 55, and have deployed the technology to streamline business processes, manage customer information and increase productivity. Zoho has already helped the team double its online sales and save over $100,000 in operational costs. Not only that, they’ve proved that technology isn’t the sole domain of silicon valley or recent graduates.

How do you overcome the barriers associated with turning a traditional business to a more tech-savvy one?

For many businesses, change doesn’t come easy. But when business owners understand the potential technology has to enact genuine positive change on their business, it’s easier to overcome these barriers. At Zoho, it has been our mission to focus relentlessly on making our software easy to incorporate and affordable for every company, no matter their size or revenue. We build our products with expertise and foresight, and an overarching goal to make them more affordable, accessible and easy to implement for any business. This line of thinking is embedded in our DNA. We believe every business needs the kind of digital plumbing that ties everything together. From a small home office in rural Queensland to a global business headquartered in Sydney, implementing simple yet powerful, intuitive technology in their operations has huge benefits. Our pricing structure enables even the smallest of businesses to digitise its operations for as little as $1 a day, and our key focus today, tomorrow and long into the future will be empowering rural business both in Australia and globally.

How have rural businesses been coping with the COVID-19 impacts, particularly after the bushfire effects too?

Whether it’s drought, flood or bushfire, a staggering number of rural businesses were affected by natural disasters. Zoho research revealed that more than half (61 per cent) of NSW-based businesses were hit by drought, flood or fires in the past 12 months, followed closely by QLD (40 per cent), VIC (36 per cent), SA (34 per cent) and WA (17 per cent).

Despite the string of hardships, the majority of these businesses have remained overwhelmingly positive, with many looking at ways they can increase efficiency by adopting cloud services. This speaks to the resilience of rural small business leaders. Proving this point further, to combat lost income, the research revealed 44 per cent of Australia’s rural small businesses have started or intend to start ‘side hustles’ to support household income.

Why is rural and regional support something you care so personally about?

Since our founder, Sridhar Vembu, implemented a successful rural disruption project to help businesses in a small community in India, regional empowerment has been part of every decision we make. Economies are stronger when everyone is encouraged to participate, and when, as a society, we focus solely on large businesses in the world’s biggest cities, we wrongly ignore the immense potential of rural businesses if they are given the platform to thrive. The economic prosperity of smaller rural businesses and the communities they call home can be achieved through access to the cloud technology that allows them to operate online, when threats like the fires and COVID-19 make it difficult to do so physically. In today’s economic environment, businesses in rural Australia must take advantage of the latest digital technologies that allow customers to engage with them, wherever they are.

How is Zoho helping Australian rural businesses?

With so much uncertainty in the wake of the drought, then the bushfires and now COVID-19, regional Australian businesses need a helping hand. Technology and digital transformation can help them adapt quickly in what are highly challenging conditions. Rural empowerment has been a key focus for Zoho since day one and remains a core value of the company.

In response to these hardships, Zoho has introduced a number of new programs and tools to help businesses across Australia adapt to the ‘new normal’.  They include Remotely, a set of 11 free apps to help businesses operate remotely, the Small Business Emergency Subscription Assistance Program (ESAP), a service designed to help small businesses of under 25 employees survive by waiving the cost of Zoho applications for three months, and finally the Vertical Relief Plan (VRP), a vertical-specific suite of tools to assist those in the Education, Non-Profit & Government and Retail industries.

What are some of the ways small business owners can use tech to help their business?

Smart businesses – irrelevant of size, industry and geography – understand the importance of building and maintaining good relationships with their customers. Today, to meet the demands of tech-savvy consumers, that means making the most of the benefits of technology. Tech can feel daunting for businesses, especially traditional ones, but it exists to make managing a business easier. First, business owners must understand their requirements, and the problems and challenges they are looking to overcome. If, for example, they’re struggling to keep on top of their stock and orders, inventory management software is invaluable, while if money is the issue, there is bookkeeping and financial reporting software. An integrated platform – rather than a selection of individual apps – can make it much easier for businesses to integrate the technology they need to survive the coming months.

For example, Zoho’s cloud-based operating system has 45+ integrated apps to help seamlessly string together financial software, inventory management, CRM, email and everything in between. Whether you have one, six, or ten essential aspects of your business, each can be managed from one single dashboard. For instance, a CRM that is integrated with your finances keeps you from having to navigate back and forth between two services; wasting time inputting information when you could be spending it on, for example, getting your eCommerce store up and running. It’s one comprehensive platform that can relieve pressure on rural businesses and give them back the time to focus on what’s important.

About Zoho

Zoho is the operating system for business—a single online platform capable of running an entire business. With 45+ apps in nearly every major business category, including sales, marketing, customer support, accounting, and Sueback-office operations, and an array of productivity and collaboration tools, Zoho is one of the world’s most prolific software companies.

About Vijay

Vijay Sundaram is the Chief Strategy Officer and leads the partner and channel programs at Zoho, engaging in all aspects of Zoho’s market strategy.


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Ann Wen
Ann Wen
Ann is a journalist at Dynamic Business with a background in commercial law and research. She is interested in SME tax law, public policy and Australian innovation.