Give Zoho Credit for Being Aggressive

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ZohoI’ve written before about the potential of the online suite of tools under the banner of Zoho.

I really have not used them all enough to give glowing reports, but I’ve got to say I am totally impressed by the pace at which they seem able to release new tools and enhancements.

They match up nicely with Google Docs and Microsoft Office Live Small Business on the word processor, spreadsheet, presentation and database fronts, but then also throw in a CRM, Project management, Organizer, Mail and Chat.

They recently added an HR function called people and online invoicing. You can access the tools from your mobile phone, full API access, there are plug-ins for Outlook and Microsoft Office, and even one that allows you to post your documents to Facebook.

For someone who truly want to do it all online this is probably the most complete tool.

I would love to hear from anyone who has gone online 100% through tools like this to run their business.


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  1. We’re not 100%, but my writing company uses Zoho Creator (the database application) to sign up new writers and to handle new client signups.

    The applications are great but they can be flaky – for example, their built-in captcha techhnology doesn’t always work and it leaves us with the choice of managing a steady stream of customer service work (“the form didn’t go through – did my signup get to you?” emails) or a steady stream of deleting spambot entries. Still, it’s a lot better than paying for a custom solution.

  2. John,
    Also great is the fact that these tools all give a free trial allowing you to try them out and see how they work. I’m thinking of a series on the PostRanger network in the near future about this very subject of taking your business completely on line. I’ll keep you posted.

  3. We’re obviously 100% online with Google Apps (and our own CRM and project management/invoice/bid tools [both integrate with Google Docs]). I always give credit to Zoho for taking on Google, that can’t be easy. However, my big issue with Zoho is their API (other applications trying to put or get data from Zoho, not the other way around): Particularly authentication. It makes it so the end user has to do work to get two applications talking; and frankly that never works out well.

    You probably need to take my option with an enormous grain of salt given that I have a stake in the outcome of the battle between these two philosophies. But, it seems to me the best approach to software is to write the best software you can and allow the customers to integration with whomever they want (though a combination of APIs and export/import). If a customer uses Google Apps and they don’t like our CRM (but needs one that integrates with Docs), Salesforce also integrates. If you don’t like the time management portion of our PM, you can use something like Harvest.

    My point is, if the goal of online companies is to provide the best online business software environment, then there is no way that will come in one package. Each user’s combination will look very different (because the wide verity of customer needs). And frankly the idea that you can make a “suite” that works really nicely with each other, but only kinda-sorta with everyone else, is very (for lack of a better term), Microsoft Office.

    As I said, competition is good. Google needs someone trying to steal their skittles. But, I just think Zoho has the wrong approach. That said, if they made their API simple to use for the end user, we would integrate with them and give our users the *choice* of whether to user Google Docs or Zoho.

  4. I use Google Docs (and sometimes Zoho) as an auxiliary tool. The tools are just not there yet for “pretty” printable reports. I use the spreadsheet and processor tools mainly for online collaboration with clients and partners around the world. My biggest problem with being totally online is the physical local backup. Make sure you have local backups of your critical files. You never know when Google or Zoho will pull a Twitter 😉

    Dan

  5. @Dan –

    I’m sorry, Dan, I don’t want to respond to this (because this is certainly not the topic that John is trying to cover), but statements like yours I’ve seen all over the web and they give a really false impression for people (and reporters who spread them). (which is I’m sure how you got this impression)

    1) Comparing a productivity web application to Twitter (in terms of uptime) isn’t fair to either of them. Here’s why:

    In basic database design, at some point when you get a really big table (which happens when you have a lot of data) your going to want to split it into sections to be ran on independent groups of nodes (this is called “sharding”). For any productivity application (Docs, CRM, PM, HR, etc.), this is trivial. This is because the data in my Google Docs account has no relationship to the data in your account (or very minor relationships in the case of shared docs). This means that these services can grow and grow and no matter how big they get, they won’t get slower and they won’t crash.

    Twitter, however, has a very different setup. Every account, every message, every comment, etc can potentially have a relationship to every other row. Not only that, but given the fact that there or some users who send out thousands of e-mails every time they write something, while hundreds of thousands who write more than they send, Twitter can’t optimize for either “SELECT” or “INSERT”. (the very things that make “selects” fast make “inserts” slow and the reverse is also true).

    This is nothing that Twitter did wrong, it’s the nature of the service they are trying to provide. But that’s why it’s unstable. It is not an indicator of potential for a productivity application to be unstable.

    2) The idea that you can keep better local backups than a service can keep online backups is, well, false.

    Any database designer is going to enable “replication” on their databases. This means that at a minimum your data is going to be spread across multiple groups of nodes and probably multiple data-centers. For any single node to fail, it would have to catch on fire. This is because of RAID (which is used on any server).

    I know in our case, for us to actually loose data, you would have to bomb our data center, bomb Amazon S3 US data-center and bomb Amazon S3 EU data-center. In the case of Google, you would have to have most of the continents sink into the sea.

    3) If your concern is loosing your own Internet connection, that is an actual legitimate concern. But, again, in the case of Google Docs, they have a “Gears” enabled version that allows you to access your docs even when you don’t have a connection.

    Other developers have other approaches to solve this problem, in our case we are building our apps to have native iPhone/Android versions that cache important data locally on the device. I’m sure Zoho is working on an approach, though I don’t know what it is.

    All in all, data in a web application is much safer and much more available than data on your computer. Just because Twitter is having problems with scale doesn’t mean that any other application will have similar problems.

  6. I’m a MAC guy and haven’t plunked down the money for Office for Mac, so ZOHO actually is used in our business for me to communicate with my PC partner. He does Excel, Word, etc, and I can’t pull those in . . . except with ZOHO they offer a variety of tools that I can use. He just posts his Office doc on to our ZOHO account and then I read it in ZOHO. Works great and is saving me money. I don’t need Office for the Mac to do any work – just to read his. We have also used the Planner function before to make a priority list.

  7. Dear John,

    I am Charles from Zoho Creator. Thanks for mentioning about Zoho. Thanks for the appreciation. We do have several businesses running on Zoho. We also constantly keep updating the services with new features and bug fixes.

    Dear Robert,

    I am sorry that you had to face issues in the form with Captcha. Can you please let me know if you are saying that the entries are being submitted even if you don’t give the correct word as in the image. Or is it that the image itself is not showing up? We are also coming up with Zoho Creator 3.0 in which you can expect a better confirmation system on form submit. We have also replaced the current captcha system with a more sophisticated one.

    Regards,
    Charles

  8. ZOHO is definitely batting on a good wicket here. It is still early days, and I prefer other people taking the risks and proving the efficacy of online apps like this, but it is definitely where the online world is heading. Makes the most sense to do things this way. Thanks for the heads-up, will be exploring and punting this service to my colleagues. Cheers!

  9. John,

    We’re not 100% online yet, but I hope to get there. I chose Zoho Projects over Google Apps because I loved the ability to easily track hours by client and project. Zoho isn’t super smooth design wise, but it’s very handy. And it’s extremely affordable for a small business like mine.

    I’m a fan! And I’m a fan of your blog, too. Thanks for the good tips.

  10. I don’t know how I feel about a company that rolls out product after product. Sure, they may have a large suite of tools but are any of them any good? I played around with the spreadsheet and the presentation engines and decided to stick to Office 2007 within a few minutes.

  11. Hi,
    I have been using zoho for my freelancing business..
    and this surely helps me keep track of docs (all kinds), without having to worry about version1 , 1.1, 1.1.2 etcetc.
    For the past 6 months, i have been managing my clients reports, & documentations in zoho as well. Zoho only gets better by the day.

    btw – any idea if zoho has some referral programm ??

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