Open APIs matter… and how Zoho is knocking at the gates of Microsoft

Some of you may have seen the hugely active campaign that A2ZCloud started on LinkedIn around #linkedout, not only on Zoho’s behalf but also on behalf of all CRM vendors and HR vendors experiencing the fallout from LinkedIn’s sudden change of heart. In fact, it was even picked up by Larry Dignan on ZDnet which you can read about here. This got me thinking about the beginning of a shake up amongst the big players in the social media world and what is coming down the track: Google, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. How does it relate to CRM and, more importantly, how should companies view cloud-based applications as platforms on which to build their business applications?

I used to think that Facebook was the only contender that could rise to compete with LinkedIn as it moves into the business market, partly due to initiatives from Zoho such as the “Pioneering Mashup of Free Office Applications and Social Networking”.  In case you missed it, you can read more here. However, these days it’s looking like Google+ are going to step in and I have noticed increased activity around Google+ and circles as LinkedIn has locked out various CRM players. Could LinkedIn’s decision backfire? Nobody likes being forced into making a decision or being limited to only two platforms, and there are many companies out there that simply do not want to deal with Microsoft or Salesforce. Open APIs matter, as Apple learned to their cost in the late 90s.

Who’s next to be shut out of LinkedIn’s API?

If you’ve been following this development you will have seen that it’s not as straightforward as it seems and there are many different angles, for example LinkedIn and Zoho continue to work together on Zoho’s increasingly successful Zoho Recruit product which is widely used, particularly in the voluntary sector by charities such as @deafblind UK. However, now that LinkedIn have purchased the question is: will they follow suit for recruitment companies and close the API access to them? Almost unthinkable? Well, if you develop recruitment software my advice is don’t bet on it! With over 277 million registered users, 3 million company pages and 187 million active users a month LinkedIn certainly has a massive pot of data from which to earn revenue and now that it is beholden to shareholders and stock market forces they have to be seen to turn a profit.

As a user, about the only thing that matters these days is the ability to get at the info you need when you need it – she says while writing a blog in the car with one eye on her daughter’s hockey match between the rain showers – and that your CRM system is capable of acting as a hub to all that information, allowing you to quickly and easily see recent activity. In fact it is frequently the number one requirement when people ring us for advice on how to structure their Zoho systems. They don’t specify iOS/Android, they don’t even specify desktop software. They only want to give their staff what they need to do the job quickly, cost effectively on whatever platform a given member of staff wants to use – BYOD has arrived.

And that brings me nicely on to my second point: How many 40-somethings are still using MS Word and Outlook, etc. because that’s what they always used (me included)? My daughter and her teenage friends all use Gmail, Facebook Messaging and free office apps – who ever pays for office productivity apps these days? What is that going to mean to Microsoft who have made $billions over the last 10 plus years on operating systems and office applications – all of which we expect for free these days?

Who are the big players to watch?

To be a strong player for the future you have to be in the marathon, and at the front on the start line. There are only three or possibly four strong players (Google, Zoho, Microsoft and, arguably, Apple). For me the weakest one is Microsoft with no revenue from office applications and a huge legacy to try and move forward. Can they turn around the rest of the business quickly enough to hold off the threat from Zoho and Google?

It’s no secret that Zoho and Google work well together and, outside of office apps and mail, they don’t compete. In fact other than Microsoft, Zoho is the only player globally that can put a tick in every box from mail and office apps, through finance, HR, marketing and even its own database and application development environment Creator. If you haven’t had a look – get a free account here and have a play.

The point is that open APIs matter – companies today want the right to choose. Whether they want a consistent platform or a best of breed approach APIs need to be open. LinkedIn no longer is and Zoho is knocking at the Gates of Microsoft… At a fraction of the cost and 80% of functionality why would any company not be taking a very serious look at Zoho as a platform today?

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