Zoom Announces New And Interesting Services And Features At Zoomtopia 2021
By: Patrick Moorhead
Zoom is holding its fifth annual Zoomtopia event today, where it announced many improvements and expansions coming to Zoom. Zoom became a leader in the video solutions space since the acceleration of video call solutions and hybrid/remote workflows during Covid-19. Zoom has matured significantly in many ways, including security and privacy, since it was thrust into the spotlight at the pandemic’s beginning. Since then, I have been watching Zoom very closely and wanted to unpack some of the new innovations that Zoom has to offer in the video call solutions space. Let’s dive right in.
Zoom’s numerous announcements
Zoom added Conferences to Zoom Events to organize multi-day and multi-track events in one format. Zoom is adding event lobbies, chat, networking, sponsors, surveys, recordings, and analytics and says hosts and attendees can customize experiences based on background. Zoom told me that this year’s Zoomtopia is run on Zoom Events, Conferences.
I’m very interested in comparing this platform to the custom event platform I use for the Six Five Summit. I need to blend live and recorded videos into different tracks and collect analytics that delivers the right degree of global privacy. Ease of track management will be crucial as this is paramount to our Summit. As I learn more about the feature set and kick the tires, I will let you know.
Zoom also announced what it is calling its Video Engagement Center (VEC), a video contact center that allows an enterprise’s customers to be intelligently connected with CSR experts. As any of us that have experienced a call center, the experience generally stinks without some form of intelligence. Video, for some end customers, provides a more personal touch versus audio only. I’m not saying every end customer wants video, but many do, and imagine how much value there is when there’s a customer who can better “show” the CSR what’s going on. Zoom showed the VEC in a kiosk of a store and I thought that was a pretty unique use of VEC. Also, this is a no-brainer for healthcare.
Zoom says it uses cloud-first scalability and its trusted video architecture which you would expect. Earlier in the year, I wrote about Zoom looking to acquire Cloud Contact Center Five9, which you can read about here and watch the Six Five coverage here. Zoom’s VEC is a part of Zoom’s initiative to create the first complete best-of-breed cloud communications portfolio. Zoom is jumping into a unique market and filled with other players like Cisco, AWS, AVAYA, Mitel, NICE, Genesys, 8x8, and Twilio. This new solution also coincides with Zoom as a do-it-yourself kind of company. Although Zoom is still looking to acquire Five9, I think this means there will be more to come from its cloud-based Video Engagement Center related to video as Five9 are the audio experts. I liked how Zoom is putting calls first in its contact center experience and is looking to automate the whole process, which is what everyone would expect from Zoom. Zoom says its intent is to help enhance the interactive experience between customers. One way it is achieving this is by including templates for a “plug and play” experience for the contact center manager.
Zoom Whiteboard is Zoom’s new virtual hub that allows for asynchronous collaboration. It is a feature that we already see in other video call solutions like Google Meet. Another new feature that will go hand-in-hand regarding information retention is its Live transcription and automated translation features for more accessibility and inclusivity. It will come alongside its existing live transcription feature.
Zoom live translating and Transcription on a Zoom video call. ZOOM
Zoom has implemented other inclusive and hybrid-specific solutions such as Hot Desking and Zoom Rooms Smart Gallery. Zoom says Hot Desking will allow employees to reserve desks and spaces in offices and will include an interactive map and easy authentication. Zoom Rooms Smart gallery uses AI to create individual video feeds of in-room participants. This solution is unique in that it brings inclusivity to those who are working remotely. I’m interested to see how this works on a case-by-case basis since every meeting room is different, and the quality of those individual feeds could vary. It would be difficult for rooms with circular tables without a 360-degree camera and even more difficult for rooms with oval tables. Even with rooms with square tables, everyone in the room is faced toward the head of the table; attendees of the live meeting would have to be turned toward the camera constantly. I am also curious if it takes up more bandwidth or if it is done on the front-end with the remote user. Infrastructure vendors like Poly are enabling these experiences to come to life. Poly made announcements today, too, and you can find them here.
An example of Smart Gallery using AI to detect persons in a room. ZOOM
Zoom also announced its partnership with Oculus to bring Horizon Workrooms to Zoom. Horizon Workrooms allow users to access the new Whiteboard feature and Zoom Meetings within the virtual Workrooms environment. The idea behind the VR Whiteboard is to use Zoom Whiteboard without needing a large display. I think this is a unique feature that is a step forward for AR/VR and video collaboration. Users of the Oculus Horizons Workrooms can use the Oculus remote to write on a virtually horizontal whiteboard as though it’s on a table or up against a physical wall like an actual whiteboard. I am interested in getting my hands on this solution. VR can sometimes be more of an inconvenience than a productive immersive experience and it still has a ways to go before being mainstream.
Zoom Whiteboard being used in Horizon Workspace. ZOOM
Zoom has also improved its platform security by implementing a Bring Your Own Key (BYOK) offering that lets users bring their own security keys. I think this is a great feature for those who manage their own encryption keys. It is also implementing E2EE (end to end to encryption) to Zoom Phone as well. Security was a major problem for Zoom at the beginning of the pandemic. I think it’s great to see Zoom adding E2EE to its mobile platform. I also think this is something that should come out with the platform at launch. Nevertheless, Zoom Phone has E2EE.
Zoom is enhancing its communication platform to include apps that expand its Phone Meetings, Chat, and Webinar platforms. It has included Zoom apps that are built into meeting workflows to create a more immersive experience.
Chat Huddle view will give a visual version of a channel that visually indicates who is on the channel, who is participating, and what they are doing. Zoom is creating many features that include many moving parts in terms of collaboration and productivity, and it seems like Chat Huddle is a great feature to track all of that. I am a visual learner, and I know visually seeing collaboration can boost a team’s morale and the feeling that a team is getting things done.
Collaboration doesn’t happen at one point in the meeting or even during the meeting. Zooms’ Continuous Collaboration extends the chat to be accessible before and after the meeting. Users can share files and recordings from the Meeting to the chat for quick reference. I like how this feature keeps people in the Zoom client rather than changing platforms for something that should be done in the same instance.
Zoom Chat showcasing the Hot Desking feature. ZOOM
Zoom Widget is also another collaborative feature that Zoom says provides an “at-a-glance” schedule. Widgets are used to give information at a glance. I think it is unique that Zoom is integrating widgets into its Zoom platform. Not all content is valued the same, and some content should be at a glance.
Zoom has rapidly enhanced the collaboration and productivity experience of its Chat platform. Although simple video is its bread and butter, understanding how it interacts with other platforms like Chat can mean the difference between a good and bad meeting. With a good chat, we should start looking at Zoom in a more holistic way, more along the lines of Teams and Google Meet. I think the new features show how Zoom is leaning into Chat more and more, reinforcing its “build it” culture. It’s not lost on me that after Salesforce acquired Slack and partnered with amazon Chime on video, Zoom jump-started its chat capabilities.
I think Zoom is doing a great job of implementing features that filter in and out content based on value. Many of these features have to do with the experience of the video call and how to efficiently get the information out that is needed for a meeting. Video calls can sometimes be difficult, but video calls’ strength over in-person meetings is that content is saved and able to be sifted through. I think Zoom is doing a good job of catering to multiple different audiences—remote attendees, visual learners, quick collaborators, and interactive tools.
Zoomtopia brought many new features to Zoom’s platform, and I am excited to see and use these new features. Some of the new inclusive solutions like Rooms Smart Gallery and Horizon Workroom are unique but may take some time to be practical. I do think Zoom is moving in the right direction, and there is a reason why Zoom is one of the most popular video call solutions. It brings exciting new features that make collaboration inclusive, easy, and immersive.
The last bigger picture items that must be highlighted are how much Zoom is shifting from video-only to becoming a full stack collaboration platform. Video is more strategic, but by adding Whiteboard, Chat, and the Five9 acquisition, Zoom competes more on a even plane with Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco Webex, and Salesforce-Slack-Amazon Chime. This is exciting to watch and will provide analysis in the future to see how this is going.