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Zoom Runs the Analyst’s Gauntlet [Guest Post]

Frost & Sullivan’s Analyst Gauntlet is a structured program wherein participating vendors and service providers give industry analysts deep dives and demonstrations of their collaboration solution. The analyst then uses the collaboration solution over a period of time and provides candid feedback based on his/her user experience with the specified tool.

This week I’m putting pen to paper to detail my experiences with Zoom Meetings, an all-in-one, cloud-based multi-media conferencing service that is available worldwide on a subscription basis.

Zoom offers a number of subscription offerings based on its cloud platform. The flagship Zoom Meetings service is available in Basic, Pro, Business and Enterprise plans. The Basic plan is Zoom’s free offering, is as nearly full-featured as the Pro and Business plans, with the only exception that online meetings are limited to 40 minutes. Basic, Pro, and Business plans can be subscribed through online transactions, allowing individuals, small IT departments, or line of business decision makers to get started quickly. Enterprise plans, however, require contacting a Zoom sales associate (for volume pricing).

All plans offer a wealth of features, including unlimited 1-on-1 meetings and sessions for up to 50 participants in standard meetings (optional packages scale to 500 video feeds). All plans also support multi-party audio, video and web conferencing, mobile (iOS, Android and Blackberry) and desktop clients (PC and Mac), screen sharing, recording, group and private chat, REST APIs, online support, online management, and admin features. Pro, Business and Enterprise plans support a tiered set of greater features such as hardware endpoints (Zoom Rooms, SIP, H.323 endpoints), dial-out, meeting dashboard, managed domains, Skype for Business integration, customizations, and other capabilities.

Other products/services in the Zoom portfolio include:

  • Zoom Rooms – software based room conferencing endpoints utilizing off-the-shelf third-party PC/Mac hardware and peripherals.
  • H.323/SIP Room Connector – gateway services to connect standards-based third-party endpoints to Zoom Meetings.
  • Video Webinar – a full feature cloud webinar service for up to 10,000 participants. Webinar can be added to any paid Meetings plan. The two solutions are delivered from the same Zoom cloud infrastructure and support the same interfaces and endpoints.
  • Premium Audio – Global toll-free and call-out audio conferencing available in pay-as-you-go subscriptions. It provides a web-based portal for hosts to manage their audio calls.

As a unified communications and collaboration industry analyst, I use a lot of different online meeting tools. I’ve used Zoom several times per month for about two years now. My Zoom Meetings experiences reviewed here are based on the Pro plan using a PC client and the Zoom iOS app for iPad—both on the service’s latest software release.

Live Demo

Host Experience

Hosts can log in from the Zoom website, their desktop client, an iOS client, or a Zoom Room. I’ve done all except Zoom Room. From the website, hosts have options to host meetings with or without video, as well as content-only meetings (with voice and video disabled). Upon login from the website, hosts are prompted to download the Zoom client. If already downloaded, the client initializes automatically. The next prompt asks hosts how they would like to connect to audio – via phone or computer.

The same landing page after logging in is the user portal. Here, users can configure their profile and scheduled meetings, as well as access recordings, account management details, and reports. My Settings, found under My Profile, has an advanced and extensive menu to customize the host and meeting experience.

From the My Settings menu, hosts can choose the features they wish to enable in their meetings, such as: private and public chat, put attendees on hold, co-host and annotation, as well as more advanced capabilities including video break out rooms, remote support, file transfer, dual camera sharing, far end camera control, and virtual backgrounds. Other option in the My Settings form are selecting where recordings are stored (cloud, local or both), email notifications, global dial in numbers, email invitation templates, and more.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.33.20 AM

Using the PC client, hosts have access to many of the same capabilities as well as a few distinct features. Again, Settings is a key menu for the host and meeting experience. Here hosts select their devices, as well as a number of preferences for client application start up and close, content sharing, instant messaging, camera/video settings, and virtual background.

Whether created and launched from the portal or desktop client, hosts own control of the options to record, delegate screen sharing, lock/unlock the meeting, mute/unmute participants, and more.

Host Experience Analysis

Pro: Zoom offers a wealth of options that allow hosts to customize, personalize and optimize their meetings. Many capabilities supported by Zoom are unavailable with alternative cloud video conferencing services. These include: video breakout rooms, co-host, dual camera sharing, personal “vanity” URLs, launch in content-only mode, far-end camera control, sharing live video clips from websites (i.e., YouTube), mobile screen sharing, watermarks on shared content, limit participant access to certain domains, and more.

Pro: For the most part, Zoom Meetings interfaces and menus are well designed with clear and intuitive menus, icons and links. This results in greater host/users confidence which encourages them to employ a wider range of capabilities for richer, more engaging collaboration.

Con: That said, there are a number of settings that are completed in the user portal, whereas other settings are configured using the desktop or mobile client. While certain competitive services may support a comparatively limited range of options, they often provide hosts/users with a more consolidated view of their mandatory and optional settings. Due to the underlying OS, the current settings menu in mobile client also differs. The multiple places to access Zoom settings may also confuse certain types of users (i.e., those less experienced or tech savvy, or infrequent users).

Pro: Support for functionality such as co-annotation, dual camera sharing, dual monitor support, remote support and other unique capabilities expand the use cases for Zoom Meetings to address requirements not supported by many other cloud conferencing services.

Pro: Zoom supports an impressive range and depth of third-party integrations and plug-ins, such as: unified login (Microsoft Active Directory, Google, Okta, Facebook, Centrify); enterprise social and project management (Slack, Redbooth, HipChat, Jira, and Basecamp); content sharing (MS OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, Dropbox); marketing and sales automation (Salesforce, Marketo, Eloqua, Mailchimp, etc.); and learning (BlackBoard, Canvas, Desire2Learn, Moodle). This helps companies incorporate rich collaboration technology into their business processes and workflows.

Participant Experience

There are numerous ways hosts can schedule or simply launch meetings–invite via email, IM and room system, copy URL and copy invitation; or schedule meetings from the web-based portal. This makes it easy for other registered users to join those meetings. If joining via video or to view content, one-time or occasional guests will still need to download and/or update the desktop client or install the mobile app.

Once they’ve joined a conference, both guests and registered users have access to a full range of features—essentially anything the host has not restricted. This allows for rich collaborative meetings wherein all attendees can fully participate (via chat, audio, video, sharing, etc.).

A more recent capability that I enjoyed is the persistent Zoom collaboration experience. This is enabled when a user leaves the desktop or mobile client open when not in a meeting. From the client users can interact via peer to peer (P2P) or group chat, view presence availability of contacts, file and picture sharing, as well as screen capture with their contacts. They can also quickly initiate meetings with or without video, as well as record and view their chat history.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.36.18 AM

Zoom accounts can be a mix of different license types. For example, certain users may be designated as hosts or power users, and therefore be provisioned a paid plan (Pro, Business or Enterprise), while users with lesser needs can sign up for the free Basic plan. In this way, companies can implement multimedia collaboration pervasively at lower cost.

Users on any plan can search and connect with other users from the desktop or mobile client, add them to their contacts, and collaborate with them directly via persistent or real-time modes.

Participant Experience Analysis

Pro: Meeting participants are presented with a number of layout options to modify their viewing experience. Speaker and gallery view are supported. Users can pin any participant so that their video is always visible. Users can toggle between larger/smaller views for speakers and their displayed content.

Con: The layouts for content and video allow users to maximize one feed and minimize the other. I personally prefer clients that utilize a slider which allows users to adjust the content and speaker’s video windows as appropriate for their preferences and screen size, and/or choose to display presenter’s video and content at the same size.

Pro: Whether joining as a guest or registered user, all meeting participants have a full-feature meeting experience. Guests do not have a stripped down set of capabilities. Rather, guests and registered users have access to all features (public/private chat, layout control, volume, mute audio and video, annotation, screen/content sharing, etc.) that is enabled by the meeting host.

Screen Shot 2016-08-15 at 10.38.49 AM

Con: Annotation does not include timestamps, which makes it more difficult to determine when participants marked or commented on content. There are several work-arounds, however timestamps supported by other video conferencing applications make it easier to track conversation flows in real time and upon replay. (Note: Zoom states annotation time stamps are easy to add, and will do so predicated upon customer demand).

Pro: The Zoom client can be employed as a persistent desktop or mobile collaboration tool. When not in meetings, users can still view the presence/availability of their contacts, chat, view chat history, send pictures and files, conduct screen capture, and launch instant meetings with or without video. As such, Zoom can consolidate multiple real-time and asynchronous communications tools an organization may have.

Con: It’s a minor quip, but the “Raise Hand” feature in Zoom Meetings is buried under the “Participants” tab, which is neither intuitive nor easy to access as it takes time to find and several clicks to initiate. By the time most users find it, the conversation will most likely have moved on.

Con: Zoom does not offer an in-browser experience. Guests and users must install a client on their desktop or mobile device, use a Zoom Room or a standards-based third-party video conferencing endpoint. Competitive services support WebRTC and/or browser-based clients for ease of use or customer/user preference.

Pro: Single sign-on allows users to access Zoom Meetings directly from a number of email, social, content/file sharing, project management, and other platforms, which effectively enables collaboration in the context of workflows.

Analysis Summary

As a frequent user of online meeting tools, as well as a user that has been plagued by internet connectivity issues of late, I would rank Zoom to rank among the better tools I use in terms of reliability and quality under conditions that are less than ideal. Zoom’s dynamic bandwidth management and other reliability capabilities are obviously well-honed.

Also, in the two years that I’ve been using the service, Zoom has frequently and consistently increased the depth and breadth of its Meetings product. Now one of the most robust converged conferencing applications available in a crowded market, Zoom Meetings provides the range of functionality that can allow end user organizations to consolidate a number of their existing or needed communications and collaboration applications, including audio, video and web conferencing, file share, and IM/chat. With the ability to add Webinars and Conference Rooms to Zoom Meetings subscriptions, customers can now get even more value and consolidate further.