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Sunday, November 28, 2021

‘With Covid onset, retail consumer use saw unanticipated surge on Zoom’: Iravati Damle

For most professionals, the video calling app and service Zoom was the single port of call to conduct meetings, meet their co-workers and stay connected.

Written by Aashish Aryan |
Updated: November 8, 2021 7:39:48 am
Iravati Damle

In the last week of March 2020, when governments across the world started announcing country-wide lockdowns to prevent the spread of Covid-19, offices moved online. For most professionals, the video calling app and service Zoom was the single port of call to conduct meetings, meet their co-workers and stay connected.

With the increased footfall on the platform, however, came the problems, of data leakages, meetings being disrupted and allegations of the calls being vulnerable to hacking and cyber attack. Governments across the world even asked their employees not to use the platform to conduct sensitive internal meetings.

Over time, Zoom has managed to regain some of the trust and is working with governments to increase that. The one factor that helped them all along was the company being open and transparent in its communications with governments about the flaws the platform had and what it was doing to fix them, Iravati Damle, Director of Government Affairs in India, said in an interview with The Indian Express. Edited excerpts:

In the first week of April 2020, there were numerous concerns, with governments across the world saying and advising their staff that Zoom was not the most secure way of communication that there was. As a company, how did you respond to those challenges?

The company has done things on two fronts. One on improving systems and processes, so that we can stay on the cutting edge. We started out with a 90-day feature freeze which was basically where all of our engineering resources were rededicated to only focus on features, on privacy and security. As a result of that, in that year, we released over 400 features dedicated to privacy and security alone.

We set up a CISO (chief information security officer) council, which brought together CISOs from reputed organisations across the world more than 35 CISOs who continue to advise the company on what is the most latest that we can do about security so that we stay on the cutting edge.

All of these things that we did on the system side are now leading to that user trust and faith in the platform being reinforced and the usage of the platform increasing significantly.

Would it be fair to say that Zoom was unprepared to handle the increase in traffic that happened in a post lockdown world?

Anyone who says that they were prepared for the scale of this pandemic would be lying. No one anticipated how the pandemic will unfold, and neither did we. The way our architecture is built, however, helped us fire up thousands of servers within matter of minutes to accommodate for the huge growth in the user base that we saw.

In the last year, from September 2020 to August 2021, 27.5 billion meeting attendees participated in meetings, with about 1.9 billion meetings conducted. These meetings lasted over 97 billion minutes. Going forward, hybrid is the reality.

I feel like, yes, we were not prepared. But our architecture and technology enabled us to scale up faster than anyone else. That is why we have continued to a reliable platform for users.

Why did the problems of hacking or disruptions happen in the first place?

Zoom was built to serve as a collaboration and communication tool for enterprises. When you speak of enterprises, they have elaborate security systems and IT teams in place, which customise the security setting for secure meeting environment. With the onset of pandemic, we suddenly saw a huge retail consumer use case, which we had not anticipated. We were built for enterprises. That is where some of the teething issues happened early on.

We faced a lot of questions at that time. We had to set up new systems. We had to make sure that whether anyone has a background in security or not, they are able to use the platform securely.

What was the business growth that the company has seen over the last year? Is there a growth target that the company has set?

In the region we have seen about 67 per cent year-on-year growth. On the employee side, we started with presence in the country with less than ten. We are now more than 200 and are still hiring. A core part of hiring has been for the Bangalore tech centre that we announced in July 2020. We want India to become a part of the global innovation that Zoom does. We cannot share the growth numbers, but our focus is education, healthcare and across industries or sectors to expand those use cases to highlight what are the benefits of using our platform.

Do you see the demand tapering or going down as the world opens up and more people start going regularly to physical offices?

I think there is definitely going to be a blended or hybrid model of working because the convenience and benefits is for everyone to see. It has enabled companies to cut costs, hire better and improve efficiencies. We believe that Zoom is an essential part of that. We are adapting our products to a hybrid model by introducing Zoom rooms or a virtual receptionist, which work best in that kind of an environment.

What are the new services that the company plans to roll out in India and globally?

One of the services is Zoom Phone, which is cloud telephony service. We are working very closely with the regulators to make sure that we have the right licences in place to offer this service in India. We had rolled out end-to-end encryption for Zoom meetings last year, and are rolling out that for Zoom Phone as well. In addition to that, Zoom Apps is becoming a big part of the way we think Zoom ecosystem in total. It is a network of application within the communication and collaboration space, which make your meeting experience better.

Zoom is competing with players and peers which have very deep pockets. As a company, how are you preparing for the challenge?

We are very focused inwards. Customer satisfaction is the priority for us and we will make sure that we do everything that they get the best experience. As long as we are able to stay on cutting edge of privacy, security, and functionality to users, I think we do not need to focus so much on what the competition is doing and can do.

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