Interview with A/NZ Zoom head Michael Chetner – “putting people at the forefront of change”

The pandemic and the overnight move to hybrid working has meant enormous growth for Zoom – whether it be for business, education, entertainment or just catching up with family and friends much of the world turned to Zoom to connect. The platform which Chinese-born Eric Yuan launched in 2011 was having its moment.

Of course there were bumps in the road – privacy and security issues chief among them.

But Zoom’s simple, intuitive platform has so far seen it face-off stiff competition from competitors like Microsoft Teams, GoogleMeet, Slack and others.

“It’s like a restaurant,” Yuan said. “When a customer walks into a restaurant, until they leave, the entire experience needs to be great. You can’t blame anything on anyone else.”

Critics who predicted Zoom’s popularity wouldn’t last once most of the world returned to the office, have been proved wrong. 

Today even in-office meetings in North American businesses are often over Zoom as companies maintain social distancing and the use of crammed meeting rooms is frowned upon.

Many others have extended flexible work options and use Zoom as a regular point of contact.

The company this year reported second quarter earnings of $1.02 billion USD.

I talked to Michael Chetner, Head of Zoom Australia & New Zealand, to find out what’s in store for Zoom in Australasia and whether those troubling security issues have really been solved.

When the pandemic hit, was Zoom ready for the influx of new users here in NZ?

During the first few months of 2020, our teams worked around the clock to support the tremendous influx of new and different types of users on our platform. The way we’ve been using video technology over the pandemic is truly unprecedented – between September last year and August 2021, the number of meetings hosted in Asia Pacific surpassed 1.9 billion. I don’t think we could have predicted those kinds of numbers at the start of last year, but they’re certainly exciting, and we look forward to what the next 12 months will hold.

Michael Chetner- head of Asia Pacific, Zoom

What is one use/case involving people using Zoom you read about or experienced in the pandemic that really touched you?

Last month I read about a medical student at the University of Sydney finding out that the guest lecturer on her Zoom call was the doctor who gave her life-saving surgery as a baby. It was the first time she’d seen him since the surgery – two decades prior – and it was a fantastic story about Zoom bringing people together.

The virtual Makha Bucha Day ceremony, at the Dhammakaya Temple in Bangkok, also comes to mind. Zoom enabled more than 200,000 people to virtually attend the ceremony while COVID restrictions were still in place in February this year. It was great to see.

Video conferencing/remote working apps is a very competitive space all of a sudden – Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Slack, FaceTime and others have all upgraded their offerings  – what sets Zoom apart? 

As the world continues to navigate towards a hybrid future, there are many different ways we can use technology to facilitate this shift. Zoom has always been an easy-to-use UCaaS platform that allows users to connect across all areas of their lives, but I think what sets us apart is the way we’re using our platform to help businesses innovate.

Earlier this year, we announced our global Zoom Apps Fund of $100 million which was created to stimulate the growth of Zoom’s ecosystem of Zoom Apps, integrations, developer platform, and hardware by enabling our customers to innovate and build off the Zoom platform. We’ve seen examples of this in the edu-tech platform, Class, which adds teaching and learning tools to the Zoom platforms to build a ‘virtual classroom’, and in our collaboration with Brauz which enables customers to connect to stores anywhere in the world by booking a time or connecting live via video for a personalised shopping experience.

With our Platform ISV partner program, we want to help customers both build their business with Zoom, and consider how they can use Zoom as a springboard for innovation.

Services such as Zoom Phone help businesses of all sizes consolidate their communications onto a single platform. It enables both remote and hybrid teams to connect with their customers as fluidly as possible. Zoom Phone recently hit a milestone of 2 million licenses and continues to be an exciting area of growth for the company. 

As you know there has been criticism about Zoom’s security throughout the years. Zoom claimed video calls were end-to-end encrypted when they were not, last year the iOS app sent data to Facebook – can users trust Zoom today?

Security and privacy are cornerstones of the Zoom platform. We recently announced plans at Zoomtopia to add multiple encryption options and identity verification in the coming year. This includes a planned extension of End-to-end encryption (E2EE) for Zoom Phone, which would potentially enable users to upgrade to E2EE during one-on-one phone calls that occur via the Zoom client. 

Does Zoom still route users’ data through Chinese-based servers? 

Zoom takes user privacy and security extremely seriously. We have strict geofencing in place as it relates to China. Among our 21 global co-located data centres, we have one co-located data centre in China, which is geofenced and is in facilities run by Telstra, an Australian telecommunications company. Its design ensures meeting data of users outside of mainland China stays outside of mainland China. Additionally, paid Zoom customers are now able to further customise which data centre regions their account can use for real-time meeting traffic. 

Has Zoom solved the issue of Zoombombing?

Zoom has updated a number of default settings and added features to help hosts more easily access in-meeting security controls, including controlling screen sharing, removing and reporting participants, and locking meetings, among other actions. Additionally, Zoom is educating users on security best practices for setting up their meetings to ensure that all calls – whether they’re for work, school or a social gathering – can be as secure as possible.

Even if these issues have been remedied how can users trust Zoom after so many security misrepresentations?

Customers can be confident using Zoom as it has updated a number of default settings and added features to help hosts more easily access in-meeting security controls. Zoom has also been educating users on security best practices, including recommending that users avoid sharing private meeting links and passwords publicly on websites, social media, or other public forums, and encouraging anyone hosting large-scale or public events to utilise Zoom’s webinar solution.

The new Amazon Fire Smart Omni Tv has Zoom built in. Can you tell us a little about that and is Zoom looking at working with more brands in this space?

Amazon is one of Zoom’s many hardware partners. We’ve also partnered with DTEN and Facebook to enhance our Zoom for Home offering, which gives remote workers the same capabilities as their on-site colleagues, easing the transition to a hybrid workspace. 

The success of Facebook Portal has shown us how consumer devices can take advantage of the Zoom experience without having to invest in purpose-built equipment. These devices provide greater flexibility – letting users customize their home office and maintain an alternative space for Zoom calls with friends and family.

Is Zoom looking at adding other services beyond its core video software suite?

While Zoom Meetings is very much a core product for us, we focus on being a communications business that is video-led, and we have several services that use video to connect people across all aspects of a business. The services available to our APAC customers are Zoom Apps, Zoom Events, Zoom Phone Appliances, Zoom for Home and Zoom Rooms.

Zoom Events is particularly exciting as a one-stop event service, where pre-event activities like ticketing are integrated into the experience for example, as well as managing multiple video sessions/streams as you would expect in a live event. We see the opportunity for events to have a hybrid experience – servicing both in-person and virtual components – ultimately the opportunity to reach far more participation for an event and the accessibility to speakers is a massive opportunity.

We’ve recently announced a pilot program to give Zoom Phone reseller partners the opportunity to sell Zoom Phone Bring Your Own Carrier (BYOC) licenses. This will give our enterprise customers the flexibility to keep their current PSTN service providers by redirecting existing voice circuits to the Zoom Phone cloud, or implement a hybrid solution with Zoom Calling Plans. The pilot includes partners across ANZ and the APAC region.

Zoom Apps give users the ability to integrate apps of all kinds into their meetings – from project management and note-taking to video games. ‘Kahoot!’ has been particularly popular with students. I’ve seen my own kids using it at school during lockdown. With over 50 apps available, it’s a great way to add variety and fun to meetings – as well as ensure engagement.

What’s the balance between enterprise users and others in NZ – and where is Zoom focusing on growing users in ANZ?

We see across all of our segments – from SMB all the way to Enterprise users. Zoom usage in Enterprise is strong in education and health services especially in NZ, including also Parliamentary Committees. All these services assist greatly in providing the access and reach of services for every New Zealander. SMB is such a strong market in NZ especially and reflects a strong, innovative segment which we frequently refer to for best practice globally.

I see there’s some really interesting new features in store for Zoom users – whiteboards, video voicemail, Zoom verification etc – what feature are you most excited about?

In the next year, Zoom is planning to extend its automated transcription to 30 languages and add live translation to 12 languages. This will make it even easier to connect with users around the world, and it’ll improve accessibility to the platform. 

I’m excited to see how this feature will be used by Brauz to enhance their virtual shopping service for customers both in New Zealand and around the world. Giving salespeople the tools to help them overcome geographic and language barriers is another way Zoom is enabling its users for the hybrid future. 

Do users under-utilise the platform- even on the free-tier – what’s there that they should get into the habit of using?

There’s a whole range of features available to users beyond Zoom Meetings and Chat. It all depends on what you want to use Zoom for. Tapping into the games available on Zoom Apps can be a great ice breaker at work meetings or a fun addition to calls with friends and family. Turning on closed captions for a webinar or lecture could make it easier to follow along.

As our region slowly begins to ‘return to the office’ in the coming months, I think it’s a great opportunity for businesses to look at the ways they might use Zoom to upgrade their workflows to enhance productivity or ease the transition into a fully hybrid model. 

How did you get into the tech space – and how do we harness the power of tech to make the world a better, not just better connected, place?

I started my career in technology over 15 years ago in the video space. Over that time, I have seen the power of cloud SaaS platforms not only providing more flexible and accessible solutions, but also ones like Zoom that can scale to literally hundreds of millions of users overnight.

 Zoom is using technology to facilitate connection between communities, putting people at the forefront of change. In Australia and New Zealand, increased access to video technology has helped to close the gap between our cities and rural regions, which has meant better access to health and education services for people of all ages. 

Through our Zoom Cares program, we’re helping organisations in ANZ and around the world improve access to education, address social inequalities and fund innovations that will help decrease the impacts of climate change. 

Are in-person meetings, large conferences etc fast becoming a thing of the past?

The way we think about meetings and conferences is what’s going to change the most. With services like Zoom Events, we can expand our audiences for things like conferences in a way that’s never been possible before. You can have the same turnout in a physical capacity while also opening up the invitation to people all around the world. 

The great thing about hybrid work is the very thing that defines it: the combination of physical and virtual. Zoom is enabling new experiences on top of what we’re familiar with. So to answer your question, I think that we’re still going to have a mix of the two. Hybrid is really about building and innovating on top of what we already have.

When you do get back to the office – do you promote flexible/remote working?

If we have the right tools, we can work from anywhere. Some of Zoom’s clients such as Atlassian and Canva are pioneering this flexible, hybrid approach, and I think we’re going to see many more businesses adopt this model in some capacity. A lot of the research coming out of the past year has shown that attitudes are shifting – people want options. The office has become just one of many places to work. It still serves a purpose, but that purpose might now be as a social hub for employees rather than the sole working location. 

There’s never going to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach to hybrid work, which is why it’s important for everyone in an organisation to be flexible. We have to find what works best for us. 

Finally, how have you been surviving the lock-down over there, lots of Zoom use I imagine?

We all have experienced the pandemic in our own ways, and in our own bubbles. I too am balancing my family commitments, like home-schooling for my two sons. There has been a reset around many limiting beliefs around work and what is possible, now we have had to change and adapt during this pandemic. In the future, I look forward to taking the best of in-person social interactions, coupled with being more productive – at home and at work, regardless of location, with the many tools like Zoom at my disposal!

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