Market Alert – Zoho Launches its Business Intelligence Platform

On July 13, 2021, Zoho announced its Business Intelligence Platform which combines data preparation, machine learning, analytics, presentation, and application development into a single suite of services. This platform brings Zoho’s new DataPrep capability and combines is with the existing Zoho Analytics product. The combined platform provides a single solution the clean, augment, analyze, and present data as a visual presentation, application, or as an answer to a question asked in standard English. This analysis is based both on briefings and discussions with Zoho customers.

To provide some background on Zoho, Zoho is a private company founded in 1996 to provide business applications in the cloud. As of now, Zoho supports a business suite of 45 applications available as an integrated suite called Zoho One. Zoho’s Analytics offering, called Zoho Analytics, was first launched as Zoho Reports in 2009 to help users understand their data. Zoho Analytics supports over 10,000 customers across both cloud and on-premises environments. Zoho also supports over 300 white-labelled embedded BI customers across telco, supply chain, and other enterprise environments.

Since 2009, Zoho Analytics has evolved to build in-house capabilities to support data management, a data warehouse, data discovery, collaboration, and a breadth of APIs all used to help support a combination of self-service users and embedded analytics use cases.  Zoho’s analytic platform is based on four key components:

  1. Data Preparation through Zoho DataPrep, which is Zoho’s self-service data preparation application to support data quality, enrichment, transformation, and data modeling capabilities. DataPrep uses machine learning to provide guidance on data enrichment and modeling
  2. Visualization: Zoho enhances traditional dashboarding, reporting, and charting capabilities by providing both access and integration to Zoho Sites, Zoho’s website and portal building product, and Zoho Show, which focuses on presentations. By providing the tools to present and publicly share data outputs, Zoho Analytics extends beyond the dashboard to provide standard access to the digital tools that are typically used to share information: presentations, meetings, intranets, and the internet.
  3. Augmented Analytics, where Zoho’s presentation of descriptive and predictive analytics is enhanced both by the Ask Zia conversational AI (which will be described later in this report) as well as by Zia Insights, which provides a conversational or natural language processing interface for asking questions about the data.
  4. Applications, where Zoho provides a low-code platform called Zoho Creator to build analytic applications that can then be shared through Zoho Marketplace to share either with internal or external customers.

As can be seen from this description, Zoho provides a number of applications in its business suite (including a recently released Zoho Contracts product focused on sourcing) that expand beyond analytics in providing a full business suite of applications for small and medium sized businesses.

Zoho Analytics includes native data management capabilities including data preparation, cleansing, integration, transformation, enrichment, and modeling. This combination of capabilities allows Zoho to keep data relevant over time and to ensure that data is aligned to business terminologies and taxonomies.

Zoho also has its own data warehouse used to model data for analytics. This data warehouse is native to Zoho and includes both in-memory and columnar services to accelerate access to data. Although Zoho typically targets the SMB market, this warehouse has been proven to scale to terabyte-sized data with billions of rows for clients that have needed to grow their analytic environments. This warehouse is currently only available as a part of Zoho Analytics and can be mapped to other cloud data warehouses such as Snowflake or Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS) through metadata mapping.

Zoho Analytics works with Zoho’s applications, but also includes over 250 native integrations to other vendors used by its clients including HubSpot, Microsoft Dynamics, Quickbooks, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Shopify, and Xero with the understanding that some Zoho clients may use other applications as well. In creating these integrations, With these integrations, Zoho Analytics rivals many of its standalone providers, which is demonstrated by 60% of Zoho Analytics’ usage being associated with data outside of the Zoho One suite.

Zoho Analytics provides all of these services on its own cloud, Zoho Cloud, which has both GDPR and CCPA compliance. Based on customer demand, Zoho has also made Zoho Analytics available on-premises for specific geographies, markets, and use cases, which is an interesting departure from Zoho’s typical focus on cloud apps. Based on this combination of data management capabilities, Amalgam Insights considers Zoho Analytics to take a full-stack approach that allows companies to build an analytic environment solely within the Zoho ecosystem.

The pricing for a paid Zoho Analytics account starts at $24 per month as an entry point and can increase up to $455 per month to support up to 50 users, 50 million rows of data, and unlimited workspaces. Zoho Analytics can also be purchased as part of the Zoho One Suite, which brings almost all of Zoho’s applications into a single subscription which ranges from $37 to $105 per user per month depending on whether a company chooses to enroll every employee or seeks a more flexible model for bringing a portion of employees onto Zoho.

Zoho Analytics’ Support for modern analytic capabilites

All of Zoho Analytics’ capabilities across data management, integration, and analytic distribution help to scale the core capability of visualization and analysis. Amalgam Insights views these visualization and analytic capabilities to provide reports and dashboards to be on par with the current analytic market, but today’s market requires analytic companies to push forward to support natural language queries, collaboration, and machine learning. In this light, Amalgam Insights looked at Zoho Analytics’ capabilities across six areas: natural language processing, statistical and advanced analytics, collaboration, mobility, APIs, and future-facing roadmap.

Zoho has taken steps towards this next generation of analytic delivery through its Ask Zia capability. Zia serves as Zoho’s AI assistant. Initially launched in February 2017, Zia was originally designed to be a sales assistant for the Zoho CRM product to help provide reminders for contacting prospects and taking relevant actions at the right time. Since then, Zia has evolved into an assistant that understands natural language questions across multiple applications including the Analytics product. The word “questions” is used here rather than “query” because the inputs for Zoho’s Ask Zia are plain language questions and requests such as “show me the sales for last year” rather than a query-based text string such as “Search sum of sales amount where Year equals 2020.” Although the two phrases are semantically similar, the prior phrase is based on a standard use of language while the latter requires an understanding of querying logic that is not natural. With Ask Zia, Zoho Analytics is a conversational analytics solution that is capable of providing insights and results to any employee based on the language they use in their everyday workplace.

Business analytics solutions are also increasingly asked to support more statistical and advanced analytics capabilities to help more advanced data users understand probabilities, forecasting, data relationships, trending and regression analysis, seasonality and time-series relationships, and model choices to support optimal forecasting and root-cause analysis. Zoho Analytics first announced forecasting capabilities in November of 2018 and continues to increase support for relevant models to improve results for regression, exponential smoothing, and seasonality trend Loess decomposition.

From a consumption perspective, Zoho Analytics supports embedded analytics, web-based apps, as well as the ability to share linked data through collaboration platforms such as Slack, Microsoft Teams, or Zoho’s own Zoho Cliq. Zoho Analytics results can be embedded in webpages, shared as a permalink, placed into slideshows, and provided as public resources. Zoho Analytics also supports analytic storytelling through its slideshows, which work similarly to storyboards that exist in other analytics solutions and are used to present Zoho Analytics workspaces.

All of these analytic outputs are available through the Zoho Analytics mobile app, which is designed to emphasize the workspaces, dashboards, and reports created within Zoho Analytics. The app also supports exporting and commenting on analytic views as well.

From a programmatic perspective, Zoho Analytics functionalities are also available through an API which is accessed by a variety of other Zoho applications, such as Zoho CRM, Zoho Creator (a low-code application platform), Zoho Projects (project management), and Zoho Books (accounting) and can also be used to build add-on capabilities for third-party and custom-built applications. The API can be used with a variety of commonly used programming languages including Java, C#, Python, PHP, Go, and Google Applications through prebuilt “Client Libraries” created to support each language and includes a variety of interfaces to access data, modelling, metadata, collaboration, embedded analytics, and Single Sign-On integration. This API includes SQL access to Zoho Services data for those seeking query-based access to data, through what Zoho calls CloudSQL, which supports ANSI, Oracle, Microsoft SQL, IBM DB2, MySQL, PostgreSQL, and Informix-flavored SQL queries.

Amalgam Insights notes that Zoho Analytics has stated that future roadmap items for Zoho Analytics include further improvements in self-service analytics, data catalog, and the analytic formula engine to increase access to computational tools needed for advanced analytics. Self-service analytics has been a key goal for business intelligence over the past decade, driven by solutions such as Tableau and Qlik. Amalgam Insights considers self-service analytics to be an intermediate stage of analytics between the analyst-controlled reports and dashboards that defined the initial generation of analytic solutions and the current era of contextualized insight where analytic outputs are guided by natural language, pre-contextualized for users through role definitions and machine learning and augmented by a combination of human judgment and third-party data sources to guide business-relevant actions.

The data catalog is increasingly important as companies seek to contextualize data for machine learning and data science. By creating a catalog that effectively categorizes and indexes the relationships within relevant business data, businesses can be more prepared for the near-future where they use advanced algorithms and neural nets to support better decision-making and automate high-volume transactional judgment calls.

And Amalgam Insights believes that access to statistical tools, machine learning algorithms, and production-ready machine learning models will provide strategic advantages to the quantitatively savvy organizations that realize that behind the math are opportunities to improve organizational processes, increase business transaction volume and size, and proactively support customer issues.

Amalgam Insights’ Recommendations

Based on the pricing and new functionality of Zoho Analytics, Amalgam Insights recommends Zoho Analytics both as a starting point for using business intelligence and as a tool to bring together data across small and medium businesses that are starting to bring together a variety of applications and have outgrown their initial data organization strategies.

The variety of capabilities Zoho provides across prep, presentation, and application development also makes Zoho a useful and cost-effective augmentation for organizations have already invested in visualization, self-service analytics, and data discovery. In large organizations, where it is not uncommon to invest in multiple analytics and business intelligence products as long as they drive productivity, Amalgam Insights believes Zoho Analytics should also be considered as an end-to-end analytics solution that can quickly bring new data sources from prep to scalable, cloud-based app.