Interview

Going Uber Connected

pramod

IceWarp offers a robust platform for communication, collaboration, to work jointly and cohesively from anywhere from any place in the world

“You can use IceWarp as a platform to collaborate, and be available to people through just a chat, a message, a call, or a video call. And do your work as if you are doing the same in your office.”

Pramod Sharda, CEO, IceWarp India & Middle East

The demand for enterprise collaboration solutions witnessed a feverish surge during the COVID-19 pandemic. The utilization of enterprise collaboration solutions was pushed up due to the rising requirements for communication among employees in various organizations. As per an estimate by Reportlinker, the Global Enterprise Collaboration Market size is expected to reach $101. 7 billion by 2028, rising at a market growth of 12. 1% CAGR.

Rising penetration of advanced tools and technologies among businesses and a considerable leap in learning and skills with expedited engagement have driven the markets to surge ahead despite the prevalence of daunting challenges like infrastructure and internet connectivity hurdles.

Enterprise collaboration solutions are an essential tool for the modern workplace environment, allowing teams to collaborate and helping to improve productivity phenomenally. Enterprise collaboration technologies are highly efficient for obtaining real-time input from consumers, partners, stakeholders, and vendors, enabling for more efficient replies and enhanced creativity.

Here, in a Special Interaction with the Pragaue-Headquartered Enterprise Email Solutions provider IceWarp, SME Channels brings you a snapshot of the inner workings of the Enterprise collaboration landscape. For the benefit of the channel community, Pramod Sharda, CEO, IceWarp India & Middle East, reveals his organization’s strategy to address growing demand for Collaboration solutions from customers, his predictions for the Enterprise collaboration Solutions industry in 2022 and his vision and plans for the channel community. Edited excerpts…

Your home page features a shout out – “The only office rule is there is no office.” How do your product offerings support this in view of the prevalent work from home culture? 

IceWarp is a global company, with business presence in almost 50 countries and 50, 000 customers worldwide. We receive a lot of feedbacks from our customers on how they are working, and how they intend to work in the future. This tagline or the big shout-out on our website came up actually from what our customers’ feedback and what they told us. They told us that once they are on the IceWarp platform they can work from anywhere, they can collaborate with their colleagues or customers or vendors from anywhere and have all the tools at their disposal which empowers them to be anywhere and be able to work and perform their jobs very well.

So, talking from that perspective, this was something that was coined by our customers. They told us and we believed that, and it makes sense, because IceWarp today has evolved as a global brand and organization, and is able to provide a complete suit of products, a complete platform to any customer requiring a strong platform for communication, collaboration, for connecting with each other, or to work jointly and cohesively from anywhere from any place in the world.

We have a fantastic platform which offers you the power to have a single interface. Within a single interface, you can have your entire dashboard at one place, enabling you to have your emails at one place. You can see who’s online, and decide to start your call with a person. It can be a one-to-one call or a video call or just the audio call or just a chat or a quick message you can leave by or a voicemail to somebody to come back to you. Also, at the same time while you’re working on your emails, you can also initiate a call to so that you can collaborate with your colleagues on a document.

So, if you’re working on a project and you have a presentation, you can come on line. Both you and your colleagues who are working on the same presentation can give feedback to each other on the on the video call; at the same time be able to collaborate on the PPT, as if you were together at the same place, at the same time. So, for all your office work, you can have one colleague or more colleagues to come live on the call, work on the presentation or a document or excel file and share an update at the same time. Thus, it helps you to effectively collaborate over there.

Besides this, you can also collaborate by inviting group meetings, group calls. You can have review calls or team meetings on our VC platform. The platform offers very high definition audio or video. The quality of videos is very good, making people feel very near to each other. That’s a big advantage offered by our platform. It can also help you to invite people who are not part of your company. They could be your customers or a partner. You can invite them for a call or a VC. There’s no limit of time. There’s no limit on data. There’s no restraint there. You can have a meeting for one hour, 2 hour, or 3 hours as per your requirement, and record the meetings.

Keep the meeting as well for you completely, which can be accessible to you. Our team chat also allows you to come together, share your documents, and keep as one repository. You can initiate conversations like you do in a WhatsApp Group. People can put their reports, smileys, and their remarks and comments too. They can open up a query and people so it feels that you are connected. So, it makes them feel that they’re together.

Thus, what you were doing in the office, you are able to do the same thing here right now. Of course, geographically you’re not in the same location. But still it helps to bring that closeness between people very easily. So that’s one aspect of it.

Plus, we have all the apps on the mobile too. If you are having some work and need to move out of your house, you can still access the whole thing on your mobile phone, giving you lot of flexibility. So, it offers a complete and comprehensive platform. You can use IceWarp as a platform together with other external parties to work on the same platform, collaborate, and be available to each other quickly through just one chat, one message and one call, or one video call. And do your work as if you are doing the same in your office.

So, that’s the reason why we have that big line on our website.

We are inching towards celebrating World Cyber Security Month in October. Security still remains a big concern whenever customers are adopting any solution or the cloud. How do you ensure the security of your users and the security that is attached to the products that you deliver?

Ever since the Covid started, the perimeter of security changed completely. Prior to it, the perimeter of security was limited to the office and office location. The office where one works is one’s security zone.

The pandemic brought in a big change in mindset. And this brought in a mindset that employees can work from anywhere. They have to be enabled and empowered to work from anywhere and when that happened, there was a scrambling to figure out where and what needs to be protected from the point of view of the company’s interest. There were many solutions available and many technologies had to be adopted overnight to ensure that, despite the earlier perimeter of the office gone, the people who were connected to the company’s network and the company’s data are secure enough to ensure that there’s no data leak and there is no misuse of data.

And one of that happens to be the e-mail and it is the most vulnerable thing, the most valuable thing available right now to break into a company’s network or system.

We provide our customers the well secured application in a platform which secures them to evade any kind of future attacks or security threats which they might face tomorrow. There are multiple things we have right now. Many organizations today have adopted federation of Google or Azure. They have this Google cloud or they have the Windows Azure. And so SAML authentication is key part of ensuring security. SAML authentication, which has become a key part of our offering, makes the security layer very stringent. Because, now, the CIOs or the customers do not have to invest something more. They just enable our IceWarp application on the Federation or Google Cloud or Azure and it’s one application among many which is all to be secured from the predictions that are adopted right now. So, that’s the biggest thing we have that’s much easier deploy.

Apart from that, for the people who do not have SAML authentication, we also have a 2 sector factor authentication. You can use IceWarp mobile app to have a two factor password, plus, we have app using which you can generate new codes, you can put it inside. We allow that inside.

Besides this, we also enable our customers by giving them a complete private cloud. So, if you have a private cloud cluster, you are having complete zero trust and a VPN gateway enabled by IceWarp. So, all the customers who are having high level of security, for example, the ones from BFSI, today are enabled on a zero trust platform on a VPN platform. So, whether they have a laptop or an iPad or mobile phone, whenever they connect, they are ensured of a secure zone access only from anywhere from devices which are authorized from the applications that authorize. Then, we also have a strong Mobile Device Management Application, which is part of the IceWarp family where the data on the mobile also secure. So, you are having your own private container to work on the mobile, and your data is secure in the container. You can’t take a print screen, you can’t have the attachments used by WhatsApp or something else. So, even the data on the mobile is quite highly secured over there, and all levels of security is maintained. When it comes to the e-mail transactional, the gateway level —  when the e-mail is traveling inbound to your domain and going outside, we have powered our cloud services by having the Cisco Ironport Email Security Services in the e-mail gateways, which is, by and large, the world’s largest engine today to control the attacks worldwide. Nearly 60% of all e-mail traffic travels through Cisco network at present.

Dallas is the biggest AI tool, which has been built over the years, today is being used by government organizations worldwide insisting on very stringent security measures. We have that empowered on our cloud for customers to ensure even the gateway level security is taken care of. So, the threat which comes in the sandbox, it gets into sandbox when it’s verified and after verification, it is released.

Looking at the current cloudscape, what key trends would you forecast in the channel market?

I think the channel has undergone a big change, because of the sudden onslaught of the pandemic, from the business of doing hardware or box selling all those things, it has moved to services completely.

So, I think they even the channel had to adopt this selling

technique of moving to cloud. So, I believe the coming days are all about services. The boxes are there but over a period of time, the technology space would be better, cheaper for customers to adopt. If you look at virtual desktops, they are prevalent anywhere and everywhere. You don’t need to have your own laptop or a desktop anymore. You can log in from anywhere in the world. So, it is the future.

I strongly believe services would be the key. Enabling services would be a key for partners to their customers and they have a very big role to play to evaluate, identify, and choose the right partners, right OEM, right vendors whom they want to work with and provide a complete, comprehensive, cohesive solution and platform to the customer.

Because, no customer today would like to have too many vendors, too many suppliers working with them on different platforms. They would like to choose and limit themselves for specific needs. To give an example, today we are able to cater to the lead of communication, collaboration, security, everything at one ball, one place, and one time. So, it is easier for our customers to work with us now. Another example would be the case of archiving. We give you archiving. Today, a customer may have multiple vendors. The partner’s job is to examine and filter out the OEMs to work and go forward and select the right partner for the cloud. Because, it is the reputation of partners which is at stake because whatever  platform they offer, vendors like us have to ensure that these services are running fine, the uptime is fantastic, latency is way less, troubles are less, and tickets answered quickly back to the customers. So, they are bridging the gap. The challenge for partners would be to enable and empower their team members too. Earlier, they were more of a box selling entity offering limited amount of services. But now that the revenue services are going more, they focus on how to enable their own employees more and more, for level 1, Level 2, or Level 3 services. So, this is a dramatic change and I think partners have a big role to play in this.

Are you planning any major investments in terms of channel expansion or in terms of increasing your overall headcounts in India?

We have been constantly growing for the last seven years. But over the last three years during the pandemic, we grew manifold. The head count too is increasing. We plan to double our head count in the coming year because the growth is good and the market response is very good.

We’re expanding our business presence in India. We need to reach every nook and corner of this big country sooner. So, we need more people on freedom St. Two areas that are going to see significant expansion. First, our Support Services Department. It’s getting bigger and bigger because being OEM ourselves, we need to ensure that the turn-around time of tickets is high and faster and much support is extended to our customers.

Second, we are investing money in manpower to reach the partners. We are having people on board to expand the partner family.

We are strong and best in India. We are going to be strongly invested in India. Between North and South is a region, which is like a Greenfield for us when we want to invest. We are planning our own office in Delhi very soon. We would open our own office there in the NCR region.

Plus, infrastructure would see a big investment. We need to keep on upgrading, keep on investing to ensure that the new technologies are there. When it comes to the services we offer, the uptime guarantees us to be stronger.

So, we’re investing in every area, manpower, infrastructure, offices and partners too.

Which areas you want to focus in the channel – skillsets – sales and marketing, vertical and technology practice development, service capability, etc.? 

Skill set is not a big challenge for us. I believe that’s fine. We are in a niche area and we have our own training program. We do a lot of training and LND activity ourselves. When you’re in a niche business, it is anyway difficult to get people. So, we are prepared to invest, and to conduct regular training activities.

I think marketing is something we need to focus more. As an organization, we believe in challenges too. India is a big country. It’s a challenge to reach out to every part for any organization. There are lot of Tier 2, Tier 3 cities, which are quite big. Many companies are also moving to these cities. We need to keep up our pace and speed to ensure that our marketing engine is stronger, which will help expand our reach month on month, quarter on quarter.

Are you planning any major product launches in the near future?

Yes, we are. Every two years IceWarp comes up with a new version, which is an overhaul of the old version. So, we have a new version called Epos. We should be launching it by October or so. It is going to be a completely transformational product in the market, a never-seen-before kind of application in the e-mail collaboration space today.

The partners can reap the benefit. It would be a huge advantage for them. By presenting live up to their customers and having their customers enable them on the best technology platform without compromising on any features, not asking them to cut down on their demands of features, saving a lot of money for customers year on year, our product would be a boon for them. Since all cloud services today are annual business, customers have to shell out money every year. The new version will bring a lot of value to partners because they can showcase this as a much stronger application in the the market even compared to Google and Microsoft. I’ve seen it myself, so I’m very excited about it. Very, very excited about it. The partners are here to make a big bang with us to the customer very soon.

As a major industry player, how are you leveraging Next-Gen technologies like AI or ML to offer more effective products to your customers?

We look at machine learning with lot of interest and focus and in a much stronger manner than AI right now. Because for AI, there are a lot of stringent laws, including GDPR laws and HIPAA laws that you need to comply with. If you consider those laws that AI brings into the e-mail collaboation space, it is still a question mark, it’s still in a gray area because you cannot cross the line when it comes to data integrity. That’s a very important part right now. This is something I should keep aside for future discussions among our internal board members.

But I think machine learning is something interesting. We are using it. In the last year, we have put into use ourselves and it is helping us to give a better product to our customers. The new version that we earlier discussed is extensively working on that right now.

So, when we announce the new version, you can definitely have a feel of it.

So as they say, data is the new oil.

With the pandemic in decline, most companies want their people back in the office and that has become a major trend. Would that cause a dent in your business?

I think the good thing is for players like us is that businesses, particularly, SMBs never have or couldn’t have or never had  the kind of exposure to technology the way they have today.  SMB primarily have been driven by their owners. And an IT manager would be someone who would have worked in the company for last couple of years doing some other functions. Thus, they have been always away from the technology space. Because, the system integrator was not able to convince the promoters or the owners to invest money that way. They always wanted to have less cost or cheaper solutions to maintain cost. But now I am seeing something different. SMBs today have realized that nimble operations are better for them. It makes sense. It’s difficult to imagine that they would want to open up an office in another city or nearby cities. Because, they always believe in being in office. Now, they don’t need it. They don’t think that way. They think of One seat at a co-working space or just one guy who could be hired quickly in some city and start working from home. This is a big change. SMBs also now aspire to grow and they realize the benefit of technology. They’re using technology better now and they do not want to go back. They do not want to hold back on technology anymore. For example, SMBs have been doing a lot of traveling. Now they don’t need to do that. They are able to connect. Just imagine if the owner of a company has a meeting at 11:00 o’clock in the morning, he can sit in his car, open his iPad or tablet and start the meeting, while his employees can be in the office. He can use his time productively to have a meeting with those guys while travelling. So, I don’t think SMBs will go back from technology adoption. I haven’t seen any decline in demand or business and don’t see it happening. Because, the demand to recoup the entire loss of time of business is much more; the hunger is much more now than the urge to cut costs and move to something else. All organisations, today, want to use the time to run behind their business, expand business, and grow faster. They would want technology to enable them rather than pondering over the costs and saying, “okay, we should not do it right now, or let’s just reduce it to a number.” They know they will not just stop completely, because they never know when this is going to be used again. So, rather than stopping the usage completely, they might reduce the usage or go for limited usage.

What would be your growth outlook for the current as well as the coming year?

IceWarp is in a very unique position right now. India is growing faster. It’s going to be the superpower very soon, and the soon is not too long away. And I think the next five years is going to change India a lot. So, we are really gung-ho about the Indian market.

We have got a great product and after having so many acquisitions of customers done, which we are doing week on week, the confidence is very high. Every week we acquire new customers.

We have a great product, right mix of features and modules to be offered to customers. We have the right price too. We are having data centers in India. Being present here ourselves, we are able to give the customers that personalized approach of services, support, meetings — whatever they need. So, the growth is good and we should be growing well and keep up our growth momentum in the India market. Considering the year on year growth parameters, which we have been in the last two years, I’m very positive about it.

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