Zoho’s primary competitor is DOS-based and living in desktop era: Siva Iswaran

Siva Iswaran talks about the GST ready Finance Plus product made for India, which integrates all other financial products into a unified platform

Siva Iswaran

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An author who has a keen interest for the ‘off-beat’

Sivaramakrishnan Iswaran, Director Product Management and Business Development, Zoho in an exclusive interview with Techseen talks about the newly launched Goods and Service Tax (GST) ready Zoho Finance Plus, tailor made for Indian clients. He states that the new product is an end-to-end integrated platform, which has all that Zoho Finance suite has to offer in a unified platform. The suite will include Zoho Books, Zoho Expenses, Zoho Subscriptions and Zoho Inventory, which will be tightly integrated with Zoho CRM. Excerpts:

Techseen: Why has the US launch of Finance Plus already happened before India?

Iswaran: Doing some implementation for GST took a few weeks for us so we decided that we should do the US launch first and then we follow it up with the Indian edition which is GST ready.

Techseen: The ZOHO finance suite integrates ZOHO Books, ZOHO Invoice, Zoho Expenses and Subscription accounts with Zoho CRM, how much would you have to change how the suite functions because of the GST?

Iswaran: GST impacts all your financial transactions, right from the code that you generate to the invoices. So we have to ensure that all those things are taken care of and also have to ensure that GST returns can be filed properly from the system by connecting to the GST and file the tax returns. Hence all this has now been integrated into the product.

Techseen: Can’t the GST readiness be added as a plugin/ update? What is so different in the new product?

Iswaran: There are two things at play, one being that it actually integrates all the finance products into a single package for the users. All the accounting products, Zoho Books, Zoho Inventory, Zoho Expense and Zoho Subscriptions are all integrated into a single platform called Zoho Finance Plus. The second aspect is that with all these different products we have been targeting the global market and the main markets have been US, UK, Australia, Canada, but now we are making the product GST ready and positioning it specifically for the Indian market.

Techseen: What about those customers who have already acceded to the finance suite products? Do they have to purchase this separately? What is the pricing like?

Iswaran: There are two options that we give to our customers. The first option is that one can purchase each product individually, which will have all the 5-6 products as a part of the finance suite and can be bought separately. This way people can pick and choose. The second option is that one can buy the Zoho Finance Plus, which is a unified suite including all the Zoho Finance products.

This comes with a price advantage, when customers buy the Finance Plus, they are at an advantage. For the Indian market, it costs INR 20,000 (approximately $299) and there are no introductory offers. At Zoho we are known for reducing the prices and not increasing it. As more customers come on board and we scale up, there will be reduction of the price. But for the next six months to a year we have no plans to change the pricing.

Techseen: Zoho Finance Plus is going to focus on tax issues, is this a new feature and is that why you are focusing on the GST? Or were Tax issues being handled before by your products?

Iswaran: We have various products as a part of the suite that handle tax. For example, if you see Zoho Books that handles the accounting part, when we launched that in the US it was looking into taxation in the US. When we launched in UK it was handling the VAT there. Similarly, when we launched in Canada and Australia it handled the GST there.

Now we are using all the experience we gained from different countries and launching the India edition. Though we have launched Zoho Books for India sometime back, now we are combining everything in a single package. So the accounting product has been handling tax and it will continue to do so.

With respect to GST, which has not been implemented yet and is going to come in July, we are announcing that we are ready for GST. You can see that most of the popular vendors have not made their products ready for GST yet, but we are saying that we are ready and you can start using.

Techseen: A lot of enterprise tech solutions companies in the market stated that they are GST ready last year, you on the other hand stated in November that you will work on the same and are launching your GST product now. Is it too early or tool late?

Iswaran: It is definitely not late, there are lot of GST legislations that are getting passed, amendments are happening on a weekly and monthly basis and arguments are getting heated up frequently. The body that has to provide the implementation infrastructure is getting ready too, they are opening up APIs slowly. We are actually one of the technology providers for one of the GSTs in the system. Hence, we know the state of affairs, which is that GST is still opening up APIs and we are getting ready for when they do. If someone has claimed that they are ready six months or one year ago, it means it is mostly marketing talk.

Techseen: As you stated that the Indian government is constantly changing how finances and taxation are implemented in the market in regard to GST, will this affect your suite in any way?

Iswaran: Now most of the parts have been finalized and the discussion is for the rates. Anyway while implementing the platform, we make the rate configurable. Hence, whenever the government will decide to change the rate we can reconfigure the platform. It is just a questions of changing a few settings.

Changing the rate is not going to have a big impact, only thing is that we will have to back to configuration but the product will have no change whatsoever. This happens everywhere and is not unique to India, UK change rates almost every year. The difference in India is that since it is being introduced now, the change of rates may be more frequent, but we will be able to handle it.

Techseen: Does this launch in any way increase your client circle? How will your customers be able to benefit? What are the key features that will change how people look at Zoho Finance Plus?

Iswaran: We do think that Zoho Finance Plus is going to increase the client base. We have been seeing a lot of traction in 2017. The last three months have been really great for us and when GST comes up, we feel that the traction is going to increase.

People are looking for a switch, and are planning to switch. If you look at our primary competitor, it is still DOS-based and is living in the desktop era. So people desperately want to make the change and are waiting for the opportunity to make the switch. GST actually provides that opportunity. So we envision that we will have a big surge when GST comes up and are preparing for it.

Techseen: How will Zoho Finance Plus improve the process of quotations in a company and losing orders and communication errors will not occur with the business processes? How will you help implement that?

Iswaran: If you look at general integration, the problem is of duplication; people have to enter data multiple times. For example taking the Travel and Expense management product, people will have to enter the data and the data has to be synchronized into the Accounting product/ software, the problem arises when data gets duplicated, calculations go wrong.

When we talk about Finance Plus, the four products have been integrated ground up, they share a same database, hence there is no duplication, it is single source from where data is being drawn and added. There is only one record per person that is made which can be accessed by multiple products.

Techseen: Zoho off late has invested a lot of money in different startups looking into AI and analytics, and you said that consolidation is the way forward, are you planning to acquire or merge any startups with Zoho? What is the future?

Iswaran: I don’t want to comment on this, generally we do not acquire companies, we are more in the lines of building rather than acquiring. Generally we feel that we are a company that loves to make products and we will stick by that stand.

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