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May 25, 2019
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Zoho’s office suite gets smarter

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As far as big tech companies go, Zoho is a bit different. Not only has it never taken any venture funding, it also offers more than 40 products that range from its online office suite to CRM and HR tools, email, workflow automation services, video conferencing, a bug tracker and everything in-between. You don’t often hear about it, but the company has more than 45 million users worldwide and offices in the U.S., Netherlands, Singapore, Dubai, Yokohama and Beijing — and it owns its data centers, too.

Today, Zoho is launching a major update to its core office suite products: Zoho Writer, Sheet, Show and Notebooks. These tools are getting an infusion of AI — under Zoho’s “Zia” brand — as well as new AppleTV and Android integrations and more. All of the tools are getting some kind of AI-based feature or another, but they are also getting support for Zia Voice, Zoho’s conversational AI assistant.

With this, you can now ask questions about data in your spreadsheets, for example, and Zia will create charts and even pivot tables for you. Similarly, Zoho is using Zia in its document editor and presentation tools to provide better grammar and spellchecking tools (and it’ll now offer a readability score and tips for improving your text). In Zoho Notebook, the note-taking application that is also the company’s newest app, Zia can help users create different formats for their note cards based on the content (text, photo, audio, checklist, sketch, etc.).

“We want to make AI helpful in a very contextual manner for a specific application,” Raju Vegesna, Zoho’s chief evangelist, told me. “Because we do AI across the board, we learned a lot and were are able to apply learnings on one technology and one piece of context and apply that to another.” Zoho first brought Zia to its business intelligence app, for example, and now it’s essentially bringing the same capabilities to its spreadsheet app, too.

It’s worth noting that Google and Microsoft are doing similar things with their productivity apps, too, of course. Zoho, however, argues that it offers a far wider range of applications — and its stated mission is that you should be able to run your entire business on its platform. And the plan is to bring some form of AI to all of them. “Fast-forward a few months and [our AI grammar and spellchecker] is applied to the business application context — maybe a support agent responding to a customer ticket can use this technology to make sure there are no typos in those responses,” Vegesna said.

There are plenty of other updates in this release, too. Zoho Show now works with AppleTV-enabled devices for example, and Android users can now use their phones as a smart remote for Show. Zoho Sheet now lets you build custom functions and scripts and Zoho Writer’s web, mobile and iPad versions can now work completely offline.

The broader context here, though, is that Zoho, with its ridiculously broad product portfolio, is playing a long game. The company has no interest in going public. But it also knows that it’s going up against companies like Google and Microsoft. “Vertical integration is not something that you see in our industry,” said Vegesna. “Companies are in that quick mode of getting traction, sell or go public. We are looking at it in the 10 to 20-year time frame. To really win that game, you need to make these serious investments in the market. The improvements you are seeing here are at the surface level. But we don’t see ourselves as a software company. We see ourselves as a technology company.” And to build up these capabilities, Vegesna said, Zoho has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into its own data centers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, for example.

Idera acquires Travis CI

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Travis CI, the popular Berlin-based open source continuous integration service, has been acquired by Idera, a company that offers a number of SQL database management and administration tools for both on-premises and cloud applications. The move comes at a time where other continuous integration services, including the likes of Circle CI, seem to be taking market share away from Travis CI.

Idera, which itself is owned by private equity firm TA Associates, says that Travis is complementary to its current testing tools business and that the acquisition will benefit its current customers. Idera’s other tools in its Testing Tools division are TestRail, Ranorex and Kiuwan. “We admire the business value driven by Travis CI and look forward to helping more customers achieve better and faster results,” said Suhail Malhotra, Idera’s General Manager for Travis CI .

Idera clearly wants to move into the DevOps business and continuous integration is obviously a major building block. This still feels like a bit of an odd acquisition, given that Idera isn’t exactly known for being on the leading edge of today’s technology (if it’s known at all). But Travis CI also brings 700,000 users to Idera and customers like IBM and Zendesk, so while we don’t know the cost of the acquisition, this is a big deal in the CI ecosystem.

“We are excited about our next chapter of growth with the Idera team,” said Konstantin Haase, a founder of Travis CI, in today’s announcement. “Our customers and partners will benefit from Idera’s highly complementary portfolio and ability to scale software businesses to the next level. Our goal is to attract as many users to Travis CI as possible, while staying true to our open source roots and community.”

That’s pretty much what all founders write (or what the acquiring company’s PR team writes for them), so we’ll have to see how Idera will steer Travis CI going forward.

In his blog post, Haase says that nothing will change for Travis CI users. “With the support from our new partners, we will be able to invest in expanding and improving our core product, to have Travis CI be the best Continuous Integration and Development solution for software projects out there,” he writes and also notes that the Travis CI will stay open source. “This is who we are, this is what made us successful.”

Google will start retiring Hangouts for G Suite users in October

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Google’s strategy around its consumer messaging services remains baffling, especially since it killed off Allo (yet kept Duo on life support). Today, the company clarified the timeline of the transition from classic Hangouts to Chat and Meet for its paying G Suite customers. For them, the Hangouts retirement party will start in October of this year.

For consumers, the situation remains unclear, but Google says there will be free versions of Chat and Meet that will become available “following the transition of G Suite customers.” As of now, there is no timeline, so for all we know, Hangouts will remain up and running into 2020.

As for G Suite users, Google says it will start bringing more features from classic Hangouts to Chat between April and September. Those include integration with Gmail, the ability to talk to external users, improved video calling and making calls with Google Voice.

Google originally started migrating Hangouts users to the Meet video conferencing service last year. The story there was pretty straightforward, though, given that Meet was a new service with new functionality. For Hangouts, the story is far more complicated, and Hangouts Chat isn’t currently available to consumers. They do have the choice between dozens of other messaging apps, though, and all of this confusion is likely to cost Google quite a few users.

Google raises its G Suite prices

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Google today announced that it is raising the price of its G Suite subscriptions for the first time. In the U.S., the prices of G Suite Basic and G Suite Business editions will increase by $1 and $2 per user/month, respectively, while increases in other regions will be adjusted according to the local currency and market. G Suite Enterprise pricing will remain the same.

The new pricing will go into effect on April 2; those on annual plans will pay the new price when their contract renews after that date.

Usually, a $1 or $2 price increase wouldn’t be a big deal, but this is the first time Google has raised the price of its G Suite subscriptions. The company argues that it has added plenty of new services — like video conferencing with Hangouts Meet, team messaging with Hangouts Chat, increased storage quotas and other security and productivity tools and services — to the platform since it first launched its paid service with its core productivity tools back in 2006.

That seems like a fair argument to me, though a 20 percent price increase may be hard to swallow for some small businesses. It’s also worth remembering that G Suite is now big business for Google. There are now more than 4 million businesses on G Suite, after all, and while some of them are surely on enterprise plans with a price point their teams negotiated privately, the vast majority of them are surely on the standard monthly or annual plans.

Contentful raises $33.5M for its headless CMS platform

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Contentful, a Berlin- and San Francisco-based startup that provides content management infrastructure for companies like Spotify, Nike, Lyft and others, today announced that it has raised a $33.5 million Series D funding round led by Sapphire Ventures, with participation from OMERS Ventures and Salesforce Ventures, as well as existing investors General Catalyst, Benchmark, Balderton Capital and Hercules. In total, the company has now raised $78.3 million.

It’s only been less than a year since the company raised its Series C round and as Contentful co-founder and CEO Sascha Konietzke told me, the company didn’t really need to raise right now. “We had just raised our last round about a year ago. We still had plenty of cash in our bank account and we didn’t need to raise as of now,” said Konietzke. “But we saw a lot of economic uncertainty, so we thought it might be a good moment in time to recharge. And at the same time, we already had some interesting conversations ongoing with Sapphire [formeraly SAP Ventures] and Salesforce. So we saw the opportunity to add more funding and also start getting into a tight relationship with both of these players.”

The original plan for Contentful was to focus almost explicitly on mobile. As it turns out, though, the company’s customers also wanted to use the service to handle its web-based applications and these days, Contentful happily supports both. “What we’re seeing is that everything is becoming an application,” he told me. “We started with native mobile application, but even the websites nowadays are often an application.”

In its early days, Contentful also focuses only on developers. Now, however, that’s changing and having these connections to large enterprise players like SAP and Salesforce surely isn’t going to hurt the company as it looks to bring on larger enterprise accounts.

Currently, the company’s focus is very much on Europe and North America, which account for about 80% of its customers. For now, Contentful plans to continue to focus on these regions, though it obviously supports customers anywhere in the world.

Contentful only exists as a hosted platform. As of now, the company doesn’t have any plans for offering a self-hosted version, though Konietzke noted that he does occasionally get requests for this.

What the company is planning to do in the near future, though, is to enable more integrations with existing enterprise tools. “Customers are asking for deeper integrations into their enterprise stack,” Konietzke said. “And that’s what we’re beginning to focus on and where we’re building a lot of capabilities around that.” In addition, support for GraphQL and an expanded rich text editing experience is coming up. The company also recently launched a new editing experience.

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