Zoho @ Zoho: Courier Management, the Zoho Creator way

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Distribution of couriers among
employees might seem like a simple everyday task and may even raise a
few eyebrows when we say, “We at Zoho have a dedicated application to
manage and track it”. The front office personnel have plenty to attend
to, ranging from managing cars being parked on premises to routing
incoming calls. Amidst all this, the mail and packages too had to be
delivered, which was painstaking. We thought how we could make life a
little bit easier for them. Certainly, nothing could be done about


monitoring


the
service entrance or guiding visitors around the campus. So we stuck to
what we were good at; Automating processes. Here is why this application
came about and is saving us time and effort ever since.






We
receive mail and packages everyday. Both official and personal stuff.
Sometimes the number of packages is high, making the job of identifying
the recipient and delivering it by hand, a very tough one. The mail-man
visits our office, same time everyday, to deliver the mail and take with
him, the ones awaiting dispatch. These packages would usually be at
with the front-office. The security personnel had to individually inform
each person of the package (or letter), which they would pick later.
First, the employee had to be tracked using Zoho People, our online people
management tool, and then informed over phone. This was very
time-consuming.







What

Raman Kumar

of Webmaster team thoughtfully did was to come up with an
application in

Zoho Creator

, the

online database application builder

. This application


has
two forms


and feeds on data from

Zoho People

. The first one is to look up the employee to whom the package
is meant for, and a second one to generate an automated email
notification. When a search for an employee is done, all the matches are
returned. The personnel then selects the exact recipient. On selection,
the application proceeds to the second form. Here, employee information
such as name, identification number and email address are populated
automatically. Other details such as sender information, number of
packages waiting to be collected and which of the three security desks
it is available at, need to be filled up manually. On submission of this
form, an email containing the above information is  sent to the
concerned employee.






For
booking a courier too, we couldn’t expect the sender to be present when
the mail-man stopped by. So we provided an option of leaving the
package, fully addressed, at the front-office. When the pick-up truck
pulled over, the packages would be handed over to them by the security
personnel, and the waybill tracking details would be entered in this
form along with the employee details. To distinguish between sent and
received parcels, we included a radio button as one of the fields. This
eliminated the need for a separate form.






Though
putting this application together was quite simple a task,

just of
about six hours

, the time and effort it has saved for us is notable.
That is why it found its way here. On days when mail and packages add up
to more than 200, delivering them becomes more of just an activity than
productivity. This simple yet highly capable application is all we did
to overcome the futility, and it has been serving us well for quite some
time now.


This

Courier Manager Application

is available
at the Marketplace

for you to try

. Do check it out!

Apps showcased till now:

Rebranding ManagementHall of ShameTweet Stream,  Ad TrackerReseller PortalDownload TrackerIT Asset ManagementSupport Call TrackerNew Employee RecordTravel ManagementCourier ManagementCab Booking




that was first of the series, Zoho@Zoho.

“Zoho Challenge is a dream come true” – Anand More, More Training Consultancy Private Ltd

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Anand More of More Training Consultancy Pvt Ltd. (MTCPL) has been an
ardent fan of Zoho Challenge for quite some time. More Classes, a unit
of  MTCPL, provides supplementary training to the students of Mumbai University, ICAI & ICSI. Over 750 students from his classes take
their assessments using our very own quiz maker app, Zoho Challenge.
Thanks to Zoho Challenge, almost all of them take these tests
from multiple locations.
Over the weekend, we talked to him about how Zoho Challenge has helped
him administer tests better to his students. Here’s what he had to say:

1)
What made you look beyond the pen and paper based model of testing, for
an online testing solution? Was the traditional way of testing
inadequate for your needs?

We provide structured, supplementary coaching to students as well as
workshops to corporate executives. Our students appear for exams
conducted by external institutes. Our aim is to guarantee success in
such external examinations. The success of our coaching is determined by
the understanding of the students.

Many of the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), due to their schedules,
are either unable or unwilling to do the assessment of the candidates.
Lack of assessment reduces our ability to convince the parents or in
some cases even the corporate client about the effectiveness of our
training programmes.In such cases, it becomes all the more necessary for us to
help understand how the candidates understood their subject. It becomes
an indirect assessment of the SMEs too.

Further, when an experienced SME leaves,
we are left with no knowledge about how the assessment was done by him.
We suffer from lack of organizational knowledge bank, and our procedures
remain as effective as the SME only.

The traditional pen and paper method emphasizes on testing the
presentation skills and what we want is testing the level of
understanding.

Elaborate arrangements just like examination [halls] involve considerable costs, are time consuming and are labour intensive
for us.
What we wanted was a solution which will give us:

  • total control over assessment, 
  • streamlined processes for initiating, conducting and assessing the tests
  • control over cost of printing
  • automated evaluation 
  • organizational knowledge bank of how to assess the preparation for a subject
  • collaborative and location independent platform for accommodating varying schedules of SMEs
  • search-able storage of student performance for future reference.
  • ability to deliver the tests at any location
  • ability to reuse the questions once created
  • empower the SMEs with a
    dashboard indicating KPIs of the students, or tests based on his choice,
    without spending his time on mundane work.

This is where
Zoho Challenge came to our rescue. Although our wish list is unending,
Zoho Challenge with its ever co-operating support staff has always come
with innovative and stable solutions.








2) How did you stumble upon Zoho Challenge? How long
have you been using it?

I am a member of the eLearning Guild. In one of the weekly newsletters, there was a mention of Google Docs and Zoho Docs. That was my introduction to Zoho. I got hooked to
both Google Apps and Zoho for my coaching activity. Somewhere in 2008 (to be precise on September 19, 2008) I stumbled
upon Zoho Challenge. At that time, Zoho Challenge 1.0 was at a nascent
stage. I was fascinated by the potential of this product. The
fascination is still continued.


3) Could you please
name 3-5 specific features that made you stick to Zoho Challenge?

  • Hosted solution
  • The structure of Question Banks: Multiple tests and test reusability
  • Importing questions
  • Multimedia enabled questions
  • Batch feature and IP restricted tests







4) Has Zoho Challenge helped you in administering tests
faster, quicker and more efficiently? What benefits have you gained out
of using our quiz maker?


Yes, my organization has benefited



on all the following counts
:

  • Reduced paper cost
  • Reduced efforts in coordinating with SMEs to get the question papers before test dates
  • Reduced pressure and costs in arranging the location for the tests
  • Providing error free and unbiased assessment
          

My subject matter experts have become decision makers rather than data gatherers. For students, testing has become fun just like online gaming. We are even planning to use Challenge to give scholarship to the most deserving candidates


5) What would you say to those teachers and schools
who are planning to switch to online tests, but haven’t jumped the gun
yet? Should they do it as soon as they can? What are they missing out?

It
is an old saying – when the pupil is ready the master appears. In our
case the master has already appeared in the form of Zoho Challenge, only
the pupils, (i.e. the schools) must be ready to work with the master.

For all the schools waiting to jump in, I can tell that the value proposition put by Zoho Challenge, i.e.

  • to enable the SMEs with student’s understanding
  • to give a hosted, subscription based solution to testing
  • to bring fun in testing & assessment
  • at a very low cost

is a dream come true. This is how technology should be used to make an efficient, productive and responsible society.

Zoho Challenge exists to make tests easy and we were thrilled to see yet another case of it being used to deliver tests to a large number of students in one go. If you’re another such passionate user of Zoho Challenge, talk to us on how you’ve been using it in your classroom or organization: email us at support@zohochallenge.com. We’re all ears!



Workflow Automation in Zoho Recruit

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The world continues to morph us with ever faster lives. And we no longer can expect recruiters to do everything manually as it’s not a smart use of resources. 
For instance, let’s say the Sales team in an organization creates job openings for the clients. Once the job openings are created, the recruiters start to work on different stages of the recruitment process – source, track and hire candidates. When the candidate gets selected and hired for the job opening, the recruiter changes the candidate status to hired. Now, the recruiter should keep the sales team updated about the candidate hired information, to process the invoice for the clients. Doing these frequent updates manually makes the work more hectic.
Processes must be streamlined in a better way to cater to the needs of the new generation. The more your work flow is automated, the better it is. 
Zoho Recruit - Applicant Tracking System now allows to set your workflow, to trigger customized email notifications to all the specified recipients – on status change of candidates and job openings. This workflow automation helps you to enhance your team’s collaboration and productivity.  

We hope you find this improvement useful. Thanks again for using Zoho Recruit and do let us know your feedback.

Zoho Invoice will be at PayPal’s Innovate 2010

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We will be at PayPal’s Innovate 2010, a developer’s conference to be held at San Fransisco on the 26th and 27th of October. Receiving online payments is at
the core of what we do here at Zoho Invoice and we are happy to be associated with this event
.

At the conference you can titillate your innovative senses with some informative discussions. Sridhar Vembu, the CEO and co-founder of Zoho Corp, will
be participating in a discussion on “Business Payments Pricing”. Another popular face  you will see at the event is our evangelist and active blogger, Raju Vegesna.

PayPal
says the discussion on Business Payment Pricing, will highlight use
cases to show how PayPal can replace cash and checks for
receiving payments for invoices, rent, disbursements or payroll. We couldn’t agree more on this.
The
recent spikes in the number of online payment receipts and how there
are new players emerging in the payment gateway bandwagon only suggests
a shift in the way we transact.

What’s interesting about the online payment gateways space is that this is still a resource still untapped by many
business verticals, which only means that there is a huge potential for
growth and innovation. That’s exactly what PayPal wants to showcase at
this event. Being a geeky bunch ourselves, we are so excited about
the conference and all those integrations that are going to be formulated by the developers at the conference. To ideas, learning and
loads of fun. See you all at Innovate 2010!

Getting Out of The “Inevitable Monopoly” Mindset

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Microsoft announced their business cloud offering Office365 yesterday. In keeping with Microsoft’s installed software offerings, it has 3 components: Microsoft Office, Exchange and Sharepoint. The natural question is how does it impact Zoho? What do we think of this at Zoho?

I believe Microsoft’s offering will be successful. Microsoft is a formidable competitor, and when they focus, they tend to get things right. They have been lukewarm about the cloud in the past, but that strategic ambiguity is firmly in the past – with Office365, they are making that loud and clear.
From our perspective, Microsoft getting serious about the cloud brings both opportunities and challenges. I will first outline the short to medium term effects. The obvious first effect is that the entire cloud ecosystem benefits due to Microsoft’s arrival. This is the well known “anchor tenant” effect in shopping malls, where every store benefits from the increased traffic brought by the anchor tenant. Microsoft has signaled that the cloud is the future of all software, including their crown jewels. The future is here and now. It is a rising tide and that clearly benefits Zoho. We don’t have to sell why the cloud is better for apps that were traditionally thought of as firmly wedded to the desktop, we just have to articulate why our cloud offering is better.
On the challenges, clearly Microsoft is going to have a formidable presence, due to its sheer installed base, and the incumbency advantage Microsoft enjoys at its installed base. Again, the challenge for us it to clearly articulate why we offer a better value proposition. In a nutshell, we bring a sharp focus, a comprehensive product strategy and vision that integrates traditional document oriented apps with database oriented business apps, opening new avenues for business productivity and finally, we bring better pricing. As a nimble company that has no corporate ego, we will integrate our offering with Microsoft wherever possible, just as we do with Google Apps today. Google has been exemplary in their openness, and we hope that Microsoft will be as open in allowing third parties to integrate into their stack. For example, we would seek to integrate our CRM with Microsoft’s cloud Exchange and Sharepoint offerings. 
Looking ahead over the long term, I want to make an important point: software in the cloud is going to be more competitive and more open than software on the desktop. The analogy here is the wireline to wireless transition in telecom. Not long ago (thought it feels like ancient history) there was really only one phone company in each country, often known as “the phone company” – because no further qualification was needed. Today, there are very few places in the entire world where there is not a choice of 3 or 4 wireless providers. It is one of the most dynamic markets in the world, as in if you blink, you missed a product turn.
Looking at the cloud ecosystem, we have major forces operating that practically ensure that we are not going to have a monopoly. We have a competitive service provider market, an ultra-competitive data center market, and we have infrastructure offerings like Amazon that make it easy for cloud software vendors to scale up quickly.  Consider the crucial client operating system market, which no longer means just the desktop and laptop, with mobile and tablets being where the action is. The mobile OS landscape is a real horse race between Apple, Google, Microsoft, Blackberry, Nokia and Palm/HP – the only certainty here is that it is not going to be a monopoly. Even on the business desktop, Mac OS, riding on the astounding success of the iPhone and the iPad, is making strong inroads, and it is unlikely Microsoft is going to be able to stop Apple from making its presence felt in business computing. This is not to say that Microsoft won’t remain a formidable player; I personally think Win Phone 7 is a serious and credible offering, and will gain reasonable share. My point is that the client operating system monopoly is over. The constellation of forces, from carriers to device vendors, from application developers to consumers and businesses, precludes that possibility.
Why is all this relevant? If Microsoft cannot consolidate the client operating system market, it cannot monopolize the cloud. It was the Windows monopoly that practically ensured the Office monopoly. If the cloud apps market is not an inevitable monopoly, by definition, many vendors are going to flourish, and there will be many opportunities to differentiate and add value. Microsoft has made it clear it is not going away, Google is not going away, and we want to be clear that Zoho is not going away. While the short to medium term impact of Microsoft’s strong cloud showing is actually a positive for us, we strongly believe we have a really good long term opportunity here. Of course it all comes down to execution and we like our chances at Zoho.

Zoho@Zoho: How we manage our cab booking and schedule using Zoho Creator

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Zoho Creator @ Zoho series kicks off…



The itch:

At Zoho, we do not follow strict working hours. Flexibility is in our culture and employees are free to work when ever they feel they can be most productive. Then, there are also the sales and support executives who go the extra mile; Work across time zones, thus end up working till late into the night. Traveling home was a problem for these employees as public transport would not be available at these odd hours. It was to tackle this, that the Admin team decided to introduce cab facility to those who leave at dark hours of the day. They started off with two cabs and it was easy back then to manage it manually, on trip sheets. But as the need for more cabs eventually grew, they needed an automated system to handle the scenario.





It was about the same time when Zoho Creator was fast becoming a much preferred online application builder and the logical choice, especially for such situational needs. You can’t find a ready-made application for these custom requirements. You’ve got to build one yourself, which is why we came up with


Book a Cab


. Here is the story behind it.

Cabs were made available from 9.30 at night to 5.30 in the morning. When we got started, the scenario we had in mind was a simple one, not anywhere near what we ended up implementing. This application had to allow employees to book their seats in advance, keeping in mind, plenty of criteria or logic as we call it. We began using this application when we were around 700 employees strong. We are almost 1500 now. Till today, we haven’t considered upgradation or maintenance of this application. It didn’t need any.



The builder:

Here is what

Rajesh

had to say about the whole experience. “I was given the simple and raw scenario of booking cabs in advance, to start with. I did it, and it was ready

in less than an hour

. I am not exaggerating. The initial app had only a form and a view: form to book cabs by employees, and the view for the Admin team. That was all I could think of, then. Looking back, it was the best thing to have done because if we had sat there thinking what else should go into the application, we’d have been drooping over it forever. We deployed the application, half-baked though, and as data started flowing in, we identified the unique use-cases and included them all. This took us two more weeks of intense testing, to achieve the stage of completeness”, Rajesh said. He has been around for 4 years now, and was a student of

Zoho University

. This was his maiden venture into app-building and is well worth the mention.


The logic:


Here are a few scenarios which added to the complexity of the application:


  • The application had to be publicly available.

  • Requests from employees alone had to be considered (filtering by email address which is unique: name@zohocorp.com).

  • On any given date, an employee should book once only. (no-duplication is achieved by filtering the records by email address).

  • The two cabs scheduled for 9.30 pm and 10.00 pm are dedicated to female employees.

  • For every time slot, booking had to be disabled once all the seats were occupied.

  • Booking four days in advance should be possible, but never for an elapsed time slot.

  • Booking for a time slot should be disabled 10 minutes prior to the commencement of the trip.


All these and more conditions had to be checked when entered records were edited, just as when they are initially entered. Twice in an application can be very degrading, but not with Deluge.




The intelligence:



Deluge Script has been used extensively throughout this application. So abundantly that it replaces a powerful feature of Zoho Creator: the date and time field. At the time of developing this app, the date field alone had been implemented, and there was no  date -time field . As for handling time slots, we used a pick-list, but differentiating between day and night was the real challenge.

What Rajesh did was to convert time into an integer. For instance, 4.30 AM would become 430 and 11.30 PM would become 1130. He has utilized two thresholds, 1200 for the night and 800 for the day. Comparing the time selected for booking with these threshold values, the application identifies night and day. It is too confusing to explain in English, the logic that originated in Deluge. So, we’ll let you take a peek at the code. We agree, the code is very out-dated and can surely be optimized a lot. But we just didn’t care to do it because it was good enough. And good enough worked just fine. Why bother then, to mess it up?


The usage:

The application grew with usage, from a single form and view to two forms and five views, excluding the general feedback form and its view. Here is how scalability has been taken care of.  Did you wonder why we use 800 in the code instead of 530 when the last cab is at 5.30 in the morning? It is considering future expansion of time slots. The second form of this application is to add new time slots, as and when the need arises. The various views are Current-day, All bookings, Time-Slot,  My-cab and Front-office views. The first three are available for editing to the Admin team alone. They are pretty much similar, except for the fact that current day displays bookings for that day only. Time-slot lists all the cab timings and enables adding new ones too. Unlike All Bookings which lists all bookings, past, present and future (we support future booking too, remember?). Every employee can view all his bookings and edit or delete the future ones with the My-Cab view. Here too, past entries are disabled as they need not be edited. Front Office view has all bookings, but with no edit privilege, and is used by the logistics organizers.


That’s

not

all, folks:

Even though this application is highly custom-made to suit our specific needs, there could not be any harm in letting you

try it out

. Deluge script appears to be  tedious to a non-programmer. Not in reality, though. Only when you try these applications, will you experience the power and ease of Zoho Creator that we almost always talk about.


If at all you come across


any ready-made application to address this highly situational need, let us know. We’d love to say

Hi !