Interview: Iravati Damle, Director of Government Affairs of Zoom, on the meteoric rise of the video communication platform
Praggya Guptaa | August 25, 2021 | New Delhi
Iravati Damle, Director of Government Affairs of Zoom Video Communications, speaks to Praggya Guptaa of Governance Now on privacy, security, technology and policy – and how the US based unified communications platform has been contributing to the government’s Digital India mission.
How did Zoom gear up for a sudden and overwhelming situation during the pandemic? How did you scale up your back-end and operations in that short time?
No one expected the world to go digital overnight and we saw this tremendous surge of users on our platform through 2020 and continue to see great usage of our platform. Just to put some numbers in perspective, we had about 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 and in April 2020 that went to 300 million daily meeting participants. The key reason we were able to support this kind of upsurge was that our platform is built for scalability which is at the core of the work that we have done. The platform architecture is built in such a way that any upsurge in demand from users can be supported through 19 data centres we have around the world and we have two of those in India in Mumbai and Hyderabad. We were able to fire up thousands of servers in a couple of hours and provide a seamless meeting experience to our users and the same level of security for everyone. That is the reason Zoom has been such a powerhouse in supporting this move to digital overnight through the year of the pandemic and continues.
Zoom also had a rough patch initially with the government regarding data security and routing concerns. How did you address those concerns? What is your current standing with the government?
I will just give some context around this. There were a couple of routine advisories issued by CERT about software and applications for users at large about features and platforms vulnerabilities and how to prevent them. So there were two advisories about Zoom that came out in March last year, one of which addressed how to safely use Zoom, which notified users about different security features Zoom deployed and how to leverage those security features in meetings, and the other one was about vulnerabilities of Zoom platform and their prevention, which was to update to a newer version of the Zoom application that was already released. This advisory was taken and MHA released an advisory thereafter highlighting some of these vulnerabilities, but I think what we did thereafter and we continue to do that as we had extensive conversations with the government including MHA, MeitY, CERT, and national cybersecurity coordinators office, and we had positive discussions where we shared our point of view, setup and systems we convinced them about the security of our platform, we also get feedback from them on where they saw certain gaps and we explained our point of view to them and based on all of these positive conversations that we are continuing to have, MeitY it has clarified that Zoom is permitted for use in government and by government officials. We are working on ensuring the best security and privacy experience for our users.
Still some government departments and public sector enterprises have their apprehensions about using Zoom and they do not permit it in their network. How is Zoom sensitising the safety and security in Zoom especially in the public sector?
We welcome all the feedback that we get from our customers and users at large both positive and negative and while we're aware that some of these apprehensions have been there in some public sector undertakings what we're doing is an extensive education programme to all of the users across the board, whether it's in government, financial sector, education, or healthcare to sensitive that the government has now permitted use of Zoom by government officials and in government departments and we're continuing to create this awareness, not just about this advice from the government but also about what we have built into the platform to make an already robust platform even more secure and trusted platform of choice for all of these users. Last year we set up our 90-day plan, where we allocated all the engineering resources throughout the company to develop features that address security and privacy. While doing this we put all other features development on hold and hence were able to release more than a hundred features in a matter of 90 days. We released our latest platform version Zoom 5.0 which supports 40 to 56-bit GCM encryption. We set up CISO Councils and our CEO conducted weekly webinars to keep everyone posted about the latest security features and updates.
Apart from that, we have some innovative features such as providing our premium users data routing control wherein the users can decide on which data centre their data for the Zoom meeting gets routed through Zoom in a user-friendly and intuitive manner. End to end encryption is among the four most security solutions which are deployed, and some of the most advanced and secure messaging platforms. With the new bouquet of features and services that our platform is providing, even all the data-sensitive sectors can now rely on Zoom as a trusted platform, because this bouquet of features is really important to data-sensitive sectors like the financial sector or healthcare.
What kind of capacity building programmes are you doing for users?
We're doing this at the user level, so all of our team in India is constantly working towards sensitising the users and people who want to use the platform out there about all of these features. In addition to that, we did a large-scale teacher training programme that was done at a global scale, where thousands of teachers have participated. On YouTube we have a lot of content, so we have certain how-to videos, we have web webinars and blog posts that are there, which everyone can access which have details about all of these features that they can use.
How does Zoom see a future roadmap for India specific to the public sector? Do you have any kind of partnership with the government?
I think that we will see an extensive backup in usage in the government and public sector riding on top of the positive guidance that we have got from the government on the use of Zoom in the public sector. I am highlighting a very interesting use case here, an initiative called gender ‘Samvad’ by the ministry of rural development that connects SHGs (self-help groups) across the country into a dialogue and some of these conversations are happening on Zoom, so they're enabling connect of policymakers and decision-makers with people in the most rural parts of our country and enabling dialogues. Similarly, we see a lot of interesting use cases happening in the welfare sector in delivering government schemes to the last person in the line and talking to people across the country. We are also seeing a lot of management of Covid happening through the Zoom platform. Several government agencies have been using Zoom for either Covid information sessions for citizens or to run our telehealth helplines on Zoom or to just do internal coordination at the same time. We're also seeing state governments deploy this for virtual classrooms. We see all of these use cases scaling up and where we think that India in its diversity can provide the most unique use cases across the board, so we're excited to support that journey for India as well.
We are in the process of building out some government partnerships in the time to come.
How does video conferencing usage increase in a year? Would you like to highlight some numbers?
I can give you some numbers from an interesting study that BCG did last year which has some data about just perception of video conferencing, and how the use of video conferencing has increased and the data suggests that the use of video conferencing has increased by three to five X in the last year. Further, we also saw that about 87% of Indian businesses are now considering flexible working staying beyond the pandemic and, of course, supported by video conferencing solutions. That 93% of people surveyed suggested that video conferencing tools will continue to be an essential part of business operations and what we saw was that in enterprise and the enterprise segment, usage increase about 11% In terms of the total number of time spent on zoom in from 2019-20 and in the small and medium businesses also there was a significant surge and about 10% increase in the total time spent on the platform, so an increase from about 23% to 33% that happened on zoom. We are seeing that in India, some of the most common use cases are happening in education, so we expect that it will grow in celebrations and social gatherings and family get-togethers, in entertainment and business, and increasingly in health as well. All of these sectors are where we will likely see a growth in usage and activity in the times to come.
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