Update On Cisco's Collaboration Strategy

Special thanks to Art Schoeller, TJ Keitt, Henry Dewing, and Ted Schadler for their input

I went to Cisco's Collaboration Summit last week to hear the latest from the various product teams and some of their marquee customers. Much of the story remains the same: Cisco continues to dominate in video and web conferencing; it is taking strong steps in the right direction but still has a lot of work ahead to deliver a cohesive collaboration platform with the likes of Microsoft, IBM, and Google:

  • Video continues to be a key differentiator. Cisco is expanding its foothold in video at different ends of the market. Highlights from the conference include Telepresence Conductor, a component that optimizes the video traffic in large enterprises with multiple MCUs; and Callway, a hosted service for SMBs that don't want to invest in dedicated infrastructure. The most interesting development to me is the redesigned Jabber client, Cisco's push to compete with Lync. SVP for Telepresence OJ Winge described it to me as a combination of the best technologies from Cisco's applications for IM (Jabber), video (Movi), and voice. The recently released Jabber SDK also allows developers to enable Jabber IM, presence, voice, web conferencing -- and in the future, video -- in web applications like Gmail or SAP.
  • But Quad has yet to take off. While Cisco is expanding the reach of WebEx with a freemium version (for up to three meeting participants), its social platform Quad only has a few early customers that are still figuring out how to use it. Cisco must demonstrate large deployments and broad market traction to prove that it's a viable player in a crowded market. When questioned about their integration strategy Cisco said it is working on integrations with SharePoint and Documentum.
  • Cisco is taking overdue steps with integrations. Cisco has finally agreed to use one identity stack across products, which is overdue especially in HCS. This will be the only way Cisco can scale up to large multi-tenant cloud and down to small, fully integrated, low-cost premise-based deployment models. A number of major integrations between Quad, Jabber, WebEx, and Telepresence were also on display: For example, WebEx will have a pre-meeting page that incorporates activity streams of participants from Quad, and meetings will include video participants on Jabber and Telepresence. Longer term, Cisco plans to build a common architectural platform that will allow for a set of shared services between its collaboration applications.
  • But plenty of engineering challenges lie ahead. Today, each of Cisco's collaboration applications still has its own set of deployment options as far as hosted, multi-tenant cloud, and on-prem. To develop a cohesive platform, Director of Collaboration Marketing Lynn Lucas described a vision for Cisco of "one brand under the cloud" that will include WebEx, Connect, Quad, and Callway. Chief Technology and Experience Officer Susie Wee promised to streamline the user experience between applications. Cisco admitted it needs to simplify the messaging and to provide a simpler way for customers to order and pay for its collaboration services.

The idea of an integrated collaboration offering is compelling. But development issues of course raise the question of how quickly Cisco can execute on this vision. In addition to working on the user experience -- which is critical -- Cisco needs to document and articulate a full back end strategy to improve the management experience. It's much harder for users to have a great experience when these applications span multiple back ends. Plus infrastructure teams have to work harder to coordinate multiple, overlapping capabilities (e.g., disparate identity stores). Cisco knows this and is working on it (finally). But it needs a much clearer story on how these back ends merge, go multi-tenant for cloud, and scale down for small business on premise.

What do you think of Cisco's collaboration strategy?