WebEx chief quits Cisco for Salesforce.com

Is WebEx a sinking vessel? The Cisco insider brought in to captain the web collaboration business after acquisition has just jumped ship to embark on a new career with Salesforce.com.

Doug Dennerline, a long-serving Cisco insider who took the reins at web conferencing leader WebEx several months after Cisco acquired it, has quit his job as senior VP and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Software Group to become executive VP, enterprise sales Americas at Salesforce.com [disclosure: both WebEx and Salesforce.com are former clients].

I interviewed Dennerline in January last year, just weeks after he took up the collaboration software role at Cisco, and he outlined four priorities for that year:

  • Get Cisco’s sales team selling the WebEx service
  • Finish preparations for a production launch of WebEx Connect, the company’s on-demand collaboration and composite applications platform
  • Harness Cisco’s partner channel to sell WebEx
  • Tap Cisco’s resources to bolster research and development of new WebEx services

Although WebEx has continued to grow and has brought out some Cisco-inspired enhancements to its offerings, progress on all four points has been lukewarm and it's no surprise Dennerline found himself tempted by the more vibrant pastures at salesforce.com. (As an aside, I'm also intrigued to see Salesforce.com hiring again at that level after cutting some senior sales management roles just six months ago — as well as wondering what Cisco, one of Salesforce.com's banner customers, thinks about its supplier poaching one of its top executives).

To see Dennerline jump ship no doubt compounds the demoralization of long-term WebEx staffers. Sure, Cisco is a good company to be employed by and the WebEx brand is still strong and proud, but as I wrote last month, it's languished under Cisco's stewardship:

"WebEx is achieving neither the pace of feature innovation nor the openness to third-party extension that we expect from leading SaaS applications ... despite metrics like 220,000 daily meetings held on the platform, I’m sad to say that WebEx comes across as a meager, undernourished poster child for Cisco’s ambitions in cloud services."

I'm no expert on Cisco's internal politics. I would hope the company will use Dennerline's departure as an opportunity to infuse WebEx and the rest of the cloud collaboration portfolio with new energy. But that doesn't seem to be Cisco's trademark approach.

Meanwhile, Salesforce.com today launches a new VAR program designed to open up its Force.com platform-as-a-service offering to the mass of developers and solution providers who traditionally have serviced the IT needs of small to mid-sized businesses and who increasingly are looking for ways to stay relevant in the cloud computing era. The contrast with the virtually forgotten and largely partnerless WebEx Connect platform — which was widely seen as a potential Force.com rival at its original launch back in September 2006 but has barely been heard of since — could not be more stark.


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