Cisco Live! - CEO Chambers on Collaboration Business Value

The above video clips (from my handheld Flip) are from John Chambers Cisco Live! keynote address today and are specifically two edits about Cisco's strategic perspective on collaboration and Web 2.
Written by Oliver Marks, Contributor

The above video clips (from my handheld Flip) are from John Chambers Cisco Live! keynote address today and are specifically two edits about Cisco's strategic perspective on collaboration and Web 2.0 technologies in the enterprise. In the second edit Chambers talks about Cisco's business architectural re-engineering into a collaborative enterprise, which I have previously written about here.

"A year ago Collaboration & Web 2.0 was something people were trying but it wasn't mainline yet...today almost every major enterprise is saying we have to move into this area. It is going to drive the next decade of productivity" says Chambers early on in the above footage.

Yesterday I was briefed by Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior and SVP of Collaboration Doug Dennerline, including on the four core layers Cisco see defining the cloud business internet: at the base is Infrastructure As A Service, above this sits IT As A Service (storage, bandwidth: Cisco's size is an enabler to be a key cloud compute player), resting on this is Platform As A Service (WebEx connect for example) and the top layer is Software As A Service (WebEx, Security Services...).

The previous couple of paragraphs are two perspectives on Cisco - a third perspective is the 10,000 people at the conference here in San Francisco and the thousands more attending virtually, the vast majority of whom are in the internet infrastructure business. Cisco of course are a vast company that essentially dominate the internet from core global infrastructure - including routers in space - to the intricate wiring of individual and interconnected businesses.

Most of the conference attendees, and the source of Cisco's immense profitability, are focused on the rapidly evolving global network infrastructure buildout which is now increasingly expanding into the consumer world.

Writing a short blog post about Cisco is like trying to write about the planet in scope, so pulling the three perspective strands above together - John Chambers vision and collaborative management structure, the cloud paas and saas momentum (on premise is an existing given) and the core network infrastructure business - are more than enough to chew on.

This short video by Cisco's VP of Unified Communications Karen Wilson does a good job of describing the concept of the network as the platform, getting technologies that didn't use to talk to each other talk to each other ... and this thinking now increasingly includes groups of humans....

This is where Cisco gets interesting. Historically over a mere 20 year history they have created and plumbed ever more sophisticated network infrastructure - they are deep into enabling the physical world of tracking the soon-to-be-ubiquitous Radio frequency Identification (rfid) chips - but it is the focus on human networks that moves Cisco into the relatively uncharted human collaboration realm.

When Cisco say collaboration - as they do frequently in massive international advertising - their messaging is all about video and voice communication. This is understandable given that they have rapidly superseded the old copper telephony route infrastructure with multi use fiber and the huge profits from moving video bits around. Chambers incidentally today predicted telepresence would be a home appliance within four years, and Webex as both platform and as software service is rapidly evolving.

Despite the innovative, trendsetting transition from command and control management style to Chamber's signature collaborative methodologies and CTO Warrior's predictions for the future of collaborative work practices, Cisco are relatively light on software offerings in this space despite a sophisticated internal infrastructure.

Last weeks' Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston triggered some questions about the validity or even reality of the conference's eponymous subject.

Enterprise Web 2.0

Cisco, like many large companies, refer to Web 2.0 used in a business context to achieve specific objectives rather than as an evangelical movement. There are thousands of network training books available from Cisco press - here's a different type of training book called 'Enterprise Web 2.0 Fundamentals' which 'helps you identify the specific innovations most likely to deliver value in your organization'. John Matlock "Gunny" (Winnemucca, NV)'s Amazon review entertainingly comments

"This book presents the Web 2.0 as a series of applications. Sort of like the definition of pornography: The Web 2.0 may not be able to be defined, but I know it when I see it".

There's probably more brevity there than a thousand blog posts on the subject by those on the sidelines! To those people, building browser based infrastructure that solves business problems, whether by facilitating communication, information sharing, interoperability and/or collaboration on the World Wide Web are the fundamentals, as is the case with Web 2.0.

Separately, there's plenty of absurd sales focused nonsense flying around in the social media space, like this lightweight post 'HOW TO: Use Social Media for Enterprise Business' on 'social media and web tips' site Mashable, which sadly confuses and obscures the true commercial value and effectiveness of collaborative techniques.

My fellow Enterprise 2.0 conference advisory board members can attempt to arrange case study examples of Enterprise 2.0 for consumption by interested parties, but as I've said previously

...The reality is that if a collaboration environment has become a core enterprise component it is therefore also part of that business’s competitive advantage arsenal. The advantages of showing it off to the world are usually less than nil, with a larger downside...

Cisco are releasing a broad framework which reveals how they structured their journey to become a more collaborative organization. My caveat is that this, like most case history use cases, have their progenitor's cultural DNA woven through it. It is however an extremely useful step in the right direction to help the market coalesce around understood business values.

Enterprise 2.0 is a relatively immature industry currently dominated by vendor differentiation messaging. As the technologies and business value mature and come into focus, it will be interesting to see whether Cisco chose to move up the intellectual value chain. Having started with network infrastructure, they are now well positioned 20 years later to provide collaborative networks for knowledge workers on a platform and service level unencumbered by legacy products in the field.

Launching next generation - or as is their style purchasing an existing player's - collaboration products could round out Cisco's offerings to be less video centric. Whether the Microsoft Office juggernaut will survive the rapid changes of the online collaborative era will depend largely on the quality and cost of alternatives.

The fact that Cisco are so close to the infrastructure could also give potential competitive advantage over Google apps.

How a potential Cisco Enterprise Web 2.0 offering interoperates with existing legacy technologies and solves security issues could provide a valuable shopping mall style anchor tenant role to the rest of the nascent collaboration industry.

CTO Padmasree Warrior's keynote is Wednesday at 10:00 pst and can be seen virtually. She then does a live chat session from 11:45 – 12:15 pst.

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