Cisco needs to broaden their definition of collaboration

This was Cisco's third chance to show they can deliver compelling collaboration experiences that include both social networking and communication features. You know what they say about three strikes...
Written by Constellation Research, Contributor

By Alan Lepofsky

As I watched the CiscoLive! keynote titled Exceptional Collaboration Experiences in the Age of the Connected User, a line from one of my favourite movies, The Princess Bride, kept going through my head: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." In this case it's collaboration, as Cisco and I clearly have vastly different definitions of the word.

We all know WebEx web-conferencing. Similar to Microsoft Office, it's one of those tools that is almost always part of the standard business toolset. Over the years Cisco has tried to leverage its leadership in web-conferencing to expand into the new world of social networking.

At first they had Cisco Quad, which did not gain much traction. They then added new features and rebranded to WebEx Social; alas, it still did not make a big impact in the enterprise social networking market. I won't get into details here about why I think it failed, but the short version is that collaboration was never integrated into the workflow of the standard WebEx meetings that everyone participates in. For example, when a meeting ends, there are no task assignments or follow-up items created.

So I was excited back in December 2013 when Cisco acquired Collaborate, a nice social task management vendor. I thought "Hey, they may start to solve the fundamental problems with meetings." Unfortunately Cisco seems to have shutdown Collaborate and says the team has been retasked to work on other areas. So did they buy it just to own the collaborate.com URL?

Similarly, way back in 2011 Cisco acquired Versly and were going to provide a file-sharing and document editing product — yet that never saw the light of day.

Then last month another bit of news came along: Cisco was discontinuing WebEx Social and was going to partner with Jive Software to deliver an integrated collaboration and unified communication experience. You can read my thoughts on that here.

So that brings me to the CiscoLive keynotes. I was excited. I had high hopes. I thought "OK, it's their third attempt at the collaboration market, but maybe they will do better this time."

Then CEO John Chambers' opening keynote came and went without a single peep about collaboration. He focused on the company's grand vision of the "Internet of Everything", to which I say people need to be one of those "things." Still, I remained optimistic, as the main "exceptional collaboration experiences" keynote was the next day, so surely they would demonstrate an amazing vision of how employees and customers can work together to get their jobs done, right?

Well, Rowan Trollope, SVP and GM of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, delivered a very passionate keynote — about web-conferencing — on a dedicated machine. Again, nothing about people really working together around a business process. At a time when social network and sharing are part of our everyday lives, and mobile computing is skyrocketing causing CxOs to struggle with the "Bring Your Own Device" movement, Cisco highlights a brand new $2,000 desktop unit!

Yes, the DX80 is a really nice device, no question there. It does remove the desktop clutter of speakers, microsophones, headsets, etc. But is web-conferencing really Cisco's vision for expectional collaboration experiences and the Future of Work? 

The demos went well, but they were circa 2000. Seriously. A decade ago, when I helped run the keynotes for IBM, we showed n-way video chats in Sametime and told the story of how much more productive meetings were going to become. Sure, the DX80 is a lot nicer than what we used back then, but guess what? The demo was essentially the same: Presenter stands on stage, connects with a few people backstage or in another building, they all wave hi to each other to show it's live. Come on!!! Where is the business value story?

Well, it turns out they did have some good business value stories. Rowan was joined on stage by Hans Hwang,  VP Advanced Services, who talked about how MissionPoint Health Partners is using Cisco to create better patient care.  

Similar stories were told about how Coca-Cola is training their sales staff remotely instead of requiring travel; and how the oil and gas industry (I apologize, I forget which company) is increasing safety on deep sea oil rigs.  So why were these slideware and not demos?

Picture this

Imagine if they had set up a mock hospital room on stage and actually acted out a scenario where doctors collaborated to help a patient. The demo could have had a DX80 in one office and another doctor running around with his or her iPad. The two could have been members of a Jive Community where they share medical best practices; discovered the experts they needed for a specific case; launched a n-way video conversation; gotten the answers they needed in real time; posted some comments and praise in the social network; and — bam —everyone in the audience and watching online would have thought "we could really use a tool like that at our organization."

Instead, they showed people waving at each other in a web conference.

It's a war out there

Cisco is facing fierce competition coming at them from many fronts.

The other large web-conferencing vendors have far more compelling collaboration stories, including social networking, task management, document authoring and editing, file sharing and more.

  • IBM has IBM Connections, IBM Sametime and IBM Docs

  • Microsoft has Office365, Yammer, OneDrive and Lync

  • Citrix has GoToMeeting, Podio and ShareFile

  • Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise) has Ansible

On the startup front, an entire new breed of web-conferencing tools is chomping away at the web-conferencing market, including: Blue JeansFuzeJoin.Me and recently launchedSlingShot.

Even consumer tools — like Google Hangouts, Apple Facetime, Microsoft Skype and Logitech LifeSize — are replacing the old standard of using WebEx.

Where is the innovation?

Do you want to see the future of web-conferencing, take a look at companies like DVE Telepresence who are creating mind-blowing holographic offerings for meetings and even live presentations.

DVE Telepresence Powered by Microsoft Solutions from Rigel Productions on Vimeo.

Next batter...

This was Cisco's third chance to show they understand collaboration. You know what they say about three strikes...

As a company, Cisco is in a great position to be part of the new world of the "Internet of Everything" as they call it. I'm just disappointed that they did not hit the ball out of the park showing how Cisco, along with their new partner Jive Software, can deliver compelling collaboration experiences that include both social networking and communication features. Since they missed the opportunity, here I'll do it for them.


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