Enterprise Communications

Cisco Collaboration Summit: The Highlights

by Melanie Turek 26 Oct 2012
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I recently attended Cisco’s annual Collaboration Summit for analysts, consultants and partners. A lot of the content was heavy on marketing-speak, and light on new information. The truth is, the UC&C story hasn’t changed much over the past few years; the goal of unifying a quiver of communications capabilities and then delivering them to end users on a variety of devices is still in play, and for most companies, out of reach. Cisco’s emphasis on “mobility,” “cloud” and “video,” on “new ways of working” or “business process improvement,” was what we heard two years ago, and will probably still be top of mind in two years as well.

Obviously, we’ve seen—and will continue to see—technology shifts. Mobile devices are driving the need for cloud services, and for different apps and pricing models. The increased use of video (as a content stream, not a communications medium) is a real phenomenon and has ramifications for the enterprise. But the bigger and more important trends are cultural: the steady increase in the number of virtual workers; the ways in which social media has changed personal interactions and expectations; the willingness of employees to blur the lines between home and work. And, like most cultural changes, those take time to shape the new world, and the technology we use to support it.

So let’s accept that we are at the maturation point for UC&C (and S? we must include social), and that technology changes will be more incremental until the next big disrupter hits. Today, the hard parts are getting a handle on the necessary cultural and management shifts—the stuff that ensures people will use all this new technology in the most effective, and cost-effective possible way.

Of course, Cisco did have news to share, much of it technology related. Here are some thoughts on some of the conference content itself:

  • Cisco is clearly hoping that Jabber will win the desktop, but with only 1.4 million current user licenses out there, that seems unlikely. (Consider, as a point of comparison, that Cisco also claims to have 1 million telepresence users—on systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; and that Microsoft and IBM combined have close to 350 million IM/presence users.) Of course, Cisco says it’s “OK” if customers want to use Lync—and it better be, or no one will be able to use Cisco’s voice, meeting, social and collaboration products the way they really want to going forward.
  • Meanwhile, the company has re-branded its end-user-oriented tools—at least around collaboration and social, delivered in the cloud—around the WebEx name, rather than the Cisco brand. That’s a reasonable decision, given WebEx’s success and consistent market leadership, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting—will Cisco Unified Communications be next? Do users/buyers really understand the distinction?
  • One thing I asked a product manager in the WebEx Social team was when the enterprise vendors are going to start leading the charge when it comes to new technology, rather than following the trends in consumer apps, services and devices. He didn’t really have an answer—he can’t read the future—but I think it’s a good question: we seem to have grown accustomed to the new normal (consumerization of IT), but there’s no reason innovation can’t come from the business vendors, right? What’s stopping that? Cisco was very proud of its “Watch List” within WebEx Social, which calls up status posts, comments and so on that are particularly important to the user—based on specific rules and policies. How, exactly, is that different from Facebook’s email notifications and (extremely unpopular) News Feed? It’s not, really.
  • Analytics is front-and-center these days, especially when it comes to social media. First, IBM Connections boasted about that component of its latest release. Now, Cisco is touting its software’s ability to push the right content to the right users, all based on analytics. That’s all well and good—in theory. In practice, Facebook still sends me ads for political candidates I hate, medical procedures I don’t need, and clothes I just bought. Analytics is hard; add the vast amount of real-time information and strange, unstructured data delivered by and within social media, and the problem becomes almost impossible.
  • Perhaps the most compelling session was delivered by Hans Hwang, who talked about the critical importance of adoption of collaboration tools. There is a high cost to low adoption, he says-suboptimal ROI, lost collaboration benefits, and stalled strategic initiatives. And this is true, especially now. Early adopters—both on a company level, and within a company—have already had their say; they’ve deployed and are using the technology. Now, as we start to see the mainstreaming of the technology, the new users are less apt to use the new technology; they weren’t looking for it, they aren’t inherently excited about it, and they aren’t particularly inclined to use it. That requires a change in how you deploy the technology—you need to treat is as you would any other kind of new technology, rather than as a user-driven, intuitive tool that people will clamor to use.
  • It strikes me as bizarre that we are still talking about why federation and interoperability are important. Companies and their employees must be able to communicate and collaborate with their customers and partners. End of story. Make it happen.

Best quote, Laurent Philomenko: “BYOD, otherwise known as ‘Spend Your Own Money.’”

One last point: Cisco is among the better conferencing hosts when it comes to providing power outlets, table surfaces, and high-speed, reliable Internet access within its conference sessions. The goal is to enable tweeting and communication for participants, allowing them to “continue the conversation” online, especially with the thousands of virtual participants who attended the conference remotely. But a quick glance at the laptops, tablets and smart phones all around me showed that almost everyone was also answering email, working on documents, and reading up on the most recent presidential debate. Which once again begs the question: is giving employees (or, in this case, conference attendees) constant access to UC&C making them more productive, or just more connected? And, in today’s world, does the distinction even matter?

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