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Cisco's Growing Role in Mobility and Video - Thoughts from CScape 2011

16 Jul 2011 | by Roopam Jain
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Early this week I attended Cisco Live and the adjunct CScape analyst event in high energy Vegas. Despite the press surrounding Cisco’s ongoing troubles (, the tone of the event was positive and the attendance was a record 15,000+ attendees in-person and 40,000+ attending virtually. Cisco’s executive team remains focused and committed to execute despite the distractions. John Chambers’ keynote was balanced – upbeat but realistic enough to make Cisco’s recovery path appear credible. It covered everything that one expected to hear as Cisco moves ahead, acknowledging the need to streamline the company and focusing on innovation around four key communication tenets – mobile, social, visual and virtual.

Cisco’s collaboration business has been a strong performer and was the focus of my discussions at Cscape. Cisco laid out a clear direction and roadmap for Jabber and WebEx, with Jabber becoming Cisco's next generation unified client that ties together multiple communication and collaboration applications. Mobility has long been center stage for Cisco and, as one of the four key tenets, is now even more prominent in the company’s initiatives. Besides the progress made by its own enterprise grade  collaboration-ready tablet Cius, Cisco also leads the market in providing extensions of its communication applications over multiple mobile devices and operating systems. WebEx offers High Quality video over ipads, iphones and Android devices. With more than 1 million mobile downloads already, WebEx mobile is clearly a point in case for the fast emerging world of mobile collaboration. Cisco’s overall mobility strategy positions it well for the post-PC era, a clear differentiator over its competitors.

Video as expected remains a key highlight at any Cisco event. During his keynote, Chambers set the tone for video’s prominent role in the future with a bold statement that video will not only be the next voice but will also be the primary form of IT. While one may question the ability or willingness of IT and the timeline for the transition, it clearly reflects a growing end user need and the direction that Cisco will continue to pursue. Video has been integrated into all communication clients offered by Cisco including Jabber. Jabber video clients will interoperate with Cisco TelePresence and other video solutions as well. High Quality video within WebEx will be enhanced to HD video, further putting the spotlight on the role of video in desktop collaboration. Lastly, Cisco’s recent focus on openness and standards based products removes several doubts around its ability to interoperate.

As one looks at Cisco’s pervasive video strategy, it's reasonable to question customers’ ability to deploy wide scale video and its impact over their networks. I saw demos of Cisco’s recently announced Conductor solution and Prime Software. Conductor, which acts as a traffic director to ensure intelligent conference placement and admin controls, and Prime a comprehensive network management tool could solve several IT headaches associated with broad video deployments. Expect to hear more from Cisco's infrastructure team as it works across several fronts to bring out advanced management and control capabilities. For customers looking at outsourcing videoconferencing, Cisco offers Callway, a cloud -based subscription service which was launched early this year. Interestingly, Callway remains little known and under-marketed. There is a growing need among customers to move video into the cloud for ease of use and management and to enable seamless B2B communications. B2B remains a key challenge for videoconferencing customers today. The Frost analyst team met with BT conferencing, a key Cisco partner, at the show. BT is doing significant work on B2B and managed services for video, providing an open interoperable environment between multiple vendors' solutions and is seeing very strong growth revenue growth for its managed videoconferencing services.

At the pervasive video roundtable discussion it was heartening to see a true case of pervasive video presented by West Texas A&M University which is using video for learning, security and communications to enable next generation learning. Video has been integrated through web presence, learning management systems, digital signage, surveillance, and video enabled smart boards using Cisco MXE and Show and Share. James Web, CIO at West Texas A&M University, mentioned that the new generation of students uses video and social media pervasively. As a result, they not only expect video in the class room but in some cases are demanding it.

I left CScape with a clear understanding of Cisco’s advantage in the industry as an end to end provider of all elements of collaboration to its customers – messaging, presence, voice, audio, video and web conferencing, unified messaging and mobility. However, Cisco’s collaboration vision is not without challenges. Its product lines today are a mish mash of multiple architectures and form factors. While consolidation is on Cisco’s agenda, we expect it to be a while before we see significant product simplification from an end user perspective. The multiple acquisitions have also resulted in operational challenges. Cisco’s channel integration issues, post Tandberg acquisition, have been well known. Cisco launched a new program for its AV channels early this year. However, its channel issues will be resolved only gradually as Cisco builds a well laid out plan, where each partner sees benefits in the bigger Cisco pond. Lastly, to ensure long term growth Cisco needs to aggressively address its lack of presence at the low to mid end of the market where competition is winning. Not only will Cisco need to redesign the products but also address a new level of price competitiveness that it is traditionally not known for.

Over the next several months a key focus at Cisco is streamlining. If Cisco stays focused on its execution plan, it can drive new growth through its collaboration portfolio which is very well positioned to lead in the post-PC era and in next generation  communications that will be supercharged with video.