Roopam Jain's Blog


Cisco Seeks to Compete More Squarely with Microsoft and Google

21 Nov 2014 | by Roopam Jain
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At Collaboration Summit this week, Cisco made a host of announcements sending a clear message – it is looking to simplify collaboration by changing how it innovates and brings its next generation products to market. Cisco is focused on removing the traditional barriers to meetings by eliminating the silos between audio, video and web conferencing to make collaboration faster and easier. Cisco’s new found emphasis on design and usability has a more consumer like approach, it is very light weight and intuitive. Moreover, Cisco’s huge cloud and software push and yet continued focus on the iron-clad enterprise practicality that customers have come to expect from it, is a new turn for the communication giant’s multibillion dollar collaboration business. All this combined with a mobile first approach and a strong initiative to break down internal silos within its collaboration business bodes well for Cisco.

The product that received the most attention this week was Project Squared, a new offering that brings together discrete communications under a team collaboration environment. It is essentially a mobile-first virtual meeting room which offers always-on messaging; instant voice, video, multipoint meetings; and content sharing in a team-centric workspace. It is designed to overcome the challenges that users regularly face – instantly getting into any type of meeting across devices with internal and external teams. Squared is built upon Cisco Collaboration Cloud; it leverages and extends the value of (rather than replacing) Cisco’s existing web conferencing, video conferencing and UC products. Sounds familiar? Well, we’ve seen iterations of this in the past from Cisco. There are also solutions from other vendors in the market that address this need such as Acano coSpaces and the recently launched Circuit by Unify, among others, which are built on the premise of team workspaces to bring people and content together.

So what is Cisco doing different? The most appealing part about Squared is the ease of entry into the app and getting started on the fly – very consumer like. The experience is so simple that the time to start collaborating is instant. Nothing beats that ease of access and simplicity from a user point of view. While it is mobile-first, there is an equal emphasis on having a rich desktop app, which is often overlooked. The combination of a new alliance with Box and integration with Cisco’s other applications ensures a single place for all sync and async communications. Project Squared is available to download now; it will be commercially launched next year. Until then it is a “project” that will see constant iterations and improvements based on user, partner and ecosystem feedback. A full set of bells and whistles, and to a certain extent some required functionality for more meaningful conversations, is missing in this early iteration. However, the concept of launching it as an ongoing project is smart on Cisco’s part. Kudos to Cisco’s leadership team led by Rowan Trollope and the development team led by Jonathan Rosenberg for shifting gears to build a new face for Cisco.

The evolution of Project Squared is entrenched in emerging market trends. Users are looking for more than great online meeting tools. Meetings themselves are becoming more than “one and done” events. It’s about the continuity of collaboration - everything in one place, in a room if you may, even after the meeting has concluded. Users want persistent team collaboration and a single workspace where sync and async communication modes fuse to help them do the day to day work better. Secondly, users want to have that same experience regardless of the device or location. This triggers the need for solutions like Squared.

With Squared, Cisco is eyeing the bigger market for team collaboration to better compete with the growing footprint of Microsoft and Google that offer solutions such as Lync with Sharepoint and Hangouts for working across teams. And it is aiming to do so through an overarching cloud and mobile first approach, which is well aligned with how users want to procure and use collaboration. The end-to-end Cisco story is very much relevant for enterprise customers that don't want to deal with the hassles of acquiring the several pieces of their collaboration puzzle from multiple vendors. Also, Cisco has proven that it can offer flexible deployment models which address a big market need today (cloud, on-prem, hybrid). To that end, the most exciting aspect of Squared is integration with Cisco Fusion, which offers customers the ability to blend workloads from cloud and on-premise assets. Lastly, open APIs that Cisco will make available in the future will offer developers opportunities to build Squared into custom work flows. Having said that, the market for team collaboration tools is getting increasingly crowded. The piece I believe that can truly differentiate Cisco is rich content sharing and management capabilities that will directly address the growing content chaos.

Cisco’s announcements come in the wake of new and not so new competitors nibbling away at Cisco’s market share. The likes of Citrix GoToMeeting, Join.me and Blue Jeans are challenging Cisco’s video and web conferencing dominance. It seems the new Cisco is open to disrupting and reinventing itself before others disrupt it. However, Cisco needs to do more than make exciting products. It must find ways to simplify its channel strategy, solve the conundrum of complex licensing schemes it has built for its fast growing software portfolio, and take bigger measures to get deeper and wider into SMBs. Moreover, with the company’s ongoing collaboration revenue decline and gradually eroding market shares, it needs to do so with an eye on swift monetization.

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