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That’s the message for this year’s state of collaboration from Cisco, and with such noble intentions, you’d think we were just a few apps away from sending an astronaut to Mars. I’m all for dreaming big, and when Marthin de Beer talked about the Curiosity Rover mission to Mars, you have to conclude that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. More to the point, you can do anything by collaborating and harnessing our collective abilities.
Fair enough, and clearly Cisco’s technology has a big role to play in driving the innovation that produces such great results. Of course, we managed to put a man on the moon with relatively primitive technology, and aside from luck and political will, the outcome was achieved largely through human ingenuity. This is just one example of effective collaboration that isn’t driven by technology, and while I like what Cisco is doing, let’s not lose sight of the fact that technology is just an enabler – most decisions are still ultimately made based on human judgment.
I know Cisco believes this too, otherwise they wouldn’t be telling us that collaboration helps us make better decisions. I’m not convinced we make better decisions in groups – otherwise we wouldn’t need leaders – but there’s no denying the need to work increasingly in a collaborative setting these days. This brings us to the first two words in their theme – empower and engage. When the tools are easy to use, they certainly empower individuals, and by extension this empowers groups to perform more effectively. Clearly, the more empowered we feel, the more we will engage when tasked with a common goal. No problem there.
When you get empowered people engaging, you get collaboration, and that’s Cisco’s mission now. We heard a lot in Los Angeles about how they’re covering this market from every angle. WebEx is now the platform around which their tools will revolve – telepresence, IP telephony, Jabber, social media, etc. The key is having call control for both video and voice, and this takes us to UC Manager, which they demonstrated very effectively. I’m slowly bringing UC into the discussion, but not quite yet.
Back to covering the market, at the summit they made announcements around HCS. Not only are they offering both a Cisco-branded WebEx platform and one that can be partner hosted – Cisco HCS – but also cloud and premise-based versions. It’s taken a while, but they’ve finally consolidated all the various pieces into a streamlined WebEx-based platform that the market can readily understand. More importantly, they have routes to market that suit all types of end customers and channel partners.
We saw lots of examples of great end user experiences across all the modes – desktop video, telepresence, tablets, smart phones, etc., so there’s no question that these tools work. Based on the traction reported – over 200,000 customers using UC Manager, over 100 HCS customers, etc. – Cisco is having good success with their vision. I’d say they’ve bet right on the collaboration theme and the focus on empower and engage will keep them on that track.
I’m only touching on a few aspects of the event, by the way, so you’ll need to scan the blogs and articles out there to get a more complete picture. For our readers here, I wanted address the subtle difference between collaboration and UC. We all know what UC is – and so does Cisco – but you don’t hear them use that term very much. Vendors understand UC, IT understands UC, but end users don’t. However, they do understand empower and engage, and collaboration is the desired behavior when those fall into place. Cisco doesn’t care which tools you use, as long as you get the job done. In other words, they’ve focused the message on the end user and what IT needs them to do with these tools. The term UC simply doesn’t resonate with the end user, and while UCStrategies readers may be disappointed to hear that, I think Cisco has the right messaging here.
This brings me to the third word of their theme – innovate. I’m having more difficulty here, but it’s good to raise the bar high. Engage and empower are necessary but not sufficient conditions to produce meaningful innovation. Of course innovation can be on a small or incremental scale, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, I think Cisco is overselling the end result, with a lot of talk around “unlocking our potential” and helping us do “extraordinary things.” Every business would love to see that happen, but what if the results are just middling? Will all that investment in collaboration really be worth it?
I’m not trying to sour on the vision, but it’s easy to hype such wonderful outcomes when so much is yet to be discovered with today’s technology. The possibilities are endless and very exciting, but big time innovation just doesn’t happen every day. If it were that easy to do, we’d already be living in the world of “perfect capitalism” that locknote speaker Dr. Michio Kaku laid out for us.
After all, it’s not Cisco’s job to create your innovations – they provide the tools and the rest is up to you. In today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, every company is desperate for an edge, so it’s easy to buy into the promise of innovation via technology. That’s a false hope for me, but I certainly buy into what Cisco’s world of collaboration – and UC – enables. In the right culture, absolutely; WebEx, telepresence, Jabber, Show and Share, Social Miner, etc. can help companies do great things. Innovation, however, isn’t an app or a cloud-based service – IaaS perhaps? – I believe that companies are just as likely to stumble into innovation by accident as they are by design.
Enough about the value of innovation. I’d like to close this post out on what is likely a higher ambition for Cisco. Innovation is sexy and noble, but it’s not really Cisco’s problem if you fail to get there. Collaboration is important but the end game is market leadership, and Cisco made some subtle but clear references to their true intentions – “win the workspace.” Most of us would read that as code for owning the desktop and knocking Microsoft off their perch. To defend that position, Cisco talked a lot about having the right architecture and networking expertise to get the most out of empower and engage.
Well, there’s a good case to be made for the importance of these things, and if this means the gauntlet has been thrown down, then MSFT will have to counter. Many of my colleagues believe the collaboration space is a two-horse race – although Avaya and Siemens will certainly say otherwise – and it will be interesting to see how far this year’s collaboration theme takes them towards getting that win.
Speaking of winning, I have a short personal coda. Nobody embodies the competitive spirit like John Chambers, and this marks two years that he hasn’t been at the Collaboration Summit. There has been talk of leadership succession, and for the sessions I attended, I only heard his name referenced once. I’m not sure if that’s by design, and perhaps Cisco is trying to get us used to having him in front of us less often. The time will certainly come for change at the top, and Cisco is no exception. MSFT did it ages ago with Bill Gates, and many of the other vendors have done so recently for various reasons – Avaya, RIM, Apple, ShoreTel, Mitel, Metaswitch, just to name a few. Some have fared better than others with new leaders and no doubt Cisco is giving such weighty issues a lot of thought – I’ll even bet they’re collaborating about this as we speak. If you hear anything, let us know!
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Communications Integrated to Optimize Business Processes.
UC integrates real-time and non-real time communications with business processes and requirements.
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