What is Cisco Selling Now? It’s Not UC

What is Cisco Selling Now? It’s Not UC

By Jon Arnold May 13, 2014 6 Comments
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What is Cisco Selling Now? It’s Not UC by Jon Arnold

Over the past few weeks, I’m pretty sure that I was the only analyst who attended two particular Cisco events. One was Connect 2014, their annual Canadian event for partners and customers in Toronto, and more recently, their Customer Collaboration Analyst Day, held in Phoenix. Together, these gave me a pretty good window on their priorities for the UC market, and I’m sharing them here.

We all know how UC poses both challenges and threats, and how hard the vendors are working to find the right value proposition. With last month’s UC Summit barely in the rear view mirror, it’s clear that the channels have a lot of catching up to do with how rapidly things are changing. As we saw in La Jolla, there are plenty of new ways for the channel to add value, but it won’t be easy. Not only are the technologies constantly changing, but so are the go-to-market plans for the vendors.

Given Cisco’s prominence in this space, their roadmap is hard to ignore, and while they don’t always bet right, there’s little doubt from these events that they’ve given UC careful thought and are not leaving things to chance. For the most part, all UC vendors understand this too, but Cisco has a leadership position to defend, and they’re very focused on specific opportunities for growth. In this context, here are two takeaways from these events that channels should pay attention to.

1. Get with the program - it’s not about UC

It’s not even about collaboration. The driver now is “delivering collaborative customer experiences for driving business outcomes.” During these events, UC is mentioned from time to time, but the attention is moving from technology solutions to business solutions. At the Connect event, there were lots of technical tracks that cover the granular details, but that’s not where the selling happens.

While the messaging is generally for the enterprise market, the overall theme for collaboration solutions is to move the conversation beyond the IT people to the business decision makers. The faster you can do that, the better, since Cisco is trying to position collaboration from the start at the top of the value chain. Technology investments are getting harder to cost-justify, and when you can directly link collaboration to business outcomes, executives will pay attention.

During the analyst day, Cisco shared findings from their extensive research confirming this, and we got further support during some of the partner presentations. Cisco is happy to talk speeds and feeds any time, but what buyers really want – for example – is a vendor with strong enough relationships across their organization that can “bridge IT and business stakeholders.”

2. The experience is everything

Nothing really new here, but at both events, we heard a lot about the importance of having a user-centric approach to collaboration, especially when dealing with customers. As was aptly noted in Phoenix, “experience trumps technology.”

Cisco may have a comprehensive and complex product portfolio, but they have also embraced this thinking, and we got some great demos as proof points. Both events featured a demo of the SX10, which truly is a plug-and-play, out of the box Telepresence solution for SMBs. It’s hard to imagine HD video being easier to set up, and they’ve really done their homework to make this fool-proof. When collaboration tools are this intuitive, UC will definitely gain traction – not just because it’s easy to use, but the SX10 is also an affordable piece of hardware that channels can sell without much difficulty.

On that note, I have to mention that Cisco is paying a lot of attention to design in their collaboration products. Aside from the SX10, we also got a sneak peak – under NDA – of another endpoint that will be equally compelling. If you’re seeing a bit of Apple or even Samsung in this thinking, I would agree with you.  Cisco may never succeed as a consumer company, but they’ve taken some pages from these players in terms of creating great-looking products that deliver a high-value experience without having to read a complicated user guide.

As a coda, I wanted to mention an analogy that Rowan Trollope used at Connect to describe the buying process for UC. Think about going to the toy store with a young child. They get excited right away by whatever toy (shiny object) that catches their eye, and as the parent, you don’t want to ruin the moment, but you have to make a balanced decision. You’re the economic buyer, but the child is the consumer (end user) who will get all the fun (benefit). I’ve been saying much the same thing for a while now, and a big challenge for UC vendors is to make the product as enticing as possible for end users, but backing that up with a business case that a rational decision maker will understand.

What it all means

Every vendor has its own vision of collaboration, and my take is that Cisco has this pretty well figured out. In Phoenix, we heard about how their sales organization is a “collaborative culture,” not just for internal operations, but also in how they work with partners. If you’re living and breathing collaboration, it stands to reason you’ll be pretty good at selling it.

Their current level of success is validating this, but it’s not always harmonious. A key strength for Cisco is their partner ecosystem, and that was covered at length in Phoenix. While this makes for a complete collaboration solution, these partners have direct selling relationships with Cisco’s customers too, and this type of collaboration requires some nuanced give and take.

There’s a fine line to balance here, and all vendors struggle on this front. For channels, the caveat is to consider how Cisco’s ecosystem might impact relationships you have with other UC vendors. Some partners are all-or-nothing with Cisco, while others are agnostic, so it’s important to consider all the pieces behind a vendor’s UC offering.

Otherwise, my conclusion is pretty pro-Cisco in terms of what resonates with business decision-makers right now. Not every business is ready for such a rich solution, but if you’re looking for collaboration to be a strategic driver rather than a tactical investment in technology, I’d say that Cisco has its finger on the pulse.


6 Responses to "What is Cisco Selling Now? It’s Not UC" - Add Yours

Tim Banting 5/14/2014 1:20:52 AM

Jon, I wondered if you could throw some more light on the phrase "delivering collaborative customer experiences for driving business outcomes”?

I worry about the marketing rhetoric behind "driving business outcomes"- what does that translate to in terms of specific business results?

Early on in my career I was told a business benefit was anything that "saves, solves, increases or decreases" something.

Were examples given at your recent presentations?
Art Rosenberg 5/14/2014 10:45:01 AM


You can't ignore the impact that "Customer BYOD" will have on business outcomes. That means that the Service Providers have to support end user needs across many business interactions and many endpoints.

To some extent, Cisco has entrenched themselves with many carriers for legacy telephony services. However, with UC-enabled, "cloud" applications, it's becoming more about software than hardware, and that's not been Cisco's forte. Obviously, the multimodal communication race is on, but last year's telephony winners will not dominate the future.
Peter Huboi 5/15/2014 1:28:12 PM

If you key in on "“bridge IT and business stakeholders.” and it turns out that the business stakeholders like using Microsoft Lync for UC ( .... is this why Cisco is moving away from wanting to discuss "UC"?) then what does the simplicity of setting up the SX10 as a video endpoint to talk with a Lync UC video client look like?

Not so simple ... looking at the Cisco "getting-started-guide/video-systems-getting-started-guide-tc71.pdf" that is for provisioning the SX series endpoint, choosing a Lync Server is not a choice. Now what?

Compare this to using Polycom CX5100 with Microsoft Lync . If you have a small room with video connector to the monitor on the wall in the room (most do), the user brings their laptop in and simply plugs a USB cable from the CX5100 into their laptop and uses the Lync client they already know how to use. It is plug-and-play. You get a 360 degree panoramic view of the room and you get active speaker detection that shows the active speaker in 1080p. When you plug in, you do not even need to change configuration settings in the laptop or Lync client to make the CX5100 the camera and audio source. Lync automatically recognizes the CX5100 and now configuration setting adjustments are required.

For CUCM customers, the CX5500 (same as CX5100 with respect to video calls with Lync via USB) only it also support SIP telephony and has a touchscreen display with a dial pad. You'd configure the voice port to CUCM as an open-SIP device in CUCM. Both modes of operation support a microphone range of 20 feet with the HD voice quality Polycom is famous for.

When Lync is the business stakeholders choice for UC client, this is about as simple as it possibly gets.
Peter Huboi 5/15/2014 1:31:47 PM

Sorry ,,, typo in my last entry and no edit capability ... "Lync automatically recognizes the CX5100 and 'NO' configuration setting adjustments are required.
Fabrizio Capone 5/16/2014 1:36:13 AM

I agree with Art. I think that the real winner in the UCC market is the end user, also in the businesses. From my point of view the "best of breed" solutions are the best choices for businesses, not the "vendor lock in" ones. But for Businesses, the QoS is one of the most important value and, in this sense, Cisco has a very good opportunity to keep doing his job mainly as networking vendor.
Jon Arnold 5/16/2014 11:59:40 AM

Good comments so far, and I agree wtih Fabrizio and Art - end users are big winners.

Peter - your point seems valid, but I'm not an IT consultant and can't comment on that level of detail. I do agree, though, that not talking about UC is a way to stay away from Lync, and there's a lot at stake here.

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