Bridges and Clouds - Cisco Collaboration Analyst Summit 2019
New leadership team, new energy. That’s what the analysts who attended the Cisco Collaboration Analyst Summit got to experience. Led by the effervescent Amy Chang, Cisco’s collaboration team is enthusiastic, passionate, and energetic, ready to take on old and new competitors in the collaboration space. The team is focused on growth and celebrated 24% year-over-year growth with champagne and cupcakes for the analysts (I’d also like to give a shout out to Chuck Robbins who took time out of his busy earnings announcement day to meet with the analysts and answer questions).
It was the first time many of us met Chang, but it won’t be the last. As she told the analysts, “You’ll be seeing a lot more of us and we’ll be spending more time together. We need your input. We’ll be giving out roadmaps every nine months.” Chang is clearly open to hearing from the analysts about what Cisco is doing right and wrong and is interested in our input.
In fact, based on previous analyst feedback, Chang acknowledged that there are problems that needed addressing, notably complexity and the need for more interoperability and interoperation. She laughingly told the analysts, “Give us a kick where you see we’re too complicated.”
To address these issues, Cisco focused on several key themes at the event:
- Building bridges, not islands. Chang noted that Cisco is building a team that will deliver one consistent, interoperable portfolio. Interoperability is key, and Cisco is working with Microsoft, Apple, Google, Slack, etc. and others. Sri Srinivasan, SVP/GM Webex Meetings, Team & Devices, discussed how Cisco is bridging experiences between its various products and services, while bridging experiences to the third-party applications that customers use today. He also emphasized the “power of the platform,” providing consistency across Calling, Meetings, Teams, and contact center applications.
- Winning hearts and minds – this is about how Cisco is simplifying the end user experience and transforming IT experiences. According to Javed Khan, VP/GM Webex Meetings, Cisco doubled down on end user experiences. For example, the in-meeting experience was redesigned, making it easier to schedule and join meetings - users can simply press the green “join” button from any device. Cisco also added native integration to iOS and Google calendars, a Webex meeting invite will show up in the user’s calendar, and the user can easily join the meeting from their calendar. In addition, users can expect to have the same experience whether in Webex Teams or Webex Meetings.
- Cloud first, not cloud only. Cisco made it clear that the company is not abandoning its premises-based solutions or customers and will continue innovating its onprem solutions, while providing a flexible transition to the cloud.
- Simplify everything. This is a message we’ve heard from Cisco for many years, and it’s stiill a work in progress. Cisco is working to simplify solutions and processes for both customers and partners. For example, Cisco has multiple clients, which can be confusing for end users, and will simplify around two clients – Jabber for on-premises products, and Webex Teams for cloud. According to Alexandra Zagury, Vice President, Global Collaboration Sales, Cisco, is also simplifying processes and offerings for Cisco partners, especially as partners transition to a SaaS model.
I met with Chang to discuss the key messages of the event. You can tell how passionate she is about Cisco collaboration – especially the new Webex.
Coming Soon - Cognitive Collaboration
A big area of focus for Cisco is AI, and what the company is calling Cognitive Collaboration. Essentially, intelligence (including AI and machine learning) and context are embedded and weaved throughout everything Cisco does and will change the way we collaborate. Cisco will also leverage technology from Accompany, Chang’s company that Cisco acquired, to infuse intelligence in every interaction, providing context, content, and information to enhance meetings and interactions. We saw a great demo of how Cisco is leveraging Accompany’s cognitive capabilities and aggregating publicly-available data on people, such as title, company, articles written, etc., to provide information about meeting participants, for example, to enhance the interaction experience. This is in early stages but looks very intriguing.
I also spoke with Aruna Ravichandran, VP of Marketing for Collaboration Business, who discussed the evolution of the way people work and collaborate, and the value of the user experience. She noted that as we move forward, the value will shift to context-driven intelligence and AI will play an increasing role in enhancing the user experience for collaboration. In this video, Ravichandran discusses how AI will be used in collaboration and some ways Cisco is helping to improve the meeting and collaboration experience using AI and contextual information.
As expected, a lot of the discussion was around the cloud, including how Cisco is integrating BroadSoft’s cloud capabilities and providing new services and capabilities to its cloud service provider partners. What wasn’t expected was the progress made since the November Cisco Connections conference.
Cisco has several cloud offers for service providers, including Cisco BroadCloud, Cisco BroadWorks, and Cisco HCS. Cisco partner-hosted solutions include Cisco HCS and Cisco BroadWorks, as well as Cisco-hosted offerings including Cisco BroadCloud Calling. The company will be making announcements related to its cloud offerings at Enterprise Connect, so stay tuned.
I spoke with Scott Hoffpauir, Vice President and General Manager, Cloud Calling CCTG, who discussed what cloud first means to Cisco, as well as Cisco’s various cloud offerings, and key message for its Service Provider partners.
Another key focus area is the contact center, and Vasili Triant, Vice President and General Manager CJSBU, spoke to us via video (he was recovering from pneumonia) to provide an update on Cisco’s contact center or Customer Journey Solutions. Triant discussed the importance of building on the full Cisco stack portfolio and delivering a graceful cloud migration. A Cisco hybrid cloud service is a key part of this migration, as “Hybrid provides peaceful transition without impacting business processes.”
In this video, Mark Straton, Senior Director, Calling and Contact Center Product Marketing and Chris Featherstone, Director Product Management CJS BU, discuss how Cisco is building bridges to break down barriers and provide better solutions and experiences for customers. They provide an update on Cisco’s contact center offerings and discuss how AI and intelligence can be used to assist agents and customers.
A lot of what Cisco presented was NDA so I can’t share too much, but here are some of my key takeaways from the event:
- Cisco Collaboration has new leadership with energy, passion, and drive. The team has lots of industry knowledge and expertise that will be leveraged in many ways.
- Cisco has a complete solution when it comes to calling, meetings, teams, and contact center, as well as devices. Providing total solutions rather than point products will help the company compete against vendors that offer only a piece of the solution. The Webex platform is the core of everything, and Cisco needs to keep working to provide a unified experience across applications.
- Cisco is making AI a part of all interactions. The way in which Cisco leverages Accompany’s technology can be a game changer in the collaboration space, helping to enhance the meeting and collaboration experience by providing more insights and information to participants. As one Cisco representative told me, “Cognitive collaboration is about intelligence and context together to enable a better experience. We’re uniquely positioned to provide that from a collaboration standpoint.”
- Enhancing the user experience while simplifying Cisco’s offerings is essential, and Cisco will update and streamline its clients to provide better experiences, while reducing its number of offerings. Much of this is currently NDA, so stay tuned.
- The company is not abandoning its premises-based products or customers, although I expect most of the development and investment to be on the cloud side of the house. For example, while Cisco will continue to support Cisco BroadWorks and its BroadWorks customers, most of the innovation and enhancements will be on Cisco BroadCloud, its cloud-based offer for service providers.
- Devices – even phones – remain important and continue to grow in sales. Cisco gave some impressive demos of its whiteboard and video devices, and the company is leveraging its ability to provide complete solutions, including devices such as the Webex Board and Webex Room Kit Mini for huddle spaces.
- Interoperability and interoperation with ecosystem players are becoming more important, and Cisco is working with companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and Google to ensure that everyone plays nice with each other. As one manager told me, “We’re not trying to beat Google, Microsoft, or Amazon for who has the smartest gadgets – we’re trying to leverage what they do.”
- There was little or no discussion about CPaaS, which was surprising. Tropo is being actively sunsetted, but based on a couple discussions I had, it seems that Cisco is looking to play in CPaaS market, and I expect to hear some announcements about Cisco Collab Platform as a Service in the coming months.
Of course, Cisco faces lots of challenges, as do all companies transitioning from a premises-based model to a cloud model. Winning the hearts and minds of customers, channel partners, and service providers is no easy feat, especially when there are so many internal changes taking place within the company (particularly on the cloud services side). Cisco is now the clear leader in UCaaS based on the BroadSoft acquisition, but it can’t take its service provider partners for granted. These companies have spent a lot of time and money on their BroadSoft practices and want to make sure that they will continue to get the most out of their investments in BroadSoft/Cisco.
Simplification and reducing complexity are great goals but the simplification mantra isn’t new for Cisco. Cisco has been talking about this for years. Case in point, Rowan Trollope, former collaboration head, was known for his engaging on-stage demos at various events focusing on simplification, such as displaying how easy it is to unpack and set up a new video system. I see simplification as an ongoing process. Cisco still has multiple user interfaces and multiple user experiences that need to be simplified and consolidated where possible, and the company is working diligently in this area.
All in all, I was very pleased with the event and it was great to meet the new team and hear about all the plans and changes they have in store. As mentioned, the team seems very engaged and enthusiastic, and has an opportunity to set Cisco apart from some of the other players. Some of the cognitive capabilities can be a game changer, and it will be interesting to see how well Cisco can gain momentum in this area.