Cisco Collaboration Summit – After Some Time

By Phil Edholm
7 May 2018

Three weeks ago, Cisco held their annual Collaboration Summit in Phoenix. I decided to wait a week to write about the event to let my thoughts congeal. In the interim, Rowan Trollope, the GM of the Collaboration group and the featured speaker at the Summit decided to pursue an opportunity at the cloud contact center provider Five9. While this departure does not change what was presented, it does open the door to other changes in the future.

First, the event introduced a major change to the overall set of offerings from Cisco. Prior to this event, there were three distinct offers: Webex for web conferencing, Jabber for text and presence, and Spark for Teams and some collaboration. At the event, Cisco announced they were converging all their offers under the Webex brand name. Instead of different brands, Cisco is focusing on:

  • Webex Meetings – this is the new collaboration event tool that is based on the Webex solution, but includes new capabilities derived from the Spark offering.
  • Webex Calling – This is a new cloud-based calling and PSTN access offer based on the Broadsoft cloud solution.
  • Webex Teams – This a team-based solution that adds team capabilities (defined members, defined topic, contextual continuity over time). Webex Teams is intended to use Webex Meetings for collaboration events in the flow of a team context.

All three of these elements are completely cloud based. While both Webex Meetings and teams can be integrated with a premises telephony system in lieu of using Webex Calling, it is a clear commitment to the cloud.

The fourth and final component of the restructured positioning is Devices. Cisco has decided that the justification for vendor-provided devices versus the eco-system partner device approach of Microsoft is to enhance the values that devices can provide in the solution. At the event, Cisco demonstrated how it is leveraging end point intelligence and capabilities, integrated with the core systems to deliver value. For example, using face identification in the room, combined with face recognition in the cloud enables virtual name tags on participants in a video call in a conference room. Also demonstrated was using audio recognition techniques to identify certain sounds that are not speech and muting end points that have high levels of background noise if the associated user is not actually talking.

Overall, I see this positioning as a very significant and positive step forward for the Cisco collaboration brand. The decisions do three key things. First, by choosing the Webex brand, Cisco has chosen its highest brand recognition name as the umbrella for collaboration. Second, the Webex brand has the largest number of collaboration users; Cisco indicated 11M paid and 32M active users in recent months. Third, by moving to a single brand, it enables Cisco to manage the underlying components effectively going forward.

Another major topic at the conference was “video first.” Clearly, Cisco sees their video offering, from conference rooms to individual devices, as being superior to other offers. This was emphasized throughout the conference and in most of the sessions. Though Cisco has a clear video focus, they clearly see a need for non-video conference rooms as they introduced the Webex share, a dongle that connects to a display though HDMI and allows the display to show information coming from the Webex cloud. However, the Webex share does not include a camera. The Cisco team characterized this a solution for all those rooms with a display but not the need for video conferencing and a camera. Clearly, video is a major issue, while even Cisco seems to admit it is not universally required for all meetings.

One area where Cisco seems to have spent a lot of time is in making joining and hosting meetings easier. This has resulted in common user experiences between the calling, meetings, and teams components, as well as focus on how meetings are joined in conference rooms. Cisco has added room identity, resulting in the ability for rooms to either be scheduled with an event or available for ad hoc use as a resource for anyone with the app in the room.

Overall, the event and the Cisco announcements showed a strong focus on delivering an integrated value building on the four major market and technology assets that Cisco has, their position with over 130M telephony endpoints (including Broadsoft) with a majority of deployed cloud seats, the meeting capabilities and market position of Webex, the capabilities for Team operations and process integration of Teams (nee Spark), and the ubiquity of their video capabilities across all aspects of the offer, including video endpoints. The challenge is to define the value of the Cisco offer for capabilities above telephony calling in competition with the Microsoft Teams capabilities and the suite offers of O365.

The final question is how the Trollope departure will impact the path of the organization and the products. Clearly, Spark and the focus on teams was driven by Rowan in his time at Cisco. While it is logical to assume that the strategy rolled out at the Summit will continue to be introduced, there is always the possibility that new management may have alternative views of the best ways and tools to compete.

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