Cisco Giving up on Email
An attempt to strike at a core Microsoft market comes up short.
Update: Zeus Kerravala's take on Cisco's move is here
In a noteworthy competitive development in its enterprise communications battle with Microsoft, Cisco has announced it's ending investment in Cisco Mail, the web-based email offering it was planning to use to challenge Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes for the enterprise email market.
The decision was announced in a Cisco blog by Debra Chrapaty, Senior VP and GM of Cisco's Collaboration Software Group. Here's the key passage: "The product has been well received, but we've since learned that customers have come to view their email as a mature and commoditized tool versus a long-term differentiated element of their collaboration strategy."
Chrapaty may be putting the best face on the situation, but that also rings true. Email as a commodity tool is what's driving many enterprises to consider moving this functionality to the cloud. Email as a mature technology makes it less susceptible to market disruptions and new competitors; Cisco won big in the PBX market because they were able to bring a new technology (IP) to bear on a market whose old technology was mature and essentially played out.
So even though Cisco Mail was a cloud-based platform, the company is acknowledging that customers just saw no reason to change vendors; presumably Microsoft Exchange customers will be looking to Microsoft's cloud-based 365 service if they want to get out of the business of running their own email servers.
Is that a killer for Cisco? Does the company that owns the email own the communications platform and user? I think it's way too early to conclude that. If nothing else, mobility is such a wild card in the whole communications picture that you can't predict who will "own" communications unless you can accurately predict how mobility is going to shake out in the enterprise--which I defy anyone to do.
The real cost to Cisco here seems more like simply a lost battle. With Microsoft challenging Cisco for session control (what we used to call the PBX), Cisco needed to respond in kind, so they attacked Microsoft's incumbent position in communications--i.e., email. That didn't work out for them. Whether it will cost Cisco anything more than the relatively small (by Cisco standards) amount of money and time they invested, remains to be seen.
I don't think it'll affect the battle over session control--Lync vs. UC Manager. That battle, I think, will be determined more by the role that enterprises decide this function should play in their communications systems, going forward.
Another important issue for Cisco could be the potential for a battle over the desktop interface--or, increasingly, whether the desktop will even be the primary interface used for communications by end users--if by "desktop" we mean PC or laptop screen. If tablets replace laptops to a major degree, does that give Avaya a renewed shot at dominance with its touch-screen Flare interface? (Assuming they decouple it from the ridiculously overpriced Desktop Video Device that right now serves more as a proof of concept than as an actual product). In a feature last year, Brent Kelly of Wainhouse Research suggested Avaya plans to take a run at Microsoft on the desktop. Cisco has its Cius tablet, but it's still unclear that a special-purpose tablet will defeat iPads or generic Android-based tablets for enterprise usage.
The role of the end-user interface in driving communications decisions will be one of the things to watch in the months and years ahead.