Cisco's Big Collaboration Announcement: A Game Changer?
The big product news today is Cisco's announcement of a major suite of products and services aimed at the collaboration/Unified Communications/Web 2.0 space. The most significant part of the announcement is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, WebEx Connect, that Allan Sulkin of TEQConsult Group says could be a "game changer."
The big product news today is Cisco's announcement of a major suite of products and services aimed at the collaboration/Unified Communications/Web 2.0 space. The most significant part of the announcement is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, WebEx Connect, that Allan Sulkin of TEQConsult Group says could be a "game changer."The Cisco announcement has four parts:
* Cisco Collaboration Framework * Unified Communications System Release 7.0 * Telepresence Expert on Demand * Cisco WebEx Connect
That last point may be the biggest news out of today. According to Sulkin, it clearly sets Cisco apart from its communications competitors:
The most important part of announcement is Webex Connect, a full featured UC-based conferencing and collaboration "cloud" service that supports ANYONE ANYWHERE. It brings together all elements of customer supply chain, expanding beyond the reach of the private enterprise system. This service, utiizing Cisco's vast private network, moves Cisco far ahead of the other UC competitors. Cisco is leveraging many of its offerings to create a "unified" solution available to the universe of stations users (Cisco and non-Cisco enterprise systems, alike). Competitors like Avaya have no equivalent response. MSFT could possibly offer something similar using its MSN platform; Google could as well. But Cisco is ahead of the curve, way ahead. The other announcement offers, UCM R7 and Telepresence Expert on Demand, are also important, but not as wide ranging and important to raising the bar for UC market positioning. Webex Connect bypasses the need for major capital investment, especially important in today's crisis economy.
This announcement looks to be a GAME CHANGER.
Cisco is touting WebEx Connect's ability to enable business application mashups that can leverage both network-based and enterprise-located capabilities, combining, "online meetings, presence notification, chat, audio and video conferencing, business widgets, as well as document and task management in virtual workspaces."
"The WebEx Connect Platform is application agnostic; you can link both on-demand and on-premise applications to the framework," the company announced. "Every mash up you create on the Platform conforms to a common framework that ensures inter-communication between every other application."
Here's an example of such a mashup, as Cisco envisions it:
Develop a bid and proposal application.
Create a WebEx Connect space that combines live access to your CRM system with a third party proposal management system. The sales team uses the roles and permissions already set up in WebEx Connect to access information and work on their specific proposals-and then collaborate with customers to finalize the deal.
The vision of WebEx Connect represents the culmination of Cisco's mantra, often repeated at VoiceCon and everywhere else, that UC and collaboration are "all about the network." My own sense, at first glance, is that Allan Sulkin is definitely right about this announcement giving Cisco an offering that no one else in the enterprise communications space can match.
The question is, will enterprise managers want to build their business-critical communications system on network-based, SaaS offerings from anyone? History says no, and there will certainly be lots of questions that need to be answered before they change their minds about network-hosted services, especially complex ones involving interactions among elements residing in different places.
Most important is performance. Where your network based services live, physically, and where your users are distributed, geographically, will have an effect on how the services perform for those users. For a latency-sensitive, mission-critical service, Cisco WebEx Connect will have the burden of proof to show that the applications and mashups will work as advertised.
The other concern with network-based services that feature mashups will be to make sure there's a clear understanding about the terms of service, and who owns the intellectual property that's created when you combine elements of a public service with elements of software that the enterprise purchased under a perpetual-use license.
On the flip side, Allan makes a really good point about the economic outlook over the next couple of years: If it's as capital-constrained as we all fear it could be, using a service that provides breakthrough functionality, and paying for that functionality out of operating expenses instead of capex could give an edge to enterprises that take the plunge instead of waiting for the capex picture to improve.
The logical thing to expect is that enterprises will start with some small pilots and proof-of-concept developments that incorporate WebEx Connect, and if the service holds up, gradually build upon it.
There's also another point to consider, which is that this announcement broadens the industry's vision of what Unified Communications and collaboration are. Not only is the PBX no longer the center of the communications universe, the enterprise infrastructure itself may not be, if Cisco WebEx Connect triumphs.
Ultimately, I think Allan's right that this is a game-changer, in that SaaS is now an unavoidable part of the enterprise communications landscape. Managers might say yes to it, or they might say no, but most large users will at least feel they need to consider it.