Eric Krapf
Eric Krapf is General Manager and Program Co-Chair for Enterprise Connect, the leading conference/exhibition and online events brand in the...
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Eric Krapf | December 05, 2012 |


Cisco's Rowan Trollope: Interview with New Collaboration Chief

Cisco's Rowan Trollope: Interview with New Collaboration Chief He came to Cisco from Symantec, but the emphasis wasn't security--it was consumerization. That and other first impressions from Cisco's collaboration point man.

He came to Cisco from Symantec, but the emphasis wasn't security--it was consumerization. That and other first impressions from Cisco's collaboration point man.

Rowan Trollope, the new head of Cisco's Collaboration business unit, is less than a month into his new job, but one thing that's clear is that he was brought in to bring a different perspective. I had a chance to talk by phone with Rowan this morning, and learned that he sees his hiring as a move by Cisco to recognize some of the new realities of collaboration in the enterprise.

Though he came to Cisco from Symantec, it wasn't his background in security that got him hired, he told me. Rather, it was the fact that he built a $2 billion-a-year consumer-focused technology business at Symantec, one that's based on software and focuses heavily on user experience. "When you think about the trend in enterprise, it's consumerization," he said.

That's supplemented with enterprise experience; he's a 21-year veteran of Symantec who also spent 8 years building and selling hardware and software to the enterprise, complementing his more recent consumer focus.

Another interesting part of our conversation had to do with Cisco's position in the collaboration market, and who he sees as Cisco's chief competitors there. It started out with him telling me that one of Cisco's advantages is that it is more of a neutral player than those companies that he feels Cisco is competing against: "Microsoft is going to be biased toward their own ecosystem. Everybody's got some bias or another. But Cisco doesn't," he said.

I told him that didn't sound like he was thinking of a context in which Cisco's competitors are seen as the traditional enterprise communications leaders--Avaya, Siemens, etc. He said those weren't the companies he was thinking about--"I'm referencing Apple, Google. I'm referencing Salesforce," he said. "When I think about it, I think that's who's going to drive the disruption."

So, I asked, where does that leave Cisco's incumbent position as the market leader for IP-PBXs? He responded that Cisco is indeed very much the market leader, but that IP-PBXs aren't a legacy technology; they're the basis for the transition to the next generation. "The real legacy is the Avayas and old-school Nortels and so forth," i.e., legacy TDM PBXs, he said. And it's true that the IP migration has been extremely gradual, so much of this legacy TDM gear is still in place.

In contrast, "The [IP-PBX] platform that we have built is something that can be leveraged," he told me. The core infrastructure around call routing is highly complex and is "something that's very very hard to do right.... I view that as core and very important," he added.

"I wouldn't want to be a competitor coming at this space without that core piece of the infrastructure."

When it comes to one specific competitor that's on everyone's mind, Trollope said of Microsoft's efforts to move into the voice/PBX space with Lync: "I think we should take everything that Microsoft does seriously." He added, "Over the last 20 years I've been competing with Microsoft in one form or another, and if you think about the Microsoft machine, they have a need to go out and get new revenue streams from new parts of the ecosystem," and expanding outward with Lync is another example of this.

However, he insisted that Lync has not yet proved itself in enterprise-level voice: "As far as I can tell so far, that's not a significant threat in terms of the specific PBX work they've done," Trollope said. "That doesn't look like a credible option that an enterprise could deploy at scale. I don't know how much of that is smoke and mirrors and how much is real yet."

On the subject of video, I asked Trollope where he thinks the future of Cisco's video products is heading, especially given the recent declines in the Cisco-pioneered high-end telepresence market. He said that's an area where he hasn't yet had a lot of time to come up with a detailed agenda for this area, though he did echo the Cisco line that video will be pervasive (although he didn't use the phrase "the new voice"). There will continue to be a "tremendous increase in the number of video minutes," Trollope said. "Usage of video is going to skyrocket."

Furthermore, video will take place as part of larger collaboration scenarios. "Collaboration is going to happen at all levels, from Starbucks to my home office to the board room. And there's going to be lots of contexts."

To illustrate what he means by contexts, he made the analogy of watching a football game on television versus attending in person: Just as going to the stadium can be a compelling experience, an in-person meeting can be a richer experience than a video or web conference; on the other hand, watching the game on television gives you the opportunity to supplement that experience with more commentary and information--i.e., context--just as you can learn about a person by browsing their Facebook profile. "They're complementary," he said of the two experiences.

Finally, I asked him about what WebRTC, the voice- and video-enablement standard for Web browsers, might mean to Cisco's business. He said he had already been giving this topic some thought, and his response centered around ecommerce scenarios--i.e., business to consumer transactions. WebRTC will be "very very important for this future and for specific use cases," he said.

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