Squaring Things Up with Cisco's Rowan Trollope
In this exclusive interview with No Jitter, Cisco's collaboration chief shares his thoughts on Project Squared and other ways in which the company will continue innovating in enterprise collaboration.
At Cisco's Collaboration Summit 2014 taking place this week in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of the company's Collaboration Technology Group, and get an insider's view on the company's new Project Squared platform. We talked about how the project started, where it's going, and what other big moves Cisco has in store in the collaboration space. Read on for an edited version of our interview:
Project Squared is the big news of the day. What move are you most excited about at Cisco?
The next-generation of collaboration is the thing I get most excited about. And not to minimize anything else we [announced this week], but clearly what's next is the thing that's getting the attention. I love the idea that we can bring a technology that allows anyone to connect. We took a long time to get this out. Actually, we've been working on this for two years. And there's always a balance between how quickly do you put it in people's hands, because no matter when you get it out, it's always going to need to have more stuff.
For example, some of the stuff you saw on stage – the integration with the hardware rooms and the integration with WebEx -- that's not available right now. You can't get that today, but you can get Project Squared today. You can't buy Project Squared today; you'll be able to buy it later next year after we flesh out the remaining enterprise features and as we complete the management consoles and security features.
Now this is kind of reflective about how you think about enterprise and how you think about software these days. We really wanted to get it into people's hands so you can see how they use it and figure out what do they want from it. We don't pretend to have all the answers... there's a great Napoleon quote, "Engagez voit" -- his strategy was engage with the enemy, and then we'll see. In other words, it takes time to see how people are going to use and adopt a brand-new technology. You only can know once you can start to see them use it.
You said you went out and talked to customers to solve their frustrations and your own frustrations with collaboration. Can you tell us a bit more about how this process went?
Yeah, in fact, the first thing I did is I spent a bunch of time talking to customers. What I asked them was, "What outcome are you are trying to drive for here with collaboration technology?" Because to me, if you're going to think about reinventing something, you have to understand why people buy that stuff in the first place. What's the goal?
I'll give you a simple analogy: When you go to Home Depot to buy a drill with a quarter-inch drill bit, do you want a drill bit or do you want a hole? And the answer is what you actually want is a hole. Well there's a lot of ways I can give you a hole. I can give you a drill bit that lets you make holes, or I could come over with my own drill and make a hole for you, or I could sell a completely different technology for making holes.
So we actually started with an outcomes-based approach, asking people what outcome they want from collaboration. And here's what's interesting: What big customers said is, "We're a really big company. We want all our people to feel like they're in the same room together." Because when you're small, you're all in the same room and everything works really well. Communication doesn't get dropped because you're right here.
There aren't a lot of barriers when you're in real time to connecting and collaborating. So what customers told us is that they want that experience, but they want to scale it. You can't bring, unfortunately in today's world, everyone together in real time. It just doesn't work that way. And so that was a key moment. When a [big customer] basically said, "Make it feel like we're all in the same room together." Hence, Project Squared -- that was one of the inspirations for thinking about "rooms."
What companies are you competing against with Project Squared?
I don't think there are a lot of competitors, to be honest. Everybody seems to be going in one direction and I'm going in completely the other direction. Everybody seems to think it's a really good idea to do mobile messaging. As far as I'm concerned, there are plenty of mobile messaging apps out there. And when you look at it on the surface, you might see that in my application, but actually the direction I'm going is the opposite. I believe that the real value exists when you can solve the hard problem of bringing people together live to connect with the things they need to work on. That's what Project Squared is about. Nobody in the world is doing that. I suppose maybe you could say Google is making an attempt at that. But other than that, there aren't really any others.
What about Unify's Circuit? What differentiates Project Squared?
Well, connecting to the hardware rooms is something no one else is doing. Not Unify -- no one. That I think is the key, because the truth is that we still like to work together in person. When you're in the same room as someone or in the same place as someone, you want the virtual and the physical to work in tandem -- the software, the cloud to work with the hardware. We're the market leader in rooms and meetings, and we sort of own these pieces already. We own the software that makes a meeting, we own the hardware that is actually creating the room itself. Now we have the thing that was missing -- which is the virtualization of the room itself. So think about what VMware did for your computer, we'll do for your conference room.
Next page: Rowan discussed marketing an app, the attention to detail given in developing, presence technology, and a younger generation of workers.