Cisco Collaboration 'Moving at Warp Speed'
Hot on the heels of its Worklife acquisition, Cisco collaboration guru Jens Meggers shares how it all fits together to deliver the "magical moments" for which the company strives.
It's no secret that Cisco is "all in" on Spark, its platform that combines messaging, voice, video, and document sharing, among other elements, into a single application for workplace collaboration. Jens Meggers, SVP and GM for the Cloud Collaboration Technology Group, confirmed as much in an interview I had with him this week following Cisco's acquisition of teamwork productivity business Worklife.
Unveiled initially as Project Squared in late 2014, and commercially debuted as Spark at Enterprise Connect 2015, the solution has come a long way under Meggers' technical guidance, as he's worked to bring to life the shared vision he and Collaboration chief Rowan Trollope have for Spark.
All the while that Trollope has been at the helm of Cisco's Collaboration business, Meggers has been running a tight ship with Spark, executing its many advancements over the past several years. Meggers came to Cisco in October 2013 and has been in charge of Spark from the get-go, along with his other responsibilities managing Cisco's cloud-focused collaboration portfolio, which includes WebEx, and applications like Jabber.
"I tell you what, I wake up every day and worry about Spark," Meggers told me. "That's what I do."
With Meggers leading the Spark charge, he's the perfect person to represent Cisco at Enterprise Connect Orlando 2017, where he'll deliver a keynote address and, no doubt, share the latest advancements on Spark and other pieces of Cisco's Collaboration portfolio.Spark Advancements, You Say?
Let's go through a quick and dirty run-down of Spark's evolution. As mentioned, Spark was initially unveiled as Project Squared at Cisco's Collaboration Summit in November, 2014. Six months later at Enterprise Connect 2015, the application made its official commercial debut and took on its Spark name. When the 2015 Cisco Collaboration Summit rolled around, Cisco made good on its promise to go beyond an app, announcing its plans to deliver a full collaboration and communications platform with a variety of services: Cisco Spark Service, Spark Hybrid Services, and Spark for Developers. At Enterprise Connect 2016, Cisco continued its momentum, announcing the general availability of Spark Calling, its cloud-delivered business-class telephony solution, as well as the creation of the Cisco Spark Innovation Fund for developers.
Finally, at this past July's Cisco Live event, Spark took center stage as a key component of customers' digital transformation journeys, Spark Hybrid Call Service was unveiled, and integrations with bot platform Gupshup and natural language processing platform API.AI announced. Cisco Live 2016 also marked the unveiling of its Spark Video SDK, the rollout of Spark Room OS to all video endpoints, and the introduction of its global Spark Video Cloud. As Meggers told us at the event, Cisco's "dead simple strategy" is to take its now global, cloud-based Spark platform, connect to the premises for hybrid capabilities, and top it off with your communications and collaboration workloads. Users, customers, and partners can make use of existing Spark-branded experiences or build their own customized experiences on top of the Spark platform with the use of APIs.Acquisitions Along the Way
"We're moving at warp speed here, and Spark is taking off like a rocket ship right now. And there are hundreds of moving tasks that we're working on. We're still improving our messaging, we're integrating telephony, and video. There are so many things we're working on," Meggers said.
And so, acquisitions become a critical component of helping Cisco deliver new features and advancements "as fast as humanly possible," Meggers said. Some development work that would have been required in lieu of acquiring technology could have taken upwards of a year, he noted.
The executive team is always looking at what companies are going to fit in the Spark family, Meggers said. "It's really about a cultural fit. That's what it often comes down to." A great cultural fit makes the acquisitions go much easier and enables Cisco to move much more quickly.
With all that said, Meggers outlined the numerous key collaboration software acquisitions that have taken place since the early days of Project Squared, explaining exactly what Cisco got from each:
- Collaborate.com -- In December 2013, Cisco acquired Collaborate.com, a cloud-based team collaboration platform supporting messaging, document sharing, and task management in one mobile application. This was the "bootstrap technology" for Spark, and this acquisition pretty much started it all, Meggers said. "It allowed us to build out Spark quicker."
- Assemblage -- In June 2014, Cisco acquired Assemblage, a company that enables one-click browser-to-browser collaboration while eliminating the need for downloads or plug-ins. Assemblage does collaborative white boarding technology, Meggers said, "but just wait for our next announcement in January and you will see where the Assemblage technology goes at Cisco." I suppose if you've been wondering about this technology for the past two years, another few months won't hurt you... but check out whiteboard.cisco.com for a hint, Meggers suggested.
- Tropo -- In May 2015, Cisco acquired cloud API platform provider Tropo. You can find everything Cisco has gained in the Tropo acquisition by poking around developer.ciscospark.com -- the integrations and documentation, its developer community Spark Haus, and information about the developer fund, Meggers said. "We see thousands of new integrations every day for Spark."
- Acano -- Cisco announced its intent to acquire collaboration infrastructure and conferencing software provider Acano in November 2015 and closed the acquisition in January, paying a hefty $700 million in cash. "Acano is incredible technology and incredible people," Meggers said. Cisco is integrating Acano's video technology into the Spark Cloud, which increases Spark's scalability "by a lot," he said. (Read more about the video interoperability capabilities that came out of the Acano acquisition in "Video Interoperability for All, Cisco Style.")
- Synata -- In March, the week of Enterprise Connect, Cisco acquired privately held Synata, a company delivering search capabilities for collaboration cloud applications. Cisco has already improved Spark's search functionality since acquiring Synata, but promises more refinements to come over the next three to six months, Meggers said. (Read more about Cisco's encrypted search capabilities in "Cisco's Secret Spark.")
- Worklife -- As covered earlier this week on No Jitter, Worklife is the latest acquisition Cisco is using to feed into the Spark ecosystem. In short, Worklife fills gaps in task management and agenda setting. With co-editing, task management, and agenda-setting capabilities, Worklife "basically avoids confusion and allows you to solve the outcome of a meeting," Meggers said. "So it's a perfect extension to what we have with Spark."
The Cisco Collaboration teams have been using Worklife internally for the past several months and were really wowed by the tool, Meggers added.
The acquisition has closed, but mum's the word on how much Cisco paid for Worklife and how many employees it gains through the deal, Meggers said.
While Meggers provided no concrete timeline for the Worklife integration, my suggestion that perhaps Cisco is aiming to have that completed by the end of Q1 2017 was met with an incredulous, "Michelle, come on, remember we're moving at warp speed here! It will get done much quicker than that."
But as Meggers wrote in a recent Cisco Blogs post, "when you're at warp speed, sometimes you don't take the time to reflect on where you've been or what you've done." Meggers then proved he wasn't falling into that trap by noting some of the major milestones Cisco has reached in the previous years. While I covered the key acquisitions here, it's worth noting that Cisco has simultaneously been building strong technology partnerships with giants such as Apple, Salesforce, and IBM.
"We've done a lot. I'm so proud of our teams, and looking forward to seeing what comes next," Meggers wrote. "We're not standing still nor backing down on our goal to get Spark in everyone's hands!"