SHARE



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his...
Read Full Bio >>
SHARE



Zeus Kerravala | April 12, 2017 |

 
   

Cisco's Dead-Simple Design Approach

Cisco's Dead-Simple Design Approach Cisco's Red Dot award roll underscores the company's attention to detail and validates their approach to providing a delightfully simple user experience.

Cisco's Red Dot award roll underscores the company's attention to detail and validates their approach to providing a delightfully simple user experience.

Following on its Best of Enterprise Connect 2017 win for the Spark Board 55, Cisco has earned recognition from Red Dot, receiving the "Best of the Best" award for the product's "extraordinary, innovative design."

While this year's winners include many well-known consumer brands such as Bose, Apple, Sony, and GoPro, Cisco's wins stand out to me as particularly interesting, indicative of the tremendous success the company's Collaboration business unit has had in recent years. In total, Cisco received five Red Dot awards (the four other awards being one tier down from the Best of the Best), for its recently announced Room Kit (see, "Cisco Beefs Up Spark Ecosystem") and other Cisco Spark products.

portable
Cisco Spark Board


It seems Red Dot awards have become the norm at Cisco, seeing as how the company has now won 13 since 2012. Prior to 2012, Cisco had only won three in its history -- and those were from Tandberg, Flip camera, and LinkSys -- so in a sense, Cisco had acquired those Red Dots, or at a minimum, didn't get in the way of the design teams from those companies.

Winning these awards certainly isn't easy. For the 2017 Red Dot award for product design, more than 5,500 entries were made by manufacturers and designers from 54 countries -- from what I understand, a record for Red Dot. Winning the awards is validation of Cisco's claims that its products are dead simple to use and provide an experience that will "delight the user."

The flurry of Red Dot awards for the collaboration business unit at Cisco coincided with the revenue rebound for the group. Cisco Collaboration has had a tremendous run of late, posting somewhere in the neighborhood of eight consecutive quarters of growth despite having shifted to a deferred revenue model. Prior to that, Cisco Collaboration had experienced multiple years of revenue decline.

This begs the question: Is there a correlation between Cisco's run of Red Dots and the reversal of fortunes for the business unit? I believe there is. In this highly consumerized world, workers expect -- sometimes even demand -- tools that are easy to use. Tools that are get used a lot, and ones that aren't sit there and collect dust.

Fostering A "Dead-Simple" Culture
The culture of making products dead simple to use (versus just simple) came to Cisco via Rowan Trollope, who joined the company to lead the Collaboration business in 2012, and now holds the title of SVP and GM of IoT and Applications. I recall one of my first conversations with him, which gave me some insight into how he thinks. He showed me a WebEx invitation and asked me rhetorically why he had to scroll to the bottom to find the link to join. Today, that link is a big button at the top that says something to the effect of "click here to join." The old way was easy, just click a link; but the new way is dead simple.

I also remember talking to members of his team when he first joined Cisco and they seemed genuinely frazzled and told me that he drives them so hard. I'm sure part of that was having an understanding of what was expected now versus before. Based on the number of awards Cisco has won and the rate at which products are being released, it appears the whole team now has a clear understanding of what "dead simple" means.

Cisco's Red Dot awards and related revenue rebound is a good lesson for the rest of the industry. I get briefed on products every week, and almost all vendors describe "user experience" as great technical quality. I often hear things like, "We now support 4K video," or, "This endpoint has been optimized for huddle rooms." The technical requirements are certainly valid but should be thought of as table stakes, and the innovation should be focused on removing as many barriers to usage as possible.

When building products, I think there are a few rules of thumb that vendors should follow to achieve the dead-simple goal. These are:

  • For video, remote controls aren't simple. If a user needs to pick up a remote to change the viewing angle or zoom the camera, they won't do it. Cisco's Spark Board and SpeakerTrack technology is built on the concept that the camera should follow the users and adjust automatically, as are Polycom's Eagle Eye cameras. Microsoft is totally missing the mark on its room systems by not having a configuration that includes Eagle Eye in it. If it's going to be competitive in that space, Eagle Eye seems like a no brainer.


  • Manual integration never works. If the worker needs to be the integration point between different systems, the solution will fail. A good example of this is how Apple won the MP3 wars. Other MP3 players required the user to download the music, put it in the proper directory, and then manually sync it. Apple had a fully integrated experience that was initiated with a single click of the mouse. Each step may seem trivial, but when several are tied together it wastes time and frustrates users. I see this all the time with remote meetings where the Web conferencing tool and audio bridge are separate. Again, each one may be simple, but it creates a scenario where the host of the call is constantly asking, "Who just joined the bridge?" or "Can everyone please mute if you're not speaking?" Those problems should not exist today.


  • No one wants to use cables to connect. I can't tell you how many times I've gone into a conference room and no one knows where the monitor cable is, or the person with the MacBook forgot the dongle, or the HDMI cable isn't working. There are so many ways to connect via wireless today, it's ridiculous that conference rooms still have boxes of cables in them that people have to sift through to find the right one.


  • The systems need to be "executive" simple to use. Many products have non-intuitive interfaces or other things that make us scratch our heads because they were designed and tested by engineers. The goal isn't to have an engineer rave about how easy something is to use. After all, many of them live in some sort of cryptic command line interface so anything that's not that seems easy. The best way to test a product is to see if the corporate executive, who normally has his or her admin set up the call or meeting, can use it. These executives can use tablets and mobile devices, so why not UC technology?


  • Use words people understand. It baffles me when I see technology products that have nomenclature that only technical people understand. The best example of this is the old "Flash" button on a phone. Sure if you work in telecom, the concept of "Hook flash" is simple, but average users have no idea what that means. Mobile devices say "add a call," and then "merge call," which are a lot easier to understand than Flash.

The UC industry is filled with vendors that make great products, but the mission needs to be building great experiences. In the competitive digital era, that will make the difference between being a market leader and fighting for survival. Products that are simple to use are often the most complex under the covers. I know vendors love to show off their engineering talent, so focus it in the right area, and then show off the innovation.

Follow Zeus Kerravala on Twitter and Google+!
@zkerravala
Zeus Kerravala on Google+





COMMENTS



August 16, 2017

Contact centers have long been at the leading edge of innovation in communications technology, given their promise of measurable ROI and the continual need to optimize customer interactions and sta

July 12, 2017

Enterprises have been migrating Unified Communications & Collaboration applications to datacenters - private clouds - for the past few years. With this move comes the opportunity to leverage da

May 31, 2017

In the days of old, people in suits used to meet at a boardroom table to update each other on their work. Including a remote colleague meant setting a conference phone on the table for in-person pa

August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular BlogGeek.me blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.