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Cisco Collaboration Summit: Focus on Business Process Integration

The Cisco Collaboration Summit at the famous Fountainbleu Hotel in Miami last week did not disappoint. When the first Cisco summit was held several years ago, it was the IP Summit, and the following year it was the UC Summit, and for the past two years it was the Collaboration Summit. And boy did we get an earful about collaboration! From the welcome, by new Senior Director, Collaboration Marketing, Lynn Lucas, to the locknote from Chuck Robbins, President of North America, it was all collaboration, all the time.

I was somewhat disappointed, but not surprised, that unified communications, as well as specific UC products such as Cisco Unified Communication Manager, were definitely downplayed and hardly mentioned. I heard only one speaker use the term UC unless explicitly asked about UC, and it became clear that Cisco views UC as plumbing and a way to integrate the user’s experience on various devices, while they view collaboration as providing the real business value. While the UCStrategies team considers collaboration to be an element of UC, Cisco considers UC to be an element of collaboration--tomato, tomahto. Whatever we call it, the point is that communications and collaboration tools such as video (including telepresence), social software, conferencing, and more, help workers and companies be more productive and effective.

One theme I heard throughout the event--from both Cisco presenters and customers--was the importance of embedding collaboration in the customers' business processes. This harkens back to what the UCStrategies team has been preaching regarding UC, and the same applies to collaboration. By tying in collaboration to companies' business processes, the value of collaboration is exponentially greater.

In the opening keynote, Barry O'Sullivan highlighted the need to "put people in the center of collaboration," and to "embed collaboration in your business processes." Cisco customer Richard Foo, Director of Collaboration at Nike, noted that adoption is key and that it's important to focus on how to make the users' job easier, adding that, "Tying collaboration in with business processes gives you long-term sustainable success," and that "the more things that are tied into the collaboration solution, the more useful it is." Nike has a formal team dedicated to this integration, and currently has simple integrations to calendars and email, but going forward will use APIs for business process integrations.

Another customer, David Wright of Bank of America, stated that BofA hasn't rolled out business process integration yet, but will do so in 2012. They'll start by "targeting common tasks and giving people a reason to come back; making it sticky and a part of the users' business and workflow." Wright had one of the most trenchant comments of the day, noting that BofA is trying to find the business process that makes the workers' lives easier. They're streamlining what people were doing before--and "taking the crud out."

I spent a lot of time talking about business process integration with Bryan Tantzen and Vishakha Radia of Cisco's Customer Business Transformation Group. As VIshakha pointed out in this video interview, the Customer Business Transformation Group works directly with customers to look at how communication and collaboration technologies can address some of their critical business pain points.

Much of what the CBT group does is focus on business process integration. One example they provided was about tying in the PushBI business intelligence application with the Cisco Cius. Users can see when there's an issue with a KPI and view the availability of the KPI owner in real time and decide on the best way to handle the situation. When a user drills down and presses a button, they see the leader's name, and from within the application they can click to call, connect, and meet with the leader. This lets companies make faster informed decisions about the business problems and reduce the response time.

In my presentations about unified communications, I always emphasize the importance of business process integration (what we call UC-Business Process), and how the value of the UC solution increases as we move from personal productivity (UC-User), to workgroup productivity, to business process integration, and finally to business transformation. The same model holds for collaboration, and companies that integrate collaboration with their business processes and applications will get increased value from their deployments. As I mentioned, it was great to hear not only from Cisco about the emphasis on tying in collaboration with business processes, but from Cisco's customers as well, as they clearly get it. I'm looking forward to hearing from even more customers next year about the progress they’re making in integrating their business processes with collaboration--and I certainly look forward to going back to the fabulous Fountainbleu!