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Cisco Follow-up: How You Launch is as Important as What You Launch

I'm sure all No Jitter readers have by now digested my comprehensive feature article on this week's Cisco Collaboration Launch. When it went public early Monday morning I had not yet taken my flight to San Francisco to attend the event, so I could only write about what was to be presented and not how it was presented. This post will not be about the products or technology discussed in my article and other No Jitter posts appearing this week, but how Cisco has now established itself as the mind share leader in a market space (Collaboration) not previously defined nor established.In one fell swoop Cisco not only announced upwards of 60 new and/or enhanced offers, but changed the name of the game they are playing from Unified Communications to Collaboration (and creating the benchmarks by which others will be evaluated). In my opinion it is Cisco's marketing prowess that will defeat the competition, not its products or services, because competitive feature, function and technology advantages diminish over time. It is rare to have the only product of its kind of any significant time.

I knew early that it would be a very significant Cisco launch, because John Chambers, CEO, was attending in-person to kick things off Monday afternoon (and even spend some time at the after-presentations cocktail reception). As one knows, his time is valuable and limited. At last year's San Diego event at which WebEx Connect was announced, Mr. Chambers made his appearance via Cisco TelePresence. At the time Unified Communications was a strong growth business for Cisco, but not a highly significant contributor to corporate revenues.

It appears that things have evolved during the past year, because Collaboration (a far, far better term than Unified Communications, but more about that later) products and services will be one of the major processes driving Cisco future growth and profitability. Video is a core element of the Cisco Collaboration strategy that will place new and greater demands on network bandwidth, quality and security, and that is also very good for the company's core switching and router offers.

It is ironic that at an event at which Cisco discussed the success of its recent virtual sales conference with 19,000 participants from across the globe, it made the right call to hold a live in-person conference gathering dozens of leading industry analysts and consultants (along with Cisco's top 100 business partners) to launch its Collaboration strategy and offerings. The Monday afternoon presentations by Chambers and Tony Bates, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Enterprise, Commercial and Small Business, were accessible via a live video webcast (currently available for viewing on the Cisco website), but Cisco knew that to optimally energize and influence the key industry influencers required in-person interaction. Though Cisco could have held several Consultant Liaison Program (CLP) deep dive web conference sessions to cover the announcement, they would not have received an immediate and more intimate feedback as they did last week in San Francisco. The same would hold true for the analyst community. A manageable face-to-face meeting is still the preferable option when the stakes are high, as they are in this case.

Last week's Collaboration launch was BIG, because Cisco made it big. A fellow consultant said to me that it was an event he would remember as an industry turning point, and I concur. The Cisco Collaboration launch may have as major an impact on the market as the Avaya acquisition of Nortel. It certainly ranks with the Cisco acquisition of Selsius Systems more than a decade ago as a pivotal market milestone for Cisco in the communications arena. While the competition remains quagmired in the mess that is Unified Communications, Cisco has emphatically positioned Collaboration as the current driving force for businesses to acquire and implement communications tools of all types, both on-premises and as a Cloud service. Cisco is very clear regarding the premises/Cloud debate, because they believe a hybrid mix is the likely solution for many customers. Cisco, itself, is now relying on its own WebEx Connect CaaS offer for IM and presence requirements behind its own on-premise Unified Communications Manager.

Not all competitors have the resources (human and financial) necessary to plan and pull off a launch event comparable to what Cisco did last week. Considering the number of new and/or enhanced offers gives one pause. Chambers himself considered it one of the largest and most complex product launches ever attempted by Cisco. Few others of recent vintage like it come to mind. The Microsoft launch of OCS 2007 was big, but very limited in product scope compared to what Cisco was tasked with. Avaya's Aura launch earlier this year was mild in comparison. Though the Aura launch coincided with VoiceCon Orlando, Avaya failed to take full advantage of the industry event. Avaya introduced Aura to analysts prior to the conference via a web conference, but did not hold a special session or event of any kind in Orlando. Consultants were not briefed via a web conference until several weeks after the announcement.

One may have to go way back to the mid-1980s when Northern Telecom (as Nortel was then known) launched its Meridian brand and a vast number of new technology offers at the Laguna Niguel Ritz Carlton attended by hundreds of media/analyst representatives for comparison. Unfortunately for Nortel most of the products they introduced faded from the market in a few years, including several products way ahead of their time, e.g. the desktop M3000 all-touch screen telephone and the LAN-based Packet Transport Equipment (PTE) option, but the Meridian name was established and later used as the long time brand time for its flagship PBX line. Attendees still remember the event, if not the products. I'm sure that Cisco is assuming that its many newly launched products will have a far better fate.

Many major product announcements from a number of enterprise communications system market leaders during the past few years were lackluster, for want of a better word (though the word dismal occasionally came to mind at the time of the announcement). Excitement was not generated and industry buzz barely registered. In the brief decade Cisco has been in the enterprise communications market it has upset the competitive equilibrium and established new rules for playing the game. Last week's launch puts the ball in the competition's court, and we the market await anxiously for the competitive response.