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Cisco Furthers Mobility Goals

Rowan Trollope, who regular members of the No Jitter community will recognize as Cisco's collaboration chief and Enterprise Connect 2016 keynoter, may soon be known as the Internet of Things (IoT) guy, too.

As reported by CRN and confirmed for No Jitter by a Cisco spokesperson, Trollope is now overseeing a new organization combining the Collaboration Technology and Software Platforms groups. This reorganization, the latest in a series of changes new Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins has instituted, places the Industry Vertical Solutions and IoT Software groups under Trollope's charge.

This move serves as a sign of the strengthening relationship between IoT and unified communications, which No Jitter's own Beth Schultz wrote about last month. We can also view this as an extension of the partnership with Apple that Cisco announced two weeks ago. In a Sept. 1 Twitter Periscope session Trollope held with the press, he shared a few examples of how the partnership might manifest itself, emphasizing the new reality of pervasive mobility and hinting at the power automation could bring to how work gets done.

As I wrote at the time, the goal is to create a Cisco-Apple fast lane that lets users do things like place internal calls from their iPhones for seamless interconnection with the enterprise communications network. Ultimately, the speakerphone-mobile connection would be automatic so that when users walk into conference rooms, for example, the different devices sync up.

In order to provide such automation, one would imagine that IoT would come into play -- and provide good reason to have IoT software development under Trollope's control.

While Trollope hasn't yet shared his thoughts on how IoT, Apple, and collaboration will come together, we do know that mobile-first, cloud-enabled team collaboration continues to play a key role in his vision on changing the way people work. Coincidental with the Apple announcement, Cisco made several notable updates to Spark, its team collaboration tool. Developers demonstrated the new capabilities in a Periscope broadcast late last week.

The new capabilities address inherent flaws in how people work today given the communications and productivity tools made available to them at their enterprise. Here's what stands out to me:

When Cisco announced Spark last November, one of the app's main features was the ability to create rooms to serve as project management spaces for involved team members. The idea behind this room function was to help workers keep their various tasks more organized in a way that email falls short on. Now, Cisco is taking organization to the next level, with new ways to organize and manage various rooms and projects.

New filters allow users to sort and view content by qualifiers such as unread messages, one-to-one conversations, and favorite items. Perhaps the most interesting addition is a new algorithm that will determine what messages and alerts are most important to an individual user.

The constant alerts employees receive throughout the day from their "chatty" apps -- "a ding, a ring, a buzz" -- counterproductively serve as interruptions and distractions from getting work done, one of the demonstrators said. The new algorithm is a direct answer to this app noise, he added, and is geared toward helping users figure out where they should be putting their attention by marking particular items as "Important." Such items in this folder would include things like threads in which a user is mentioned, scheduled call events, and new room invitations.

Another interesting feature that should help with time management is the enablement of avatars that let users see who is in a meeting before joining. So say you are busy juggling multiple tasks and one meeting starts before your current meeting ends. With the avatars, you can see who is in that second meeting and send a chat message to find out if you need to join immediately or can wait to initiate the connection once you're finished with the first meeting.

Once you decide to join a meeting, the video conference window is purposely positioned on the upper right to place the chat and file-sharing portion of the session front and center. Cisco implemented this design as a means to "emphasize collaboration," by enabling all the other important elements of meeting productivity to take place simultaneously, said Beatrice Casanova, Cisco Collaboration senior product manager, as she demoed the capability. The idea is that during a meeting, you are actually working together rather than simply watching each other talk.

As Eric Lerner, lead product manager of Cisco Spark, explained in the demo, WebEx-Spark integration is key in the company's quest to improve meetings. One of the top complaints the team heard about meetings is that participants spend the meeting time doing other things besides their actual jobs. According to Cisco's own internal research, productivity doesn't happen during a meeting; productivity happens in the first 10 minutes after a meeting, which is when people commonly organize their notes, go through assignments, and set action items.

Because of this, Cisco integrated Spark and WebEx more tightly. Now when a team finishes a WebEx conference call, the app immediately prompts the meeting organizer to see if he or she would like to create a Spark room for the project discussed during the meeting. With the click of a button, the organizer can create a room and trigger an invite to all attendees. The call recording is imported, organizers can upload meeting notes quickly and easily, and participants can share relevant image files and continue the conversation around the project at hand.

I'm certainly intrigued by the moves Cisco has been making lately. The partnership with Apple, the organizational restructuring involving Trollope, and the Spark updates all seem to paint a picture of a Cisco that is jumping head first into mobile apps. As someone who was surprised when Cisco unveiled Spark because a mobile app simply wasn't something I was expecting to see from the company, it's nice to see these other moves coming into play that continue this mobile emphasis.

Much of what is said circles around the idea of changing work to meet new mobile realities. Many agree that email just ain't cutting it anymore as a work productivity and communications tool. While I have to agree with that idea, the cynical side of me has to wonder whether companies like Cisco are adapting their solutions to meet evolving user needs or if people are adapting the way they work to match the vision that companies like Cisco lay out.

Regardless, you can't argue that things are changing.

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