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Cisco Plays Hollywood Square(d)

As I'm writing from Cisco's Collaboration Summit 2014 in Los Angeles, I've decided to borrow a bit of the Hollywood theme from yesterday morning's presentations for this article's title and as I weigh in on Project Squared, Cisco's interpretation of a new way to collaborate with teams.

Whether here at No Jitter or elsewhere, you've probably heard a bit about Project Squared already. If not, what you need to know is that Project Squared is, as defined by Cisco, "a business collaboration app that combines chat, audio, video, multi-party meetings and content sharing in a single experience that supports the demanding collaboration needs of modern teams." Project Squared is about providing connectivity from anywhere on any device, and Cisco talked up the tool's ability to support asynchronous as well as synchronous collaboration.

Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, made some excellent analogies to how, over time, the physical aspects of documents, files, and desktops have been represented virtually on our computers, tablets, and smartphones. What's been missing, however, is the notion of the room (or cubicle) that contains all of this. Project Squared relies heavily on the notion of allowing users to enter or exit rooms at will, leaving behind valuable artifacts of conversations as well as documents. File sharing capabilities extend to this paradigm as well, via a partnership with Box (for more product details, read yesterday's post, Cisco Debuts 'Project Squared' Collaboration App).

In talking about Project Squared with other consultants and analysts, it was difficult not to point out similarities between it and Unify's recently introduced Circuit platform (formerly known as Project Ansible) as well as offerings from Google.

Nonetheless, it's exciting to see the leading unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) vendors rethink their products based on customer feedback and their own research. However, because this is such a different way of working for most of us, there is bound to be some level of resistance in the market. In my own client base, most users "live" in the Microsoft Outlook client and look to have functionality such as presence and click to call added there. Others have supplemented Outlook with additional clients such as Microsoft Lync or Cisco. Project Squared offers the potential to use one platform and move away from both Outlook and separate UC clients -- for organizations that are willing to do so.

At the Summit, I downloaded the Squared client and entered a room being offered to attendees. I quickly had to turn off the alerting feature as it delivered a barrage of notifications about comments being posted. I'm sure that filtering is available and that, with tuning, you can set Squared to your own preferences that will make it useful. However, I do worry about the persistent level of interruptions that the alerting may cause.

Beyond understanding the technology nuance, I'm interested in finding out what targets Cisco has established for bringing existing and new customers onto the Squared platform vs. existing tools. It seems clear to me that market segmentation and conversion will occur over a long period of time. Some organizations will never move to this approach. After all, we still see lots of analog devices in use and we'll continue to physical phones ringing away at some enterprises for quite some time.

How much market share will this new paradigm achieve and how quickly? This is the million-dollar question for Cisco as well as the other leading UC vendors.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC), an international organization of independent information and communication technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.