Cisco Turns Up Collaboration Partnerships

Cisco this week fortified relationships with partners Apple and Google, announcing new support and integrations for its Customer Journey Solutions portfolio and Webex.

Getting Chatty with Apple

Cisco's partnership with Apple -- initiated in 2015 around the idea of delivering a "fast lane" on Cisco networks for iOS business users -- has evolved over the years. In April, for example, Cisco revealed it was working with Apple on adding augmented reality capabilities into Webex Meetings.

This past week, Cisco took its relationship with Apple into the contact center realm, announcing that its Customer Journey Solutions portfolio, which includes Contact Center Express, Contact Center Enterprise, and Customer Journey Platform, now supports Apple Business Chat. For those who aren't familiar, Business Chat is an iOS capability that integrates with Apple's Messages and other applications to enable iOS users to text directly with businesses (see related No Jitter coverage here and here).

Apple Business Chat, introduced last summer and currently in beta, requires enterprises to register with Apple and select a contact center or customer service platform provider. Cisco is now one of the contact center options, as Tod Famous, senior director of product management at Cisco, told me in a recent briefing.

Once a business registers with Apple Business Chat, a chat icon will appear next to its listing on Siri, Search, or Apple Maps, for example. Clicking on the icon allows a customer to start a conversation with the business through the Messages app. In addition, Cisco's support of Business Chat allows integration with voice and video calling so that a customer can escalate from messaging to one of those communications channels, as desired or necessary.

In addition, Cisco Customer Journey Solutions customers will be able to pull information and context from these Business Chat interactions into their analytics and reporting efforts. Apple itself doesn't hold on to any customer information, Famous said. It does this deliberately, for privacy purposes, he added -- everything is encrypted and opaque from Apple's perspective.

Because the Business Chat service is still in beta and Apple hasn't disclosed when it will be GA, Cisco isn't sure how significant this will be for its customers, Famous said. It will, in part, depend on how aggressively Apple pursues this service with enterprises and also how fast the market realizes it's an option, he added. But with messaging having taken off like wildfire in the consumer realm, this is about allowing consumers to talk to businesses using the same messaging capability they use in everyday life.

Streamlining Work with Google

Cisco also has had a relationship with Google for several years now. In fact, four years ago at Enterprise Connect then-Cisco Collaboration chief Rowan Trollope announced the Google partnership and demonstrated its Webex conferencing solution running natively on a Google Chromebook within a Chrome browser. This was a big deal at the time, as until then Webex had required use of a browser plugin.

While things on the Cisco-Google front had been quiet for a while, this year Cisco and Google are back to being buddy-buddy. At Cisco Live in June, for example, Google Cloud CEO Diane Greene joined Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins on stage to show off their companies' infrastructure efforts around hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

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Greene and Robbins at Cisco Live 2018

This week at Google Cloud Next, Greene returned the favor by bringing David Goeckler, EVP and GM for Cisco's Networking and Security business on stage for another joint plug of the Google-Cisco hybrid cloud work. But that's certainly not where the partnership ends. Cisco also made the (arguably comprehensive) list of partners that are teaming with Google on its Contact Center AI offering, a solution combining multiple artificial intelligence products aimed at boosting both the customer experience and contact center efficiency (see "Google Enters the Contact Center Fray").

In a press release on its Google partnership -- which the company's new Collaboration chief Amy Chang called "just the beginning" -- Cisco said that its goal in partnering with Google Cloud is to bring AI and machine learning to work in a variety of ways. Beyond the Contact Center AI partnership, for example, Cisco and Google are jointly exploring using Google AI for capabilities like transcription, translation, meeting summaries, and task management, the goal being to make meetings more actionable, Cisco said.

Cisco will also be enabling users to schedule a Webex meeting within Google Calendar. Additionally, through the Webex Teams Android SDK, Cisco is working to make it easier for developers to add Cisco collaboration capabilities into Android applications. Further, Webex Teams users can now make use of Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms from within a Webex Teams space.

The fact that both the Apple and Google partnership news touch on the contact center is evidence of mounting interest in this space, Famous commented. "Contact center is transitioning from premises to cloud, creating a period of growth -- probably a 10-year growth curve -- and a great opportunity for vendors to invest," he said.

As I overheard one of my colleagues saying on an unrelated business call today: Something, something ... "coopetition" ... something, something ... "synergies" ... something, something ... "ROI." That sure seems apropos to this partnership news.

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