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Cisco is at War with Good Enough

This week, Cisco is holding its annual Collaboration Summit in Boca Raton. The analyst summit within the collaboration event kicked off on Tuesday with a seven-person panel led by SVP and GM of Cisco's Collaboration business unit, Rowan Trollope. I found many of Rowan's comments refreshing, including statements such as "We need to get out of our way", and a discussion on how hard Cisco's products are to use. Frankly, this isn't just a Cisco problem, as almost every vendor's products are hard to use.

During his opening comments and many times while answering questions, Trollope must have mentioned user experience at least a dozen times. While this is something that almost all vendors say, the definition of what it means to focus on "user experience" is as broad as the UC ecosystem itself.

Trollope went on to discuss how, in many ways, the challenge is to create an experience that is indeed better than the "good enough" experience one could get from using any number of consumer or low-cost UC tools out there. Are the "freemium" tools really corporate-class? Of course not, but if the experience from a company like Cisco isn't markedly better, then why not just use the good enough? It's one of the reasons why AIM, Skype, Box, Facebook, etc. are all still used widely in the business world. They provide an experience that is as good as or better than what you'll get from any business application.

For Cisco, I think focusing on user experience means the following:

* Create a "unified" UC experience. It's a weird thing to say, but the UC experience isn't really all that unified. At the risk of having Cisco start using a term like UUCC or U-squared, C-squared (Unified, unified communications and collaboration), I do think it's important the company creates a more seamless experience across all of its platforms such as Jabber, WebEx, Telepresence and the other forms of video. Today everything "kind of" works together, but "kind of" needs to be replaced by "seamlessly". The release here of two new features, Collaboration Edge and Jabber Guest, help with B2B connectivity, but there's still a long way to go.

* Develop a uniquely mobile experience. Rowan talked a lot about being more mobile, but frankly all the UC vendors have thought about being "mini" more than being mobile. That is, they build clients, and good clients, for Android, iOS, etc. To me, being uniquely mobile takes advantage of location, proximity, directional and other information to change the experience.

For example, if I'm in motion, have an audio conference call me. Or if I'm on a mobile device and the proximity information detects that I'm close to my desk phone, ask me if I want to move the call. Cisco has a wealth of information available to it within the network, and they should use that data to make the UC experience smarter and better.

* Create a unified developer experience. Cisco has been pushing this concept of "communications enabled apps" for years. However, the toolkits and SDKs make building these very difficult. In fact, it's likely that a developer partner would need to access 3 or 4 SDKs from different product areas, all with different capabilities, features and structure. I don't mean to pick only on Cisco, it's an industry-wide problem--it's just that Cisco has so many business units that it raises the complexity level.

Cisco's goal should be to create a developer environment where all of the network and telephony interfaces are invisible to the programmers. Simplifying this will raise the appeal of Cisco UC as a platform to a broader set of developers, particularly the younger, Web- and social-oriented ones.

* Make it easy to buy Cisco and simplify licensing. Right now, understanding Cisco licensing across all the UC products is like solving a Rubik's Cube. There are so many combinations and permutations that customers often get confused about what to buy and how to buy it. Making it simpler to understand will help channel partners sell more Cisco and enable customers to buy what they need.

This era of consumerization is interesting in that it's common wisdom that consumer technologies are better than corporate. That's kind of true in that each device may have a great experience, but creating a unified experience often requires a bunch of manual integration. Cisco's opportunity is to take this "good enough" consumer experience and use all the intelligence it has in-network and create an experience that can't be replicated through consumer-only technology.

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