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Cisco's Contact Center Ascendance

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I say this after having spent a couple of days in Dallas at the 2014 Cisco Americas Customer Collaboration Sales Summit. I predict that for many of you reading this your internal BS detector is going off. "Doesn't everybody come back from these types of events high on endorphins?" you might ask.

"Give it a few days," you might say. Let the effects of the motivational speakers, the collegial atmosphere of the event and the marketing spin filter off. Fact check and validate. "Fair enough," I say.

Here's the thing for me, though. The opinions I express here are only partly based on what I heard from Cisco. We all know that Cisco is a great marketing machine. John Chambers is often quoted as saying something along the lines of, "Give me one of the three best products and I'll outsell anyone." The old Betamax vs. VCR argument that the best product doesn't always win in the market comes to mind. There's more here though.

My newfound respect for Cisco's Customer Collaboration platform is based less upon what I heard than from what I observed and felt. I've been to many of these types of events over a long career. There is a vibe to each. Seldom have I experienced an energy like that of this event.

I attended supporting one of my clients. I spent a lot of time outside of the presentations making sure my client's investment in the conference paid off. This gave me an observer's vantage.

What I saw was energy, excitement and buy-in. At other recent events I have witnessed overt dissension and overheard scuttlebutt in the hallways. "How many times have we heard that?" "Maybe the new guy will get it right this time?" "I heard what they said, but what's in it for me?" Nothing of the sort did I experience in Dallas.

Quite to the contrary. Leaving this event was a force of highly motivated, empowered and driven sales professionals. I observed little skepticism. There were only rare questions as to Cisco's commitment to the participant's success.

I also engaged with a set of developers who have bought-in to the development ecosystem Cisco is creating. I heard praise of clean, open APIs. One developer described creating powerful capabilities on top of the Cisco Finesse platform as being as easy as a "doodle."

Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise product manager, Jim Lundy, described to me a commitment that every product Cisco brings to market be open to innovation from the external community. This means no arcane and cryptic integration code, no expensive subscriptions to gain access to required documentation and testing facilities, no proprietary attitude towards innovations that enhance the solutions for the customer.

Cisco seems to be operating with an open source sensibility. What is good for the customer, Cisco's product managers feel, is good for the platform. No, "Not invented here ... not interested," mentality. Cisco sees its development community as an asset. The major source of revenue that is resulting from the development community to Cisco is not from fees extracted from developers, it is overwhelmingly from the sales of Cisco products driven by external innovations.

I did hear a "wait and see" attitude expressed by some developers who have been part of the Cisco environment for some time. Any massive organizations can steamroll even when trying to avoid doing so. My sense though is that Cisco is embracing the proven model. Matt Asay shows in his recent article, Open source failure is its greatest success, that unleashed innovation of a global community exponentially grows demand for your platform. I believe Cisco sees this insight and is capitalizing on this dynamic.

The logic of Cisco's embrace of the force multiplier that is the developer community is reminiscent of one of the stimuli of the success of their core business. Cisco nurtures technologies that drive the need for bandwidth. Just as success for marketplace concepts including telepresence drives sales of switches and routers needed to carry the traffic, so too will innovations built on top of the collaboration platform by the development community drive increased need for Cisco Unified Contact Center.

I have had to get over a lot of internal turmoil for me to say these things. Overcoming the tendencies hardened by many years of seeing Cisco only through the eyes of that of a competitor has not been easy. In the face of overwhelming evidence, I would be foolish not to accept the facts in front of me. So too should many of my colleagues wearing the opposite numbers to squad Cisco.

With all due respect and compassion to my friends and former teammates I say the following. Accept this in the category of tough love. As competitors to Cisco you had better tighten those skates and step up your game or be prepared to endure a long lowly season.

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