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Cisco's Trollope Doing Right by Collaboration

This month marks the two-year anniversary of Rowan Trollope's arrival at Cisco as chief of the company's Collaboration Technology Unit. That makes it a good time, I think, to take a look at how collaboration at Cisco has changed since his arrival.

If you've met Trollope or seen him deliver a keynote, as he did last week at Collaboration Summit 2014, then you know he's not your typical Cisco executive. He dresses differently, wears funny shoes and does push-ups before he presents. Clearly, he thinks differently than others who have held his position at Cisco.

When Trollope came on board, change had definitely been in order. The group, for years one of those that carried Cisco, was facing a stretch of declining revenues.

Since his arrival at Cisco, I've had many opportunities to sit down with Trollope to hear his plans for the group. The one thing I can say about him is this: He is obsessed with building products that make sense and are easy to use. In one of our conversations, for example, I remember him saying how he found it nuts that he had to scroll all the way to the bottom of a WebEx invite e-mail to find the link to join the meeting. That's the kind of detail-oriented thinking that Trollope has infused into the collaboration group.


No Jitter editor Michelle Burbick chatted with Rowan Trollope, Cisco's collaboration chief, last week. Read the Q&A now.


No Jitter editor Michelle Burbick chatted with Rowan Trollope, Cisco's collaboration chief, last week. Read the Q&A now.

During last week's keynote, Trollope went through a bit of his history at Cisco and retold the story about making his first video call with the Cisco TelePresence EX90 system. He recalled being blown away by the experience while realizing that video was too expensive and too complicated to have it be evenly democratized across all workers at all companies. The mission for Cisco collaboration has now become how to get simple, high-quality collaboration everywhere or, as Trollope puts it, "from the mobile device to the boardroom."

We've seen a number of the proof points of Trollope's execution against this vision over the past two years. They include:

Greater interoperability across Cisco products. Historically the various Cisco collaboration products had limited or no interoperability. Over the past two years, the company has completed the integration across the portfolio and now any video platform (immersive, room based, Jabber and WebEx) interoperates with any other. This means customers can join from any medium and enjoy a high-quality video experience.

WebEx improvements. If you're a heavy WebEx user, I'm sure you've noticed the platform improvements. When you sign in, for example, the interface provides content-loading status vs. the blank screen of old. In addition, Cisco has cleaned up and modernized the user so all options are now easy to find instead of being hidden in the application.

TelePresence SX10 Quick Set. With this product, Cisco takes advantage of the fact that most conference rooms have high-definition monitors in them. Attaching the SX10 to a standard TV delivers instant video conferencing capabilities. The SX10 brings TelePresence-quality video to any room for less than $2,000.

DX desktop endpoints. The DX was the long-overdue upgrade to the EX series. The EX line created great quality but the price point limited the use to executive desktops. The DX line brought the price way down with a starting price of less than $1,000. At that price point, which is just slightly more than the cost of a high-end IP phone, businesses could give the majority of workers desktop video.

Rationalization of the endpoint portfolio. To say Cisco had a broad endpoint portfolio is an understatement. Two years ago, Cisco had 65 endpoints -- one for every possible deployment scenario or request. A portfolio this large is expensive to maintain from an R&D perspective and hard for the channel to position. Today the portfolio sits at much more manageable 17 easier-to-use products.

Red Dot Awards for product design. Apple wins many, many Red Dot Awards for its product designs. In the past six months, Cisco has won six Red Dot Awards -- the same number it's received over the previous 25 years. While this doesn't make Cisco "Apple-esque," it does signal recognition that Cisco is designing collaboration products with the user in mind.

The evidence of Trollope's vision came through again last week at Collaboration Summit 2014 with the announcement of the TelePresence IX5000, a a badly needed upgrade to its immersive system; and the much-talked-about collaboration app, Project Squared. What I like best about Project Squared is that it's built for mobility first -- the first product for which Cisco has taken this approach.

While I'm certainly not ready to say that Cisco's collaboration business is ready to return to the growth rates of 10 years ago, I do think it's headed in the right direction. The collaboration team, per Trollope's mission, isn't just trying to build the best product but exceptional user experiences -- and that's often more difficult than the technical stuff.

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