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Collaborating at Cisco CScape 2011

I just got back from for the Cisco analyst conference Cscape, held in conjunction with Cisco Live. Vegas. Fortunately they were having a cold spell and it was only in the high 90s. I spent 3 days talking with Cisco execs and fellow analysts about collaboration and how Cisco views the collaboration world. As would be expected, I agreed with some of what I heard, and disagreed with others.

What I liked and agreed with: First, I was glad to hear that collaboration is one of Cisco's top corporate priorities--it's actually number two. With rumors flying around about what Cisco is going to dump, I was reassured that collaboration will remain a key centerpiece in Cisco's portfolio.

I also liked Cisco's focus on what it calls the four key megatrends impacting the collaboration workspace: Mobile, Social, Video, and Virtual. I would agree that these are the four big trends of the day, and Cisco has a good story for each of these.

I was also very pleased to hear Cisco's roadmap for Jabber, its next generation of clients, bringing together unified communication and collaboration applications, including presence, IM, desktop sharing, voice, video, voice messaging, conferencing, etc. By moving to a single client, using elements of Quad (of which I'm a big fan), and making this client available on the desktop (Quad is web-based only), Cisco will make its offerings simpler for customers and administrators.

I also liked the focus on actual use cases--there were lots of examples of how customers are using Cisco collaboration and the benefits they're getting from these tools. Use cases are essential, and Cisco has been able to visibly show how customers are using its products and solutions. In fact, my opinion about the Cius has begun to turn more favorable after seeing some of the use case demos and speaking with some of Cisco's application developer partners. While I still believe that a generic tablet like the iPad makes the most sense in many situations, there are specific use cases where a purpose-built, enterprise grade device made specifically for communications, collaboration, and video, and providing the needed security, is the right approach.

What caused my biggest concerns was the unrelenting focus on collaboration at the expense of unified communications. I understand why Cisco changed its focus--enterprises weren’t relating to and purchasing UC, but they understand what collaboration is all about. Collaboration is sexier than UC, and enterprises can get a tremendous amount of value from it. However, I feel that this focus on collaboration, while pretty much ignoring UC, is doing a disservice to a large portion of customers--notably SMBs. I've been thinking about the collaboration vs. UC story a lot lately, and also doing a bit of work investigating the SMB market and the low-end of the midmarket, and have drawn several conclusions.

IMHO, it boils down to this: you need to communicate in order to collaborate, but you don't need to collaborate in order to communicate. In other words, everyone needs communication tools, but not everyone needs collaboration tools, and not all communications is collaboration. When I think collaboration, I think of file/document sharing, whiteboarding, multiparty videoconferencing, etc. Yes, collaboration provides great value to workgroups and people working on projects together, and helps people solve problems and make decisions faster. However, sometimes you just need to communicate and not collaborate, meaning that tools like IM, click to call, presence, and basic call control and mobility may be more important than "collaboration."

Also, when I speak with SMBs, they don't always relate to collaboration and may not need or want video conferencing, document sharing, etc., but they all know that they need basic UC capabilities.

This may seem like semantics, but it's also part of a marketing message, and I think that some SMBs may feel left out of the collaboration discussion. I may be biased, but I believe that a marketing message that focuses on both UC and collaboration is the one that will impact all market segments.

To sum up, I loved the use cases and the focus on the business value that Cisco "collaboration" is providing to customers. But, I'd like to see unified communications be part of the discussion, and definitely part of the marketing message.