Zeus Kerravala
Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his...
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Zeus Kerravala | June 29, 2014 |


Cisco Acquires Web-Based Collaboration Firm

Cisco Acquires Web-Based Collaboration Firm Cisco has been making a number of smaller acquisitions, obtaining Tail-f a few weeks ago and spending less than $100 million this morning to acquire Assemblage.

Cisco has been making a number of smaller acquisitions, obtaining Tail-f a few weeks ago and spending less than $100 million this morning to acquire Assemblage.

In Major League Baseball, some teams try and win by always going for the big home run. My beloved Red Sox are such a team, although they're not hitting many this year so they find themselves in a position that the Cubs are normally in: Last place! Other teams, such as the St Louis Cardinals, win by playing "small ball." A hit there, stolen base here, one run this inning, one the next, and all of a sudden all these small things become a win.

In tech, some vendors like to swing for the fences. For example, Oracle recently dropped $5.3 billion for Micros Systems to bolster its position in a few markets. Oracle took a huge swing and we'll see if it works. Cisco, on the other hand, has been making a number of smaller acquisitions. A few weeks ago they acquired Tail-f to support their telecom strategy, and this morning the company spent less than $100 million to acquire Assemblage.

If you're not familiar with Assemblage, the company is a small (8 people) organization based in San Francisco that provides the tools and infrastructure for browser-based collaboration. At this size, the purchase is as much about talent acquisition as it is about the product.

Since Rowan Trollope's appointment as the GM of the Collaboration Business Unit, Cisco has refreshed much of its product line, including the recently announced DX line. However, the one piece of the puzzle that hadn't been solved is what Cisco's software play is. If customers want a great experience, they can buy a DX and drop it on a desk. However, what if the worker is mobile or just has a laptop? Then they need to turn to WebEx.

While WebEx is the market leader in Web collaboration, it's really remained a document-sharing tool. WebEx video adoption is still fairly light (although the quality is much better than people realize), integration with Jabber presence is awkward and voice is still done over the phone.

Over the past few years the UC industry has become obsessed with pure software platforms. It seems everyone has a pure software solution today to allow workers to collaborate with one another with no special hardware required. The pure software solutions also facilitate better B2B and B2C collaboration.

However, most of the pure software solutions, WebEx included, require some sort of plug-in to work. The plug-ins are necessary to drop software on the device for adding certain features or improving quality. Sometimes the downloads are quick, sometimes they take forever, especially if you're on a low-speed connection. On mobile devices, the plug-in requires going to an app store and downloading in advance.

Here's where Cisco will be able to leverage Assemblage's products. Unlike most of the "pure software" based solutions, Assemblage requires no plug-ins, downloads or installations of any kind. The product leverages both WebRTC and HTML5, and works across all major browsers. WebRTC has been viewed as the long-term solution to the "plug-in" problem, but it is browser constrained today. Assemblage enables simple, one-click browser-to-browser collaboration without any software installation.

Assemblage offers four main products currently: – Visual collaboration with full HD video and audio. Enabling browser-based HD video and voice has almost become table stakes today. – A presentation tool that operates on laptops and mobile devices. With this tool, a presentation could be "beamed" to an audience via a short URL. Now, in keynotes or other meetings, users could follow along on a mobile device. – Screen sharing application, including the ability to share only part of a screen. This is becoming increasingly important as workers look to easily bring in vertical applications and multiple documents.
API – A set of APIs to easily integrate the products into websites or business applications.

The acquisition raises an interesting question as to the evolution of WebEx. As I said, WebEx is enormously popular and holds dominant share position in Web collaboration. My guess is that the Assemblage technology will be used as a way of evolving the current WebEx product and eventually making it a rich UC solution that allows two-way collaboration without the need for any plug-ins or application installation.

The "ease of use" that Assemblage touts is in line with the statements Trollope made at last year's Cisco Collaboration Summit, at which he promised customers a significantly easier experience than they have had in the past. While removing the need for plug-ins may seem small, it has a big impact on usability. Small ball seems to be working for Cisco collaboration.

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