Cisco's Rowan Trollope Makes 'Spark' Fly
Cisco's Collaboration head shares his perspective on bringing "delightful, magical" experiences to workplace collaboration.
Three years ago Cisco appointed Rowan Trollope as the new leader of its Collaboration Business. The unit had been experiencing two years of declining revenue. Trollope was new to the collaboration industry, and began his education with a critical eye on the user's experience. Soon after, he started making significant changes.
Under Rowan's leadership, the team took a "less is more" approach. After three years the results include an award-winning product lineup which has garnered eight Red Dot design awards, a streamlined portfolio with a 73% decrease in orderable parts, a significant drop in average price, and a dramatic return to revenue growth -- for four consecutive quarters. Six months ago Cisco Collaboration reported 14% increase in revenue, and just this last quarter (Q1-FY16) reported 17% growth year-over-year. When Cisco recently consolidated its IoT businesses, Rowan was asked to expand his responsibility to take on the company's business unit driving the IoT as well as the analytics group and Cisco's DevNet development platform.
Prior to joining Cisco, Rowan held various executive and engineering roles at Symantec where he both transformed Norton's core security products and conceived a dramatic rebranding. He holds seven patents in security and operating systems. He continues to code to this day and requires the same of his engineering leads. He is currently writing an iOS application in Swift.
Rowan, who is a father of three and a San Francisco denizen, balances his technical side with a passion for the arts, believing that good aesthetics lead to good products. He also paints and enjoys high altitude alpine mountaineering. He intends to summit Mount Denali in 2016.
I contacted Rowan directly through Cisco Spark to see if he'd agree to an interview. That was the easy (nearly instant) part. Finding time on the calendar took a few more weeks. We covered a variety of topics, from his unique vision for the company and its Collaboration Business, to his thoughts on mobility, developers, and industry evolutions:
Enterprise communications have gone through several transitions. Most recently the voice-only PBX was replaced with broader unified communications. Do you think we are on the cusp of another big transition, and if so, what?
Yes, I do. I believe we are on the cusp of another big transition to the cloud. We recognized the need to reinvent collaboration for the modern age, and to do that we decided it should be hosted in the cloud and delivered as a service. Next, we are on the cusp of a transition to a next generation of communications -- email is being replaced by business messaging (Spark), and this is being integrated with the rest of the communications stack. Finally, we see developers as the biggest source of innovation as we are opening our platform for anyone to build applications on top of.
Cisco Spark was introduced as Project Squared about a year ago. Was this a product already under development at Cisco, or something initiated after your arrival?
No, it was not under development; it was initiated after my arrival. I felt the future was in messaging with integrated voice and video. We assembled a small group of the world's best engineers, defined the product, and then set to work building it.
On a Cisco webpage, I read that your mission is to make collaboration simple. Is that accurate?
Yep. Collaboration technology has been too fragmented and too complex. The consumer today demands simple and elegant solutions. I intend to bring them delightful and magical experiences in the workplace.
You often speak about the need to change and evolve -- or risk being "blockbustered." Tell me how you think Cisco Collaboration will change over the next few years?
First, I believe many customers will shift toward buying collaboration services in the cloud. Second, I believe advanced video and collaboration hardware will be adopted into 50% of the rooms and spaces (currently only in 5%) in the next five years. I intend for that hardware and the cloud which powers it to be delivered by my team. Finally, I believe that MOST innovation in the collaboration space will come from developers. We are intending to open a robust API platform for developers to build on top of our cloud.
Your role at Cisco recently expanded to include the Internet of Things Group. Is that viewed as a separate functional area or are Internet of Everything and collaboration merging? Are IP phones the primary "Everything" in Cisco's portfolio?
The IoT Group is a separate functional area. My job is to define and build Cisco's future IoT platform to help our customers make it easy to connect their products and to transform themselves into digital businesses.
Do you see these two roles to be synergistic?
These are separate businesses. The goal was not to find synergies. IoT will be the next massive growth area for Cisco.
It's very likely that the next generation of UC will tightly interoperate with wireless mobile services. While some vendors are working toward IMS integration. I suspect you see APIs as the best route. Can you share your vision on how UC and 4G will interact?
We will probably interact with IMS, but provide restful APIs to the outside world. Our Tropo acquisition was a reflection of that intent. [Tropo] already integrates into the SP network and provides simple restful APIs to allow for programmatic communications.
Continue to next page for more of Trollope's thoughts on Cisco Spark, the importance of developers, room systems, and the future of collaboration and video