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Cisco Buys CX, Meeting Tool Vendors

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Illustration showing people interactions
Image: nadia_snopek - stock.adobe.com
Cisco Collaboration this morning announced its intent to acquire two companies — IMImobile and Slido. Both are in the collaboration space and have the aim of improving interactions between people — IMImobile for contact centers and Slido for meetings.
 
These acquisitions follow the vision that Jeetu Patel, Cisco SVP and GM of security and applications, and Javed Khan, SVP and GM of collaboration, laid out of making experiences 10x better than being in person. While this applies primarily to meetings, an element of the vision applies to the contact center. Customer experience is now the number one brand differentiator, which has businesses looking to improve business-to-customer interactions.
 
IMImobile: CX Boost
The purchase price for the U.K.-based IMImobile is $730 million, a 50% premium on the stock’s trading price.
 
IMImobile has a rich set of omnichannel capabilities that simplifies the process of any service, sales, or marketing organization for messaging with customers on any channel, including WhatsApp, Apple Business Chat, and Google RCS, a rich communications services offering. In addition to these connectors, the company also makes it easy to alter workflows with no- or low-code orchestration capabilities enabling businesspeople to make changes instead of requiring a developer. Lastly, IMImobile has a set of CPaaS APIs, bolstering Cisco’s capabilities in this area. (In 2015, Cisco acquired CPaaS vendor Tropo but has gone quiet on this technology since then.)
 
As Omar Tawakol, VP and GM of Cisco Contact Center Business Unit, noted in a post on the acquisition, Cisco will integrate the IMImobile capabilities into a yet-to-be-announced contact center offering with the goal of shifting from a CCaaS to a customer experience-as-a-service (CXaaS) focus.
 
This shift from CCaaS to CXaaS is a trend that’s sprung up as more and more companies give contact center seats to non-contact center agents. This task was difficult to do when the contact center was on premises, as extending functionality outside the company walls was a challenge (to say the least), but the cloud makes it easy. I recently talked to one company that shifted 50 contact center agents from on premises to the cloud and then added 100 more users that were non-contact center agents. This transition included marketing, inside sales, and field service. IMImobile will greatly help Cisco meet the needs of this emerging buying center.
 
Slido: Meeting Tool
Cisco didn’t provide a purchase price for Slovakia-based Slido, but PitchBook Data, which covers the private capital markets, stated the company had raised a shade under $40,000 in outside funding since 2013. That small amount of funding made me think Cisco would treat Slido as a technology tuck-in. As I learned in a call with Amit Barave, Cisco VP of product management, Cisco went into the acquisition thinking the same, but was pleasantly surprised at the product’s maturity. Slido has over 7 million monthly users, he noted.
 
Still, I’m assuming Cisco paid a modest purchase price for Slido — a very good deal since it’s getting a fully functioning product.
 
Slido is a set of meeting tools that Cisco will integrate into its Webex platform. The software enables businesses to create engaging and dynamic participant experiences with Q&As, polls using visual representations, and the ability to get real-time insights before, during, and after meetings. This concept can be particularly useful in a world that’s shifting to be more virtual and where collaboration tools must facilitate townhalls, conferences, training sessions, and other large-scale events previously conducted in person.
 
That’s a great example of how a virtual meeting can be better than an in-person one. With a large or even medium-sized live event, it’s impossible to engage all the participants. Sure, you can ask for a show of hands or to shout out feedback, but that’s a blunt instrument at best. Slido makes it possible to get accurate information across the entire virtual and in-person audience. Just knowing their voices will be heard makes it more likely that employees will be actively engaged, further increasing the accuracy of the information.
 
Regular Cisco Webex users may know the application already has some of these capabilities, but they are only available in meetings. Slido will enable audience interaction before or after, and these have been critical missing pieces of the meeting puzzle.
 
If I were to assign a letter grade to most organizations’ ability to conduct virtual meetings, some would get a B, although most a C. We can connect and talk to one another, but there’s still a lot to be desired. This is where a lot of advanced technology, such as noise cancellation and transcription, will help, but the meetings do function and so get a passing grade. However, almost all companies I’ve interacted with get an F for pre-and post-meeting experience, as once the meeting ends, all knowledge is lost. Slido won’t fix all the issues, but it does increase engagement by allowing participants to provide feedback prior to and after the meeting.
 
On my briefing call, I asked Barave about the deployment model and integration timeline. Currently, users would use the product the way they do now — as a standalone product that runs along with Webex. Over time (six-plus months out) Cisco will integrate Slido’s functionality into Webex and make it a feature to increase stickiness. It’s important to note that Slido works with any vendor, including rival Zoom, and Cisco intends to maintain the standalone version of the product, giving it an entry point into the competitive base.
 
Are we at the 10x point yet? Far from it, but it seems Cisco is well on the way there. I’m expecting to get much more detail on both Slido and IMImobile from Cisco WebexOne, the company’s two-day digital collaboration conference that gets underway on Tuesday, Dec. 8. I’ll certainly be watching.

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