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Warning: Enhanced Meetings Aren't Collaboration

Last week I attended the 2018 Cisco Collaboration Summit, a well-done event, as you may already have read in a number of No Jitter posts. However, the keynotes as well as the analyst and consultant breakout presentations got me to thinking about the difference between enhanced meetings and collaboration. Here's my conclusion.

Cisco and other vendors that are competing in the meeting technology market segment are seeking growth through product enhancements aimed at facilitating collaboration. However, these enhancements aren't best-in-class collaboration platforms, nor are they likely to ever be.

So, if you're an enterprise communications leader, be warned against echoing vendors' claims of collaboration capabilities before understanding your enterprise's collaboration requirements, as well as considering alternatives available for meeting those requirements.

Generic "enhanced meetings" aren't likely to meet all the collaboration requirements for most organizations. Similarly, persistent chat and team spaces products such as Cisco Webex Teams (formerly Spark) and Microsoft Teams are OK as generic infrastructure tools. But most enterprises also will need to deploy and support both the generic enhanced meeting tools and purpose-built collaboration platforms such as those I describe below.

Of course, every enterprise will want the best possible meeting technologies. As this Fuze infographic suggests, meetings consume about 15% of employee time in most large organizations (about $6.8 million per year in salary costs per 1,000 employees). So, my critique is not a suggestion to defer investments in top-notch meeting technologies. Rather, it's a warning against automatically accepting claims from vendors that their enhanced meeting tools are also the world's best collaboration platforms.

You can see this distinction from other sources, too. For example, Gartner has separate Magic Quadrant reports for these categories. The 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Meeting Solutions positions Cisco, Microsoft, and Zoom as the clear Leaders. However, the 2017 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Content Collaboration Platforms show the Leaders as Box, Microsoft, Dropbox, Citrix, Google, Axway (Syncplicity), and Egnyte. Given that Microsoft is in that list based on OneDrive for Business and SharePoint, not for Teams, this makes the point that at least content-centric collaboration is being addressed by enhanced meeting solutions.

This distinction is even more stark when you look at collaboration within specific workflows:

  • Sales organizations may use an application such as Salesforce, which has communication and collaboration features built into the customer records and sales tracking flows
  • Service organizations may use an application such as ServiceNow, which has communication and collaboration features built into the ticket management system
  • Health care organizations may use an application such as Cerner, which has communication and collaboration features built into the electronic medical record
  • Engineers, especially those using Agile methodology, may use Atlassian Jira, which has tools for code management and scrum tracking
  • Marketing teams may use purpose-built software packages such as WorkFront that include a digital asset management engine plus resource and project tracking

There are hundreds of such purpose-built applications across all industry groups; more and more of them include the communication and collaboration tools that are specific to that workflow. Some address this with integrations to the leading UC brands or with connections to CPaaS providers, depending on the requirements.

So, my takeaway from the Cisco Collaboration Summit is that Cisco is delivering some great meeting infrastructure technologies. Cisco's room systems are innovative and probably best-in-class products for most enterprise purposes. Cisco Webex is the worldwide leader for cloud-based meeting and conferencing technologies for businesses, surpassed only by consumer-class Skype in terms of total monthly users (a reported 130 million for Webex compared to approximately 300 million for Skype). Cisco includes comprehensive security features for its meeting software and devices. And Cisco Mesh provides intelligent bandwidth optimization for organizations whose meetings span both on-premises and remote video users. I found the total meetings solutions picture Cisco presented last week quite impressive.

However, a merger of Jabber, Spark, and Webex into Webex Teams doesn't automatically create the best option for collaboration. Yes, Webex Teams may be a viable generic desktop and mobile package by which employees can form groups to share via text and pictures and even start meetings and calls. Yet, that combination is unlikely to be the best for collaboration.

My advice: If your enterprise communications technology team is going to embrace the term "collaboration," then really get to know which departments see collaboration as key to their processes and workflows, and then work with each to find the best platform for its particular needs. You'll make many more friends with this approach than with a one-size-fits-all mandate.

Trust this is helpful for your success.

Related posts:

  • Webex Meetings Gets Complete Video Makeover
  • Bye Bye Cisco Spark, Hello Webex Teams
  • Cisco Reaching for the Mountain – Finally