Why Cius is a Risky Play for Cisco

The product and support model is interesting, but in the long run, Apple’s first mover advantage with iPad may be too much to overcome.

In some ways, the discussion about using tablets in the enterprise is fairly straightforward. If users are allowed to Bring Their Own Technology/Tablet (BYOT) to work, the enterprise will need to establish corporate policies on usage, service management, reimbursement, and security. Beyond these organizational "guard rails", little else is required. However, should the enterprise decide to provision tablets directly, technology procurement strategies must change to include these mobile devices.

Today, there are over 150 tablets on the market with the numbers changing; one day HP's TouchPad is gone, the next it's back at $99 (and their CEO is gone). However, for this column, I wanted to look at only one: Cisco's Cius tablet, considered by some to be the first "enterprise or corporate" tablet.

While a deeper discussion on the tablet market is beyond the scope of this article, readers looking for more information on the topic should see Frost & Sullivan's "Tablet PC Market Overview".

Background
To frame the discussion on Cius, consider Forrester Research's estimate that currently ~25% of all enterprises have employees using, piloting or planning to use tablets. With tablet usage expected to grow significantly in the next 3-5 years, this growth represents an inexorable trend that can't be ignored by IT or the business. Internal employee demand and increased productivity/revenue obtainable by using innovative technology are key drivers behind tablet growth. Users are actually ditching their PCs/laptops for tablets enabled with mobile office productivity applications such as Quickoffice Pro HD.

Enterprise Tablet Released in 2010, Apple's iPad is regarded as the first contemporary tablet and its position as the market leader is undeniable. Cisco's Cius, however, may be considered the first enterprise-class tablet and looking to find its place in the tablet space.

Cisco defines an enterprise tablet as a device that has built-in enterprise-grade security and is "an extension of the enterprise network." Definitions aside, the reality is either the product meets the organization’s requirements or it doesn't. For enterprise users, integration, form factor/UI, and performance are key factors. With respect to cost, if the enterprise is investing in the tablet technology ("picking up the tab"), the user doesn't care about price and the business will need to look at how to bundle the tablet investment with other technology purchases to improve volume discounts and total cost of ownership.

Cius Tablet Overview
With a First Customer Ship (FCS) of June 2011, Cius is an Android 2.2 SIP communications device with a 7" touch screen that supports:

* Email (e.g., Exchange, Lotus Notes)
* Web Browsing via mouse or touch screen
* HD video (720p 30fps) with backlit display, 1024x600 pixel resolution, Cisco TelePresence interoperability
* Forward and rear-facing cameras (5 megapixel for still and VGA-quality video)
* IP Telephony voice with contact-driven dialing
* WebEx (interface embedded)
* IM/Presence
* Virtual Desktop Infrastructure support (Wyse, VMware and Citrix capabilities are pre-loaded)
* Mobility via desktop docking station, 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, 4G data (Verizon and AT&T), and Bluetooth
* Integration with various Cisco collaboration and media solutions, including, including Cisco WebEx meeting applications, Cisco Quad social software, Cisco Jabber messaging, and Cisco TelePresence.

To support IP telephony on Cius, the enterprise must be running Cisco's Unified Communications Manager (UCM) 7.1 or higher.

Cisco's AppHQ
AppHQ is Cisco's Cius application marketplace, which also offers the unique concept of a "store within a store" for customers who want to create their own private corporate marketplace for custom, private and secure Cius applications.

Cius Pricing and Support
Assuming Wi-Fi network connectivity only, the "street price" is an estimated $750, with Cisco offering a new "Triple V" (for Voice, Video and Virtualization) promotion that could enable further price reductions below $700.

Enterprises will also need a Cisco Unified Workspace License (CUWL). If you use the device for voice only, a CUWL standard license is needed (list price $325; street price $195). For a Cius with full UCC functionality, a CUWL professional license is required (list price of $500; street price $300).

Cost for the mandatory three-year pre-paid Essential Operate services (software support) varies and depends on the type and quantity of CUWL licenses. For budgetary estimates, the three-year cost ranges from $36-$81 per user. The price for the Cius desktop docking station (which allows Cius to function as the screen for a desktop telephone handset) has not yet been finalized but represents another cost that should be factored in to the total cost of ownership (TCO).

While you may hear Cisco talk about the Cius "street price", understand that that the total unit cost will need to include a software license, hardware/software maintenance support and options (e.g., docking station). The additional cost for LAN/WAN remediation to support widespread Cius deployments will vary dramatically depending on the number of users and use cases. Organizations will need to perform a detailed network assessment and financial analysis to determine the actual Cius investment.

Still, a key differentiator between the Cius and the other tablets may be Cisco's ability to provide service and support for the device. While Cisco services may not be cheap, given the complexities of mobile application interoperability and network performance/security, having the tablet manufacturer also provide service support may offer tangible value when compared with consumer-grade tablets' much more limited support model.

Final Thoughts
I believe Cisco's foray in to tablets is a risky play for several reasons.

First, my client work over the past two years reflects a growing trend of organizations moving from corporate liable to individual liable mobile plans. The costs (both Cap/OpEx) and IT support issues associated with managing corporate-owned devices frequently outstrip the perceived benefits from the business owning/controlling (or trying to control) these assets. Again, users want the freedom to choose the mobile devices they use in/outside the workplace and increasingly resent IT taking this freedom away. Tablets are no exception.

Second, Cius's one-time (hardware and licensing), recurring maintenance, professional services, and potential network remediation costs make it an expensive option compared with alternative consumer tablets (a 64GB iPad with Wi-Fi/3G and a 9.7" screen is ~$800). Given the constraints on IT budgets and resources, I don’t see a compelling argument to justify the additional cost for this device.

Third, the effort required to engineer the corporate WAN/WLAN networks for the initial deployment and Day 2 support of multi-media devices will inhibit rapid enterprise acceptance. IT is already too busy with its "Form, Storm, Norm" responsibilities. It is unlikely that Cius will be given priority over the many other projects needing attention to drive sufficient demand.

Fourth, with the potential slow adoption of enterprise tablets and Cisco’s impatience with products/services not delivering profitability fast enough (e.g., Cisco Mail (PostPath) and its consumer Flip camcorder), it is difficult to imagine Cisco/John Chambers waiting years for Cius to be profitable.

Lastly, the iPad. In 2011, over 74% of all tablets worldwide will be iPads. In 2012, their global market share is estimated to ~70%. With the other 30% market share spread out among many manufacturers, I don't see how Cisco will generate sufficient demand quickly enough given the growing competitive and user demand factors to justify its long-term viability. (See this article.)

I'm generally an optimist but in the case of Cius, it's hard to be upbeat. The realist side of me suggests that while the product and support model is interesting, in the long run, Apple’s first mover advantage with iPad may be too much for Cisco (and many others) to overcome.

For more detailed Cius product information, see the following link: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/products/ps11156/products_data_sheets_list.html

For a comparison of Cius with other tablets, take a look at CIO Insight's article;

Two other good posts by ZDNet on the enterprise/corporate tablets can be found here and here.

Up next, I'll look at Avaya's Managed UC Services offer.

Until then, all the best.

Doug Carolus is a senior associate at Pace Harmon, an outsourcing advisory services firm providing independent, holistic guidance to Fortune 500 and high-growth middle market organizations on complex outsourcing and strategic sourcing transactions, process optimization, and vendor program governance.

Doug can be reached at [email protected]

Doug can be reached at [email protected]