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You Need to Use Cisco Spark to 'Get' Spark

Over the past couple of years, as I've noted previously here on No Jitter, we've seen the emergence of a new type of UC tool that is about what some industry watchers call "mobile, social collaboration" and others think of as "any-time communications." Acano coSpaces, Cisco Spark, and Unify Circuit are specific examples, and you can find others from companies like Biba, Interactive Intelligence, and Slack. The concept behind these tools is easy enough to grasp, but really understanding what makes them different is difficult unless you've actually used them as intended.

My first two experiences with this class of tool didn't exactly sell me on its value.

As an analyst, I got to try out Circuit and Spark last year at respective Unify and Cisco events. In each case, analysts played around with the tool by gathering in a one "room." But this, I believe, was an error on the vendors' parts. With so many people gathered in a single virtual meeting space, the notifications were overwhelming. What's more, since none of us had a purpose to be in that room other than to play around with the tool, nothing about the activity was that compelling -- I really didn't care to know that Marty Parker and Dave Michels were planning to meet later on. No offense to either, as I certainly like both these guys, but I couldn't give two hoots about what they were discussing between themselves.

Months later, at the recent Cisco Partner Summit 2015, I finally got a sense of the effectiveness of this kind of tool. This time around Cisco created an analyst room in Spark, as shown below, but not just for us to play around in. Rather, it actually put the room to good use.


For Partner Summit, Cisco put my agenda in Spark rather than sending it to me via email, per usual. And that, it turns out, made me more productive.

Generally when I receive an agenda for an upcoming event via email, I look it over and then let it sit in my Inbox until I need it. Fast-forward to the day of the event. Before I head out, I need to look at the agenda, which is buried hundreds or possibly thousands of messages back in my Inbox. Since I can't remember who it's from, I need to do things like search on the event or potential sender's name. Sometimes I find it... and sometimes I give up and just text an analyst relations (AR) person to resend. Alternatively, I might just carry around the paper agenda I get upon checking in for the event. That's modern!

But for the Partner Summit, all I needed to do was go to the Spark analyst room, scroll back to find the agenda, and open it from there. Then, whenever I had a question, all I had to do was send a message in Spark rather than texting the AR team. Since the response was in Spark, I could easily find it again as needed. In addition, the AR team placed all keynote presentations into the room instead of emailing them to us. Just the other week I wanted to look up something up from one of the keynote presentations, so all I did was go back to the room and downloaded it.

The key is, I know where to look and can quickly find information or have a discussion. As my kids say: Easy peasy lemon squeeze.

Since then I've become much more reliant on Spark in my dealings with Cisco. A week or so ago I needed to ask an AR team member a question. So I opened up a room and invited the person. We had a quick discussion, and then I closed the room.

This got me thinking about the low-hanging fruit for this type of product. From my experience, I can see immediate benefit for small, agile groups that need to gather people and information in an ad hoc manner to make a decision or accomplish a task quickly. These qualifiers, I believe, maximize the tool's effectiveness. It's for teams, even of just two people, not individuals who are working ad hoc and need to move fast for whatever reason.

Both Cisco and Unify have quantified the value of their products by pointing to a reduction in email usage, but I think that's not telling the full story. These tools lead to a reduction in email because email is the wrong tool for agile teams looking to do something quickly. Email is too slow and cumbersome for agile teams, but it will remain the right tool for many workers. In my opinion, it's not the reduced amount of email -- after all, we're sending messages using these new tools. Rather, it's the fact that all of the messages, content and conversations are organized by project or task instead of being in a single, long chronological thread.

When Cisco collaboration chief Rowan Trollope or Unify CMO Bill Hurley say they're more productive because they use email less, I believe them. But they're the poster children of agile workers who need to make quick decisions. The real measure -- and I know this is hard to get at -- should be speed of task completion or decision-making.

If you haven't "gotten it" yet with regard to these applications, then you likely haven't used them in the way in which intended. Just make sure, if you test one in your organization, that you give it to the right type of worker.

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