Microsoft versus Cisco: A Classic Three-card Monte Con

by Kevin Kieller

If you are spending time debating between Cisco and Microsoft communications solutions, you are likely falling victim to the classic three-card monte con.

The Three-Card Monte Con

The three-card monte con is simple. A dealer places three cards face down on a table, shows the player that one of the cards is the “target card” the card they need to find, often the queen of hearts, and then proceeds to rearrange the cards to confuse the player. The player wins if s/he finds the target card.

Three-card monte, like UC marketing, employs sleight of hand and misdirection to prevent the player, or using con lingo, the “mark”, from finding the correct card. The chances of a mark winning are zero against a skilled con artist.

The UC Con

I am not suggesting that either Cisco or Microsoft are trying to deceive potential customers; however, I am postulating that through a series of circumstances, many organizations con themselves when they undertake a Cisco versus Microsoft comparison.

If you do not know what you want, a salesperson from a specific vendor is incented and trained to “help you” pick their solution; in the same way that the three-card monte dealer is incented and trained to have you pick a specific card (i.e. not the target card). UC vendors hope their solution provides you with business benefits; but, in absence of specifics they are happy to promote their solution.

If you are debating features of one product over another as opposed to discussing business outcomes, you may have allowed yourself to become distracted through sleight of hand. Features listed on websites all sound good, that is what the marketing team is paid for, and yet many features may not be applicable for your company and may not deliver on your project objectives.

Often issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) or a Request for Quotations (RFQ) or a Request for Information (RFI) is abdicating your responsibility to do analysis. Responses by vendors to RFPs are not impartial evaluations of viable options, they are biased pitches intended to convince you to choose their specific solution. For more details see Why Your RFP Is A Request for Problems.

Sometimes we con ourselves, yet sometimes the mark needs a push in order to bet. In this case, the dealer may “inadvertently” drop a card and in the process bend a corner or a shill (a bystander who is assisting the con) may mark the target card when the dealer is allegedly distracted. In either case, the mark now assumes tracking the target card, and winning, is a sure thing.

In the case of a UC sale, case studies or references within your industry sometimes act as the “push”. The (incorrect) assumption is that if a solution was good for another company in your industry then it must also be right for you.

Avoiding the Con

The only way to win at three-card monte is to not play. In a true monte scam the mark never wins, never ever! Making a collaboration and communication decision between Cisco and Microsoft will have a critical impact on your organization and may very well have a critical impact on your career. Here are four ways you can avoid conning yourself:

  1. Hold a project vision session that includes business leaders representing the various parts of your organization.

I have had the privilege of facilitating and co-facilitating many vision sessions for many organizations across many different industries. Vision sessions, most often focused full-day meetings, when properly run, surface expectations, develop measurable business objectives and build consensus. Further, vision session attendees often are cultivated and become key advocates and sponsors of a UC initiative.

An effective business session encourages input from all participants and avoids discussions of specific technologies, focusing on the what not the how. A vision session report should be produced shortly after the session and should capture the interactions in pictures, graphic recording and/or words along with documenting the developed group consensus, offering expert commentary and suggesting next steps based on proven best practices.

  1. Decide whether an on-premises or cloud solution best meets your business requirements BEFORE issuing an RFP.

RFPs do NOT help you fairly compare alternatives. Respondents work hard to try and distinguish their solution. Even organizations that offer both solutions are often biased towards one alternative, sometimes based solely on the sales compensation model.

On-premises, cloud and hybrid solutions each have a unique set of pros and cons. It is my strong belied, based on experience that your team, perhaps supported by some external expertise, is the best group of people to sort through the multiple viable options and work to compare “apples to apples”.

  1. Decide which UC vendor best meets your business requirements BEFORE issuing an RFP.

Same as above. Both Microsoft and Cisco provide strong, proven UC&C solutions. Both solutions have been successfully implemented within many different organizations. Yet, one solution will be a better fit for your organizations based on your specific, documented and prioritized business requirements. Do the analysis internally and don’t expect vendors to do it for you.

  1. Ignore vendor-published case studies.

Vendor case studies are glossy fairytales about perfect projects. In the case of a very new solution, perhaps a case study serves to prove it can work. In the case of Cisco and Microsoft UC&C solutions, both are tested and proven. All the case studies in the world won’t help you make the right choice for your organization.


Instead of investing time, effort and political capital championing a Cisco or Microsoft solution, I would urge you to define and document measurable, prioritized, business requirements and then evaluate the multiple viable options against these requirements. Issue an RFP once you and your team have determined the best architecture and vendor. An RFP should be about “who” not “what”. Yes, this will take time and expertise. Alas, there are no get rich quick paths to success UC&C. While it appears simple, no one ever wins at three-card monte.

I spend my time helping organizations and IT Teams succeed implementing complex systems, often Skype for collaboration and communications, and I am committed to helping you succeed. I will help you find the queen of hearts! Please engage. If you have specific questions comment below, send me a tweet @kkieller, or message me on LinkedIn.