Cisco Collaboration Summit ’12

by Dave Michels

Empower. Engage. Innovate (reminds me of Explorer. Expedition. Excursion) is the theme of Cisco’s Collaboration Summit taking place this week. This is largely a channel event. Last year’s attendance was over 280 individuals representing more than 20 different countries. By the way, 24% of the partners come from organizations with more than 10,000 employees.

Here’s some notes and observations from the opening keynote session.

The session opened with a video about the Mars Curiosity as an illustration of what collaboration can accomplish. There is no question collaboration is critical, it was not just the Curiosity, but the Space Shuttle, Apollo missions, the Great Wall of China and the Great Pyramids to name a few others. When we combine our talents the sky is the limit.

The modern challenge of collaboration is we don’t physically work together any more. So organizations need to adopt tools that enable collaboration among dispersed groups. Lots of companies have different takes on this, but Cisco (like most UC vendors) believes the key is to empower contributors with the ability to choose when, where, and how they work. Then engage them with the right tools, and sit back and watch innovation happen.

OJ Winge, who also did the keynote at Enterprise Connect last March, provided a real life example at Cisco with its rush to embrace the iPad. It required that multiple teams across Cisco around the globe collaborate on a new Jabber client (that would kill the Cius). But internal examples are never compelling alone, so OJ introduced an external user that appeared via video.

[I like that Cisco brought in the speaker over Telepresence. It is a great use of a technology that saves on travel. It’s far easier to do at an office, but at conferences it usually requires short term circuits that make an airplane ticket look cheap. But that is not the point – the use of the technology was flawless, natural and more importantly illustrative.]

The happy customer du jour was Virgin Media. Virgin America was heavily featured at’s Dreamforce last month. The Media group is a UK cable operator that sells businesses and consumers video, voice, and broadband networking. This communications company had trouble communicating so turned to Cisco. Colin Miles, Head of Technical Services, said the firm has over 200 locations – each with staff drowning in email and travel expenses. In addition to email, he also expressed frustration with SharePoint. Good thing Cisco does not offer email or SharePoint.

[I easily remember when email was the solution, not the problem. Virgin Media said an average employee gets 200 emails a day. That is untenable. I think email should be re-invented and I’m disappointed Cisco dropped its WebEx email solution as new vendors are needed to stir up the enterprise duopoly. Email is a fast, cheap, and efficient means of conveying information. The problem lies in its abuse(such as CYA cc) and its use as both a file system and to do list manager.]

OJ did not go into much detail regarding Cisco’s announcements during his keynote, nor did he practice the ritual of a demo. Instead, he brought up a colleague to provide a glimpse of what Cisco is developing in the collaboration labs. It was interesting, a blend of improvements for passive contextual awareness, analytics, search, and social integration (it mostly involved new hardware). It demoed well, but left me with questions (but that’s what labs are for). In one example, a sensor in an office detected presence, but being based on motion I think that could be problematic (I’ve seen other solutions based on detection of mobile phone Wi-Fi or bluetooth).]

OJ ended with either a prognostication or threat that the future workspace will be a blend of physical and virtual realities, and that collaboration has to be pervasive and interoperable. Then he tossed in the obligatory keynote terms of “inflection point” and “transformation.”

[I completely agree with “transformation,” but my position is the technology is the easy part – yes the part that pays. The hard part is the cultural and attitude changes. Otherwise, implementing something like a social platform gets perceived as just another inbox and with 200 messages a day it can be the proverbial straw.]

Two key announcements:

HCS Expanding: Cisco’s approach to hosted voice, unlike almost all of its premise system competitors, is not to host voice. Instead, the company sells its solutions to service providers so they can host voice (and UC, and now Telepresence). Cisco HCS announced it now has 34 service providers (16 new this year). This appears to be a solid strategy and reduces potential channel conflict. It puts Cisco more in-line with ALU, Broadsoft, and MetaSwitch instead of the premises vendors. Included in the new HCS offering is an ad-hoc video conferencing service called “rendezvous conferencing.”

HCS and hosted voice are sold through service providers, but Cisco is also directly in the public cloud with its WebEx offering. What’s new here is that WebEx is now available for purchase. At least some of it. WebEx is a family of products, there is WebEx Messenger (IM), WebEx Meetings, WebEx Telepresence (last week known as Callway), and WebEx Social (previously known as Quad). Messenger and Meetings are available for purchase, Telepresence and Social are services.

That’s it for my coverage of Cisco’s Collaboration Summit. I’m now in route to TwilioCon, and next week I will be at BroadSoft Connections. Both of these conferences will have very different perspectives on empowerment, engagement, and innovation.


For additional information, check out my previously posted interviews with Eric Schoch of HCS and Murali Sitram VP/GM over Cisco Collaboration.