Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cisco Goes Big on Collaboration

Yesterday, I attended an advance briefing at Cisco Canada's offices about their news today announcing their collaboration portfolio. I was one of four analysts/media people getting the full presentation yesterday - delivered, of course, via Telepresence by Laurent Philonenko in San Francisco. It's always fun to do things this way, and it sure is easy to get spoiled with TP. The rest of the world sure doesn't live this way, but that's another topic.

The press embargo ended this morning, but I haven't been able to blog til now. If you read the news, you've probably seen the press release by now, so I'm not going to rehash the details.

Basically, Cisco has pulled a lot of existing pieces together under what's now called the Cisco Collaboration Portfolio. There's really nothing new here, per se, but it certainly keeps Cisco up to the minute in terms of what's happening in the workplace. Actually, there are two new things, but are just an adjunct to this announcement. Last week, Cisco announced their acquisition of PostPath, and then Jabber. These are relatively small deals, but they add some strong capabilities to support this overall focus on collaboration. I have no doubt there is a method to all this, and Cisco wants to be sure it can deliver the whole package here.

Anyhow, during our briefing, we heard about the big themes that are driving collaboration. Nothing new there, but the main point from their perspective is that the network enables all of these tools. So, by extension, Cisco is right there, behind the curtains making all this possible. Fair enough.

Getting beyond this, what I liked hearing was how Cisco is bringing two distinct worlds together now - the network and the cloud. By doing so, Cisco can enable collaboration universally, whether you're tethered to the network at the office, or working remotely, and connecting over the Web and using Web-based applications. This is certainly not the Cisco of a few years ago, and I guess this is their way of saying that meaningful work takes place off prem, and they can now support collaboration in any environment.

They have defined their Collaboration Portfolio along three lines of business - Unified Communications, Video and Web 2.0. Each of these consists of many solutions, such as IP telephony, conferencing and Telepresence. These pieces will be familiar to any Cisco follower, but I do like this taxonomy. Each plays a distinctive role in the collaboration process, and by tying them together under a single portfolio, the intended result is a richer, more complete collaboration experience. It's a big-time promise, and time will tell if it delivers.

While all this makes perfectly good sense to those of us attending, I had to ask Laurent if the market will see things this way. During the presentation, the strategic messaging was "collaboration is the platform for business", and "the network is the platform for collaboration". Hmm. My most recent recollection of the Cisco mantra was that "the network is the platform".

Laurent concurred that the latter is still very much true, but it has now been extended to collaboration. I can see the logic, but I'm concerned that Cisco is now trying to position itself as more of a collaboration play than a network play. Nobody can challenge them for network supremacy, but collaboration is much more of a Web 2.0 story, and it's not clear to me if the market is ready to see them this way.

While Telepresence was largely built from the ground-up internally, most of their 2.0 capabilities have come from acquisitions, both large (WebEx) and small (Jabber, PostPath, etc.). I think it's much harder earning your stripes following the latter path, but with Unified Communications still trying to break out of the gates, I don't think anybody has a monopoly yet making the whole collaboration thing work. So, it's hard to see how Cisco could go about this any other way, and this portfolio is probably as comprehensive as anything out there right now.

Regardless, they've made a statement today that collaboration is the new black, and they're telling the world they can have it in any color, so long as it's black - Cisco black. Let's see what the market thinks.

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ipcom said...

Posted by: Slimphony

Hi Jon,

I wonder if the next one on Cisco's shopping list isn't... Digium! ;)

It really seems that Cisco's UC strategy is shaken since Microsoft launched its offensive in the field... -read on at

And I think most people will agree with you when you express concerns about "trying to position itself as more of a collaboration play than a network play".

ipcom said...

Posted by: Jon Arnold

Thanks for the comment, and for sharing your blog post. As you say, it will be interesting to see how well Cisco makes all these acquisitions work, and if it will translate into an integrated solution that can compete and co-exist with Microsoft at the same time.

I don't see them acquiring Digium though - seems like to much of a stretch - for both companies.