Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cisco Collaboration Summit - Day 1 - What Would Studs Terkel Think?

Great start to Cisco's Collaboration Summit today here in Miami Beach. Having been to a few of these, it's really interesting to see how the overall messaging has evolved, along with all the new offerings that keep coming. I don't say that last point lightly, as Cisco is working very hard to address as many touch points as possible around how people get things done in the workplace. Sure, it all drives network usage, and that's good business for Cisco. There's a higher motive at play though, and there's little doubt that Cisco is trying to be a lead author in the next great American novel, Work 2.0.

On that note, I'll make a literary digression that seems appropos here. Studs Terkel is definitely my kind of guy, and he literally wrote the book about work in a post-war society. If you're not familiar with his work, get started here. His books are great, and not much has really changed over the years. Bottom line - people work because they have to, and while we all take pride in work's intrinsic value, we generally take the path of least resistance.

Back to Cisco, and how they're trying to address this timeless quirk of human nature. The summit is a great roadmap update, but it's also a worthwhile opportunity to hear about how technology is being developed and deployed to make work a better experience. We're hearing nicely from both sides - what Cisco is bringing to market, and how customers are using it. The last part is of more interest to me, and it's fascinating to hear how companies both embrace and struggle with all these great tools.

There's a lot to digest here, and I'm just going to pass on my key takeaways from today. Otherwise, you should follow my tweets - @arnoldjon - as well as the Cisco feed from the summit - #csummit.

- Barry O'Sullivan set the stage nicely with big picture stats about global population trends along with the scale of technology adoption. Bottom line - half of the world's 7 billion people are under 25, and their collaboration tools are very different from their predecessors. Translation - a huge market opportunity for Cisco to address. Point taken.

- Cisco is clearly in the software and cloud businesses now. I don't think I heard "unified communications" all day - it's all about moving applications into the cloud and giving us real time tools that work seamlessly anywhere and on any device. The end result sure looks like UC, but here, it's all about having the right network architecture to deliver these capabilities. We saw some very slick video and live demos that make this look like a slam dunk. Yes, it sure looks easy and makes for happy endings, but we all know how complex this really is to do. Cisco isn't the only game in town, of course, but based on what I see industry-wide, nobody is covering more bases. There's a lot of Kool Aid here, but for enterprises willing and able to go down this road, there clearly is a promising upside. Collaboration takes many forms, and I think Cisco is doing a good job of defining the high end of the spectrum.

- Social media is high on the buzz charts, but it's still a wild west environment. We heard a lot about Quad and Social Miner; yes, there's interest, and yes, companies are buying it. How they're using it is another question, and it's clear that everyone is learning on the fly. Usage policies are lacking, IT is trying to accommodate BYOD desires, and while everyone quickly learns how to be social with these tools, it's not clear how much quality content generation is going on. These things will certainly evolve, but right now you get the feeling it's mostly a vendor-driven trend. Enterprises simply can't ignore how employee expectations are changing, and coming back to Studs Terkel, you have to let them define their state of happiness. For me, that's the real secret sauce of collaboration Cisco-style. There wasn't much talk today about ROI or TCO, so there's a leap of faith where IT has to concede more control to employees with the hope that measurable productivity gains and network efficiencies will come back in return - hopefully before management loses patience.

Enough said for now, and I'll pick up the thread again tomorrow. Until then, here are a few photos from Day 1.

Barry O'Sullivan giving us the big picture. No pun intended, but he sure looks tiny against this giant visual. :-)

Live collaboration demo - nicely done

Murali Sitaram, talking about collaboration in the "post-PC era" - he makes a strong case for why the cloud is the way to go. To support this, he announced a free trial for a limited version of WebEx for 14 days. That should stir things up.

I'd be lying if I said it wasn't very nice here...

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