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Cisco Collaboration Vision: New Launch Enhances Market Position

November 10, 2009 | Chris Payatagool

By Allan Sulkin, No Jitter

Cisco Systems earlier today announced numerous product offers and solutions in support of its collaboration vision that span across several functional areas:

* Conferencing
* Customer care
* Enterprise social software
* IP communications
* Messaging
* Mobile applications
* Telepresence

The following diagram illustrates the Cisco Collaboration Architecture concept, including the foundation on which the above communication application functions reside:

cisco_collaboration_arch.png 

Many of the launch offerings were designed and developed to enhance pre-existing Cisco Collaboration Solutions, such as Unified Communications Manager (UCM) and WebEx, but a few take the company in new directions, such as hosted email and enterprise social networking.

Elements of Cisco Collaboration Strategy

Before discussing details of the launch it may be beneficial to provide a framework to better evaluate the role each new product/service brings to the Cisco Collaborations Solution portfolio. Cisco has identified five key elements for its collaboration strategy:

1. The belief that collaboration is moving from text and document-centric, to communications and people centric. Central to this belief is the role of video as a transformative element that will become as easy to use as documents are today in terms of creation, publishing, and repurpose. Cisco also believes that the current IP communications network is not sufficient to support the video needs of tomorrow.

2. Cisco Medianet, an intelligent network optimized for rich media, will enable the pervasive and scalable use of video.

3. Medianet will enable a more personal, interactive and social experience by making the technology media aware, endpoint aware and network aware.

4. The network will be used to format video and all media to best match the characteristics and the limitations of a user's specific situation.

5. Medianet goes beyond quality of service to focus on quality of experience

Cisco announced its "medianet" strategy and concept late last year. It included a new suite of technologies designed for advanced communications, collaboration and entertainment through video and rich media-optimized service provider, business and home networks. The need for a medianet is driven by Cisco's belief that video and rich media will represent 90% of total network traffic. Several of today's announcements are highly or partially focused on video, including new IP phone, telepresence, and social networking offers. Cisco's recent Tandberg acquisition announcement further underscored the company's evolving strategic focus on a communications medium that demands higher bandwidth and more applications-focused networks.

All of the Cisco Collaboration Solutions offers contribute towards achieving a set of objectives: Build trust and accelerate decisions with rich, real-time Interactions; connect the right people with the right information; accelerate team performance; collaborate with confidence across companies; and optimize IT investments. In this context, according to John Chambers, CEO, Cisco, "collaboration will affect every industry. It will change service, sales, and business models. It will change the size, scope, and number of projects a company can take on. And it will change the speed of implementation." According to Cisco, companies that create a culture of collaboration will move ideas instead of people, reduce travel without sacrificing personal connections, improve decision making speed, work in environmentally sustainable ways, and increase productivity on a global scale.

What I particularly like about the Cisco launch is that the overused term Unified Communications (UC) is not used to describe or categorize any one product or service. It's a given that virtually all offers from the same designer and developer should be "unified" in the sense of connectivity and/or interoperability, and several new Cisco offers also help "unify" communications and collaboration solutions across multi-vendor networks and endpoints. Collaboration has a greater sense of meaning to customers that UC does not, an important marketing objective most purveyors of so-called UC solutions sometimes forget. "Communications and collaboration" is a cleaner and more descriptive term of what customers need and want to do. Unify is a more technical term that individual system subscribers care little about when performing everyday work tasks. A subscriber is more apt to say he/she requires communications or collaboration with other subscribers, but few (if any) would ever say they need to "unify."

Cisco Strategic Direction for Collaboration


The Cisco strategic direction for collaboration has the following key elements as illustrated in the following chart:

Cisco_strategic_decision.png Underlying Cisco's strategic direction, according to the company, is the belief that collaboration has been moving from text and document-centric to communications and people centric. In today's environment where meeting participants are likely to be dispersed across many locations, video is the optimal way to communicate, if a medianet is available to support the technical requirements. Video as a transformative element, as cited previously, is central to the communications and collaboration experience, as is the role of a medianet. Videoconferencing in the past has been used selectively and sparingly, mainly due to infrastructure/services costs, difficulty implementing and managing, and lack of integration with other communications and collaboration processes, but today's video market is characterized by rapidly declining costs, easier to use and manage systems, and interoperability with other communications/collaboration tools.

The rapid growth of social networking is also quickly changing how individuals interact, Cisco observes. In the world of business, social networking can tear down the barriers and rigidly structured silos that traditionally isolated individuals from each other to give way to more fluid, ad-hoc communities. More projects will be performed by "clusters of experts" and these groups can be formed dynamically to achieve a shared outcome, according to the company. The self-organizing cycle will continually repeat itself as needed. It is a more efficient and agile process to produce faster results, since experts are drawn to projects rather than assigned top down. Experts will be identified by tagging their network activities, e.g. applications enabled or websites visited. Cisco envisions Enterprise Social Software as the means to enable this type of new work environment. Although social networking in the consumer world has become the fourth most popular online activity, even passing personal email, it has evolved very slowly in the business world. Cisco has identified four key requirements to increase acceptance in the business world: security, availability, quality of service, and reliability. In time, social networking will dramatically change the way business people work and interact.

As collaboration extends beyond an individual enterprise's firewalls to include individuals across other organizations, be it partners, suppliers, or customers, inter-company collaboration will demand a new level of cross-firewall security comparable to that behind any one company firewall, according to Cisco. A few vertical market sectors, such as manufacturing and retail, have been influential in the development of secure inter-company communications and collaboration, because of the nature of business today.

For example, many manufacturers today have become assemblers, outsourcing elements of the manufacturing process to other companies, and therefore they need to operate seamlessly across corporate boundaries and firewalls without security concerns. The same holds true for large brick and mortar retailers, such as Wal-Mart, and online retailers, such as Amazon, who increasingly depend on their suppliers for a variety of operations, such as warehousing and shipping, for which the retailer previously had primary responsibility. For example, a Wal-Mart or Amazon may be the direct contact point for customers, but efficient order fulfillment is highly dependent on communications and collaboration with their suppliers. The necessity for a seamless supply chain management process across companies requires a high level of security.

Flexible deployment models are required based on individual company objectives, their IT resources and priorities. Enterprise solutions and Cloud-based services will each play integral roles in enabling a comprehensive collaboration platform--especially inter-company collaboration. Cisco's vision at the infrastructure layer is to blend the best of both worlds to offer the robustness, security and performance of the enterprise network with the openness and flexibility of a Cloud service, such as Cisco WebEx. Customers should not have to choose one platform or the other, and most today have been looking toward deploying a mix.

A top priority for Cisco is to support an interoperable, open architecture. Cisco points out that individuals inside an organization, their outside partners and customers operate in different workspaces, with different applications, on different devices and operating systems. Without broad and deep interoperability, inter-company collaboration is difficult to achieve, if not impossible.

Announcements

One must immediately take notice of the range and depth of the launch, spanning across each of the seven Cisco Collaboration Solution categories. It is an impressive array of new products and services that further enhances Cisco's position in the communications and collaboration market space. The following are brief descriptions of the key new offers.

Cisco TelePresence WebEx Engage (Available 1H2010)
This product combines Cisco TelePresence with Cisco WebEx Meeting Center into a single collaborative solution. With this offer, users can attend meetings using Cisco's two distinct, but now complementary, collaboration solutions, with an improved user experience and greater productivity. It offers simple scheduling and "one button to push" meeting starts using a Cisco Unified IP telephone instrument. Cisco TelePresence video appears in the WebEx interface, and content is shared automatically in both Cisco TelePresence rooms and on WebEx. The meeting can also include distributed participants in non-video mode, i.e. audio, only.

Cisco Unified IP Phone 9900 and 8900 Series (Available 1H2010)
The newest generation of Cisco Unified IP phones includes some enhanced design attributes and a few new features and functions. The look of the new generation of Cisco Unified IP Phones is also different than the first generation 7900 Series.

The new models have integrated high-resolution (640 x 480 VGA quality) color displays capable of 30 frames per second CIF or 24 frames per second VGA and premier audio with high fidelity voice. USB ports for peripheral accessories are included and there is a "deep sleep" option to reduce energy requirements. Another Green Initiative is the use of recyclable plastic molding. The 9900 Series also feature support for interactive, multi-party H.264 video using a built-in Cisco Unified Video camera, a Bluetooth interface to increase station user mobility, and built-in Wi-Fi for instrument portability.

The video elements are part of a major Cisco theme for enhancing the collaboration experience. There are also a variety of modular handsets to suit the tastes of individual station users. The 8900/9900 Series will work with Unified Communications Manager (UCM) or UCM Business Edition (BE) Software Edition 7.1(3) or later. The Cisco Unified 9971 IP Phone is shown below:

cisco_phone.png 

The next three offers are designed to support security and policy for business-to-business collaboration across firewalls in any medium, including: email, IM, WebEx, UC, and telepresence.

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