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The Road to Unified Communications – Flexibility, Mobility, Simplicity

When a particularly transformational technology comes along, Cisco IT sets out to be Cisco’s first and best customer. We use it, adopt it, and prove it adds value to the business. By doing this, we’re not only able to show customers the value of our product, but we’re also able to find new-technology issues before a customer might, and give Cisco time to build a better platform. When IP Telephony came around to Cisco in 1999 that is exactly what we did. It was the first time Cisco had a solution in the enterprise voice industry; so, we took the opportunity onboard and have seen the benefits ever since.

In the beginning, we saw cost benefits, but as our experience grew we started seeing a new degree of flexibility and mobility. For instance, using the WAN for voice as well as data – moving all our inter-office calls and a lot of our long distance and international outbound calls off our bills– really cut our expenses. We also reduced our moves/adds/changes costs and saw that moving phones, and even locations, became easier and faster. Over time, we discovered more mobility capabilities. Extension Mobility (EM) allows employees to use any Cisco IT phone at any Cisco office in the world. Softphone software like Cisco Jabber lets employees call each other from any location with Internet access, including from home offices using Cisco Virtual Offices (CVO). With Single Number Reach and mobile Jabber client, our employees’ mobile phones are extensions of our phone network, which means our employees are able to stay connected just about any time they like, from just about anywhere. This increased mobility translates to better employee productivity and satisfaction; and this helps with talent retention. It also enables Cisco IT to support a completely new office environment called the Cisco Connected Workplace – enabling more mobility and reducing Cisco real estate costs. But mobility was just the first major cultural milestone. IPT was a stepping stone to an even larger initiative at Cisco.

At the time we were upgrading our voice to IP Telephony, our video capabilities were on multiple networks. Video conferencing 10 years ago was only between a few hundred video devices on that network. Today, on our UC platform, video is the new voice. All our new phones are HD video capable by default and all our phone calls (from hardware phones, software phones, and video conference rooms and devices, over 200,000 devices) support video along with voice. The push toward video stems from our leadership—they are passionate about the business dynamic it provides the company. Cisco makes extensive use of virtual teams to bring together the top talent in the company from around the world to develop our market leading solutions. Adding that person-to-person, face-to-face element to a virtual meeting just makes business sense. It accelerates decision making with better results. We can connect with employees we’ve never met before and feel as though we’ve known them for years.

All of these capabilities run on a centralized architecture – only a handful of Communication Manager clusters support all our voice and video services around the world. Over the years we have centralized and virtualized our server platforms in core data, and our combined voice, video and data networks have become faster, vaster and relatively cheaper. We now have more deployment models to support different business requirements. With more integrated applications and APIs to build applications, we can create new Unified Communications services to meet individual business requirements. Hosted services have evolved as well. Globally, service providers offer a range of hosted collaboration capabilities for the enterprise and small businesses. There are viable UC service options available from service providers and system integrators too. Cisco Communications Manager scales down to smaller platforms for smaller businesses, which means companies can run Communications Manager and voicemail, on a small appliance.

Stay tuned for additional blogs in this series, to find out more about our Centralized Architecture or how we support and manage our UC Platform.

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