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Life of a Cisco Video TME: My Run-in with Ridley Scott

THE MARTIANWorking on a movie set is not typically part of the job description for a Cisco technical marketing engineer. So, I was pleasantly surprised when, back in October, an invitation popped in my inbox to spend a couple of days in Budapest on the set of the latest Matt Damon movie. I was asked to help build some video conferencing systems, which were to be used in the movie, but I would’ve been happy to even get coffee for the movie’s world-renowned director, Ridley Scott.

The plot, as we can tell from the trailer, finds Astronaut Mark Watney (Matt Damon) stranded and alone on Mars, and presumed dead by NASA. He must figure out how to survive on the hostile planet and to signal Earth that he is alive. It’s only 140 million miles away, but that’s no problem for our video conferencing technology, I thought. Already, I had found a way to be an integral part of this story: Tobias Brodtkorb, video conferencing TME to the rescue.

My active imagination immediately started working on ways I could land a role. I could help Matt build a video conferencing system from scratch, or as a last resort, sneak my way into the background as an extra. As it turns out, neither scenario panned out, since they were not planning to start filming until a week after I had installed the Cisco systems. So, I did not see any celebrities, but I did take a picture of myself next to a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Matt Damon. But that’s not the end of my brush with fame.

Kristin Wiig’s character, Annie Montrose, has a call with the NASA jet propulsion lab using Cisco video conferencing.

I worked on several sets in Budapest. The first was a modern glass building with steel structures. This was going to act as NASA’s mission control on Earth. It was really impressive to see the amount of work required to prepare a film set. Here, I set up an MX300 room conferencing system and installed ten DX80 desktop video units. Off to the next location at Korda studios, which is in the countryside west of Budapest. It was almost surreal: a big, modern facility in the middle of nowhere. Outside, they had different themed back lots — medieval, New York, Renaissance and what looked like something from central Europe WW2. They looked completely real on one side, but only were empty shells with scaffolding and planks on the back.

Cisco DX80 desktop collaboration system in call with with Kristin Wiig’s character, Annie Montrose, at NASA HQ.

After nosing around a bit, it was time to be productive. We unpacked and installed the MX700 and MX800, Cisco’s large room video conferencing systems. At that point, a small group of people walked past. It seemed like a tour of the prop room for some VIPs. I heard the guide mention Cisco, gesturing in our direction. I was sure he was referring to the debonair TME who could assist Matt Damon in making contact with Earth. After the entourage left, one of the guys helping us asked, “Did you know who that was?” Clearly, I did not, and it was definitely not Matt Damon, but possibly even more impressive by Hollywood standards: It was Ridley Scott, himself. Here was my chance!

As I suspected, Mr. Scott (or should I say Ridley, now that we are friends) would immediately spot raw talent when he saw it, because he came back and sought me out. Well, I couldn’t convince him to give me a part in the movie, but I did give him a run-down of the MX800. He was really impressed with the video quality and that the unit was able to automatically track people based on their voice. I was especially proud of the products, myself; they were beautiful and fit in perfectly with the sleek, space-aged environment of the set.

So, that was another day in the life of a Cisco video TME, and one that I will remember for a long time. I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent Cisco and our products in such a special environment and setting. And Ridley, if you read this, please remember to call me when you’re planning the lead actor in Gladiator 2.

P.S. As it often happens in the movies, the MX systems got left on the cutting room floor, but keep an eye out for our DX80s when you go see the movie (opening in theaters October 2, 2015). There’s already a lot of Oscar buzz bantered about “The Martian.” Maybe the DX80s will get nominated for best prop or set dressing?

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Take Productivity to New Heights

Getting Value from Improving Internal Communications

In my previous post, I considered how better access to information can save time, reach many more people, and create a happier, more engaged workforce. All these benefits flow from improving your organization’s internal communications.

In-person meetings are effective, but with today’s increasing reliance on mobility, remote workers, and distributed teams, it can be prohibitively costly to bring teams together. Not just from travel costs, but lost productivity too.

We need more effective ways to collaborate.

  • 86% of employees and executives cite lack of collaboration or ineffective communication for workplace failures according to Clear Company HRM.
  • 50% of business productivity is tied to effective collaboration, according to CEB.
  • Cisco generates $250 million (US) in travel savings per year using video

With globally dispersed teams, it’s not enough to rely on email and chats on video. Fast access to secure, collaborative video content across dispersed teams is paramount.

Video, audio, instant messaging, and clouds have come together to offer the right solution to enterprises. The ingredients for success are operational efficiency, employee effectiveness, and customer experiences. And all these need a focus on connecting people and technology.

You can realize substantial value if you do it right and eliminate the potential for miscommunication.

But how do you do it? Read More »

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Mr. Spock Meets The Contact Center

One of the most enduring characters introduced in 1960’ television vas the venerable “Mr. Spock” of Star Trek fame. Leonard Nimoy played Spock after having only modest acting success before being cast as the half-human, half-Vulcan in 1964.

Among the many attributes Spock had, two relate to the modern contact center and customer experience paradigm.

Spock Logic 

First, Spock’s primary attribute was an extreme affinity for logic. No matter how far off the handle Captain Kirk had gone, he could always be counted on for a logical response to any situation  His almost robotic responses were cold, even if they were effective.

The tides are shifting in the contact center world in this regard.  Companies are revisiting the notion of scripted and tightly controlled customer conversations with contact center agents.  Since most of the calls, chats, and texts come into contact centers as exceptions after customers have attempted other business processes, it is imperative agents use positive language and more conversational approaches.  This is critical with customers who may be as “off the handle” as Captain Kirk could become!

The Human Focus

Second, Spock had an affinity for calling humans “carbon based units” Read More »

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Behind the Scenes at Jimmy Kimmel Live’s “Wall of America”

Two things happened this year that give me a reason to stay up past 11:30 p.m.: I had a second baby and Cisco started a new partnership with Jimmy Kimmel Live.  Usually, I catch clips of late-night shows on YouTube. But when we partnered with the Jimmy Kimmel Live team to reimagine the fan experience, I knew I would have some great TV to watch while up with my newborn.

IMG_2959What they’ve accomplished with the Wall of America, powered by Cisco video conferencing, has been truly amazing. It brings a new and different dynamic to broadcast television. Sure, video conferencing on television isn’t new. The difference is video conferencing at this scale and quality!

The show’s team had a vision to not only create a virtual audience during live broadcasts, but also to have the ability to interact with the virtual audience in meaningful (and often very funny) ways. Whether home viewers connect to participate in a funny game, or talk “in person” with celebrities, the segments never disappoint.

Things I’ve learned since the Wall’s debut: Read More »

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Which Collaboration Applications Are Right for Me?

As a member of the Sales Engineer Organization,  I spend lots of my time staying close to midsized customers observing how teams that do great work are leveraging applications to collaborate.   The number of choices available can make choosing the right tools an interesting journey.

Is there one solution to meet all needs? Midmarket organizations face these questions.   As I talked to several midsized companies this past year, I heard how improving team productivity is top of mind.  Keeping employees connected across their various workplace resources and devices is increasingly important.  Making customers happy with proactive service and quick response times is paramount to an organization’s success.

In the world of collaboration, consider the parallels between how online meetings and physical meetings take place.  Don’t you find it to be more effective to have the right setting for the meetings you attend in person?  A large group in a small space never works right.

For example, with physical meetings:

  • Large groups require large spaces, structured seating, the ability to share media, and the ability for participants to interact with presenters.
  • Fast moving small teams need rooms that are available on-demand and the ability to do real-time content tracking.

One-to-one interactions require privacy and rich-media sharing with the ability to call in additional participants as needed.

blog midmarket 2015 Read More »

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