By Don Proctor, Senior Vice President, Software Group In the entry on “Collaboration,” a nameless contributor to Wikipedia makes an interesting observation. He or she points out how the term acquired a negative meaning during World War II when it referred to people in European countries who cooperated with their German military occupiers. It is surprising to be reminded of this now; most people would say that in today’s lexicon, “collaboration” has a wholly positive meaning. This is particularly true for the Gen Y digital generation, for whom staying connected with others to share information and opinions, often on a minute-by-minute basis, is completely second nature. The Web 2.0 world they inhabit is not defined by traditional markets or customer demographics, but by community, and community means taking the walls down. Generally speaking, that group is not old enough yet to be running companies or sizable organizations within companies. However, for many of the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers who are, there has been a darker side to collaboration. Ask any IT buyer. Collaborative content as it comes into the enterprise often isn’t provided in a way that can be consumed by an enterprise user without compromising the security and manageability of enterprise applications. In effect, IT hasn’t been able to fulfill a service level agreement to their internal clients who are demanding collaboration capabilities.
At Cisco, we hear from customers around the world in many different market segments that there are several things inhibiting the adoption of collaboration technology. Security is just one of them. We’ve learned over the years that collaboration is not a one-size-fits-all solution; collaboration is becoming increasingly multimodal. But enabling multimodal collaboration has meant dealing with five or six different vendors so that customers become, in essence, their own system integrators. Yet in an increasing number of companies, collaboration has become a mandate from the top down and the bottom up, and IT has no choice but to figure it out. Today, we’re helping customers solve the IT buyer’s dilemma by helping them find the right technology architectures to support their evolving business architectures. One reason we can do that convincingly is because we faced the same problems at Cisco. When we started forming our first segment councils in 2001 and 2002, the tools we had to enable collaboration across geographic and organizational boundaries were fairly limited. So over the past six or seven years, we’ve been using Cisco as an incubation lab for collaboration technologies. As we’ve moved from a rigid hierarchical structure, to a loose hierarchy, to a much more distributed internal market or ecosystem paradigm in the company, we’ve retooled our core business processes and built the technology architecture needed to deliver on them. Now a powerful new wave of collaboration is emerging that will help companies navigate today’s tumultuous market transitions in their own industries. Collaboration is moving from intra-company to inter-company, enabling organizations of all kinds to collaborate in a safe and secure way across the firewall. This will mean they can create ecosystems and communities of interests with their partners, their supply chain, their customers and even their customers’ customers – all with the blessing of IT. The architecture supporting the transition from intra-company to inter-company collaboration is based on the network. Using the network as the foundation – responsible for services like security, high availability, and quality of services – an integrated architecture can be built to provide policy, an environment for third-party applications, and the ability to render many services on many different kinds of devices. We’ve heard loud and clear from our customers that it’s not just about a desktop application or just about a smart phone or just about a videoconferencing environment but rather being able to integrate all those different modalities into a seamless collaboration experience. In this series of blogs, writers have addressed the promise of collaboration and the way it is becoming embedded in our personal and business lives, sometimes with far-reaching benefits. It hasn’t come without its headaches, but we’re working on getting to the point where “collaboration” really can come to mean all things positive. By Don Proctor, senior vice-resident, Software Group