On the eve of Microsoft’s first Lync User Conference, I think it’s a great time to start a frank and direct conversation about what’s changed in collaboration and, because of those changes, what’s really important for IT decision makers to consider as they evaluate collaboration vendors and solutions. This conversation, which I’m confident will spark a lively and healthy debate, will last for weeks and will include input from a variety of Cisco Collaboration leaders.
So, to start, what has changed in collaboration? At the macro level, I would argue that collaboration has evolved from a tolerated office tool into the single most important technology investment that an organization can make. Why? Because the next breakthrough levels of performance and productivity needed in business won’t come from a better-looking web portal or a bigger Inbox — they’ll come from the ability to tap into the collective knowledge and creativity of our people.
But, here’s the catch: not all collaboration solutions are designed to help people engage the way they want to engage, and they’re also not architected from the ground up to cater to IT’s needs and requirements.
Customers tell us time and again that a modern collaboration platform needs to deliver more than the basics like IM, conferencing and VoIP. It needs to offer flexibility and choice in support of trends such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), high-quality video, and cloud-based deployments (private, public, hybrid, and hosted). The modern collaboration platform needs to be usable not just by office workers but by anyone, from physicians to customer care agents, executives, mobile and desk-less workers. And it needs to be as complete of a solution as possible — including the underlying infrastructure, a wide choice of compatible endpoints, and world-class support and maintenance — to maximize business and IT value.
Which brings me back to Microsoft and Lync. We believe that a solution that’s primarily been developed for a desktop PC user experience is less able to meet these wider post-PC requirements than one that has been designed and optimized for them from the outset.
For instance, Microsoft’s approach with Lync leaves out several important collaboration elements many enterprise organizations find critical today — such as phones, video endpoints, voice and video gateways, networking and cloud PSTN connections. These components need to be procured, integrated and supported separately for those who choose to use Lync. And, in our opinion, that could lead to increased complexity, cost and risk, not to mention the hours spent trying to figure out “who’s on first” when troubleshooting is an issue.
There are other important topics that we think should also be discussed. Does your collaboration vendor have any conflict of interest with other BYOD device vendors? Can you move from an in-house deployment to a cloud-based service and get the same functionality? We would encourage you to explore these points with us and any other vendors you are considering.
As mentioned earlier, this is a discussion that can’t be wrapped up in one blog. That’s why we’re making this the first of a series of posts where Cisco leaders will examine questions like these, comparing Cisco’s approach to enterprise collaboration with Microsoft’s, highlighting a different topic in every post.
You will also hear (and can read about) about the results of a global survey released today where 3200 IT leaders pinpointed what really matters to them when it comes to enabling collaboration in the enterprise. And, to complement these discussions, starting today, you will find an entire microsite dedicated to this conversation, which we hope will help in your evaluation efforts. There you will find customer case studies, research reports and a variety of other materials.
Again, as I stated from the beginning, I’m quite sure some of it will generate controversy but that’s OK — it’s a conversation worth having in our opinion, and we welcome your comments.
To reiterate, I believe that technology specifically designed to improve the collective creativity and productivity of the workforce is a critical investment, and one that shouldn’t be left to a narrow decision based on a convenient licensing bundle, or a capability such as desktop IM.
Thanks for reading, and we look forward to the debate.