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What Really Matters in Collaboration

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.

Rowan

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23 Comments.


  1. February 18, 2013 at 8:21 am

    The survey Cisco commissioned sheds light on some important points for consideration.

    In my UC Strategies article “What People Want in Collaboration” I explore the results and comment on the Cisco versus Microsoft approaches: http://www.ucstrategies.com/unified-communications-strategies-views/what-people-want-in-collaboration.aspx

    Choosing the right solution based on specific organization requirements is the key to success.

       3 likes

  2. February 18, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Excellent post and I look forward to the continued conversation. What users “want” and what they can “have” are often two very different things. Cisco fights the good fight, enabling users of all kinds flexibility and options for true collaboration, while giving IT the framework needed to securely say “yes”.

       4 likes

  3. February 18, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    Really good point about MS lync needs a lot of integration work if anyone wants to experience end to end collaboration.

       0 likes

  4. February 18, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Bill,

    I appreciate that you work for Cisco and thus by default support Rowan; however, in order to advance the discussion it would valuable for you to explain what you mean by “MS lync needs a lot of integration work if anyone wants to experience end to end collaboration”.

    Cisco has developed CuciLync as an integration between CUCM and Lync.

    Microsoft suggests customers instead adopt an all Microsoft platform in order to improve the user experience.

    What are you suggesting provides the best user experience? And what evidence supports your suggestion?

       1 like

    • February 20, 2013 at 2:47 am

      *Disclaimer – I work for Cisco :)*
      Hi Kevin,
      I like your thought process and wholeheartedly agree that a consultative approach to collaboration selling is correct. I guess it is a little like selling Contact Centers from many moons ago…..understanding what the customer objectives are, with associated outcomes, should shape the solution that is delivered. Continuing the Contact Center analogy, I think it is fair to say that the underlying technology to deliver multichannel customer contact is there (with some good vendor choices) and the differentiation is how it is delivered to meet customer objectives (as well as understanding cost of ownership, platform flexibility, etc). In terms of wider collaboration then I would hope that Cisco is able to articulate the platform architecture which provides the robust, scalable and flexible capability to then allow partners/customers to dovetail this to real customer outcomes/objectives. I guess we will continue to manufacture the tools that let others create. I don’t think we have really tapped in to what platforms such as WebEx can deliver (Just the name makes me excited….sad I know……WebEx…..Web Experience !). Some of our work around WebEx Social is exciting and, again, just highlights to me what tools can be used to harness real people collaboration.
      As to the mention of CUCiLync……personally speaking I’m not a fan but it certainly suits some customer requirements and development is continual. Our real Microsoft integration story (in my opinion) should be how our own collaboration clients work together with Outlook, Sharepoint, AD, Word, Excel, etc. This video, put together by a Cisco TME, demonstrates where I think out Microsoft integration should be. This to then augment our other integrations with the likes of Google, Apple, IBM, SFDC, SAP, Oracle, etc.
      I am particularly excited about what the ‘Web Experience’ could bring in the future. WebRTC/HTML5 have the potential to be transformational and makes me excited (I think I mentioned I might be a tad ‘sad’ when it comes to this kind of stuff). Couple this with a huge shift to mobility and an explosion of Smart mobile devices then, to my mind, the Cisco strategy appears to be on the right trajectory. We want to enable the best experience on best devices (and if these happen to be Windows, Android, RIM, iOS, OSX, Ubuntu (I love what these guys are doing around their Smartphone OS and the concept of a ‘desktop in your pocket’) or whatever then so be it.

         0 likes

      • February 20, 2013 at 2:49 am

        The video I mentioned above :
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lV8PBTSJzso

        Doh !

           0 likes

        • February 20, 2013 at 3:37 am

          Steve,

          The video is a good example of how Jabber integration in Outlook and SharePoint can behave exactly the same way as does native Lync integration with these applications.

          The challenge from a marketing perspective is two-fold:

          1. Cisco has come out strongly advocating the vertically integrated approach (i.e. Cisco suggests getting hardware and software from same vendor Is better than Microsoft approach of getting software from one vendor and hardware from others). It is difficult now for Cisco to claim the software components should come from multiple vendors.

          2. If Jabber integration acts just like native Lync integration, what is the customer value proposition that would compel them to implement an arguably more technically complex solution?

          I am not saying that the two points above are show-stoppers; however, more dialog and clarity in these areas is required.

             1 like

          • February 20, 2013 at 3:51 am

            Hi Kevin,
            I think I get your point re multivendor stacks, etc. Our realtime collaboration clients will integrate with other vendor’s products…..like Microsoft Office (as well as Google Apps, etc). To me it is actually a simplification process…..single CUCM call control surfacing real time collaboration capabilities in Microsoft apps (such as Outlook). No need to introduce another call control platform. At a post sales level (and apologies for my bias here) I would certainly feel more comfortable in Cisco TAC owning resolution to restoration when it comes to critical real time services such as Voice & Video. I appreciate partners (like yourself) could put together support services to ‘mask’ perceived Microsoft complexity around the requirement to use multiple manufacturers to deliver a solution. And I have no doubt that quality support could be given…..I just think it’s an unnecessary complexity. Other opinions will be available :)

               1 like

      • February 20, 2013 at 3:51 am

        Steve,

        I am glad that we agree on a process that seeks to first understand and prioritize customer requirements and then matches the most appropriate solution to these defined requirements.

        I truly believe the customer-first perspective is best for, of course, the customer but also Cisco.

        Cisco makes some excellent products, employs some incredibly smart people and clearly has a very good story to tell. I don’t think so much of the story needs to be about “why not Microsoft”. Cisco is and remains the best choice for many organizations, but not necessarily all organizations.

        Back in the days of OCS (the pre-cursor to Lync) I once told a Microsoft sales rep, after a meeting with the customer’s telecom team, “If you say 10 things and you get the last one wrong, and the telecom people knew you were wrong, then they will assume the first nine were also untrue.”

        I appreciate Cisco commissioning the global IT study. I think the survey results highlight some important areas for consideration, especially related to on-going support. However, I do feel that some of the Cisco interpretation of the results (those that are especially anti-Microsoft) start to cross the line into “wrong”.

        If you take a look at the twitter feed from the Lync conference, #LyncConf13, which naturally skews to pro-Lync supporters, they immediately focus on the items they see Cisco got wrong and then dismiss the rest of the information.

        Kevin

           1 like

      • February 20, 2013 at 4:25 am

        Steve,

        For some reason I cannot reply to your reply. (Perhaps this is a subtle way of the software telling me I am commenting too much :-) I still believe this dialog is worthwhile.)

        When you write …

        “At a post sales level (and apologies for my bias here) I would certainly feel more comfortable in Cisco TAC owning resolution to restoration when it comes to critical real time services such as Voice & Video. I appreciate partners (like yourself) could put together support services to ‘mask’ perceived Microsoft complexity around the requirement to use multiple manufacturers to deliver a solution.”

        Two points:

        1. From my experience Cisco provides great support.

        2. The different organizations I work with do not provide Microsoft Lync support. Lync support is currently a challenge; quite frankly by its very definition supporting any UC solution is much more challenging than supporting a primarily voice environment. Paul Jamieson on a response to Carl Wiese’s blog does list the global partners that are certified to provide complete on-number-to-call support for Lync voice solutions.

        Kevin

           1 like

  5. February 18, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    We truly live in an era where the “one size fits all” mindset drives many facets of our collective lives; this certainly includes many business models and market strategies, and even extends into many popular issues in the current political climate. While those managing IT assets can realize the many benefits of standardization, reality often asserts itself with “one offs” that do not fit into neatly predefined “boxes.”

    Communication at its core enables the active exchange of ideas between individuals, and the collective communities of which they are a part (this can include nations, cities, companies, communities of interest, and so forth). In keeping with the previous thought process, methods of communication simply cannot be monolithic. Communication needs are as unique as the communities and individuals using them, and must encompass a broad array of mediums, or the communication—collaboration—will be remarkably one-sided. Certainly Rowan’s remarks demonstrate the need to move beyond a single method—such as encompassed by Microsoft’s Lync product—and the benefit of openness by using platforms that empower the various methods rather than restrict them.

    A great analogy in this regard is Apple vs. Android, namely a closed system contrasted with an open system. Without a doubt, the closed system of iOS assures a better overall user experience, since the platform is tightly controlled and interoperability virtually guaranteed. The Android model on the other hand is open-source and encourages development by numerous organizations and individuals. While it can be understandably confusing at times, it better represents the opportunity of innovation rather than sleek control. In the simplest of terms, the latter system is empowering and inclusive, rather than restrictive and inclusive. The many faces of IT, and of user communities is far better served by the model Cisco proposes here than the closed system of Microsoft.

    Vista anyone? I didn’t think so… :)

    Joe Rinehart
    MBA, CCNP/DP/VP CCIE #14256
    Chief Edutainment Officer
    GraceStone Professionals

       1 like

  6. February 18, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    Joe,

    Interesting and worthwhile thoughts: “communication cannot be monolithic”, openness promotes innovation.

    So, is Cisco or Microsoft more monolithic or more open?

    In response to the commissioned survey, Cisco suggests buying everything from one vendor, namely Cisco, is better for IT professionals and leads to better support.

    The Microsoft Lync solution on the other hand, allows, and requires, choosing from AudioCodes, Dialogic, Ferrari and others for voice gateways plus Polycom, Aastra, snom, HP and others for voice endpoints.

    Similarly a Cisco contact center solution primarily relies on software from Cisco UCCX or UCCE. Microsoft Lync only provides very basic agent functionality in the core product and thus relies on many third-party vendors to augment the capabilities: Aspect, prarieFyre, ComputerTalk, etc.

    In this context, who provides more choice? Do choices mean increased complexity? Who is more open? Is open actually valuable to an organization or just a theoretical benefit?

    Choosing the right UC solution is a complex decision that takes time. No one philosophy will align with all organizations. Product vendors should clearly and accurately describe their solutions and help customers select their solution if and only if it is a good match. This will be both better for the customer but ultimately better for the vendors in the long term.

    Kevin

       3 likes

  7. February 20, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Thanks for the lively discussion.

    We just published the results of a study concerning users’ plans for various aspects of UC and Collaboration.

    Our finding was that it appears at this point there will be a “soft” duopoly of vendors supplying UC functions, with Microsoft and Cisco having a plurality of market shares but a continuing strong presence from other players. As such, the need for standards-based interoperability via Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and related protocols, implemented on platforms such as session border controllers (SBCs), will be the key to supporting this multi-vendor environment.”

    For more information, as publisher of the report, I invite you to take advantage of a complimentary download of the full independent report, which was sponsored by Sonus Networks (Westford, MA), at http://www.webtorials.com/news/2013/01/enterprises-place-2013-unified-communications-bets.html.

       4 likes

  8. February 25, 2013 at 8:46 am

    Collaboration is the key, Cisco is missing the a true independent collaboration story. Just because WebEx works across all form factors does not validate a open collaboration story. Handsets are limited, virtualization is non-existant, hybrid solutions are not available, and Jabber/WebEx/Call Manager are all different pieces as of today. The roadmap is not there yet……..

       0 likes

    • February 25, 2013 at 11:23 am

      Mark,

      I think Cisco is working to combine all the pieces: CUCM, WebEx, Jabber.

      Right now neither Microsoft nor Cisco has a complete “collaboration story”. Each are working to craft their story as quickly as possible. I applaud Cisco for commissioning the recent survey, I just think they perhaps stretched some of their interpretations.

      Cisco has an advantage in that it clearly has a base of enterprise telephony customers. However, this is also a disadvantage in that UC is not voice and in that perhaps moving to a true UC solution may cannibalize some voice business.

      Microsoft has an advantage in that it has a strong IT following related to Active Directory and Exchange. However this is a disadvantage when it comes to voice because sometimes these IT folks under-estimate the complexities of real-time media and the required network engineering to support.

      Kevin

         2 likes

  9. February 25, 2013 at 9:35 am

    This debate has not focused on a big issue for organizations regarding business communications, i.e., the challenges of “migrating” gracefully and cost-effectively from legacy communications technologies to the future of UC and mobility (Mobile UC). This migration is not just about infrastructure snd integrations that individual end users don’t really worry about, but also about flexible user interfaces and ease of use that is indeed what every consumer/end user sees and do care about.

    We have all noticed that the Internet is becoming the network of the future for all forms of online business applications, as well as for the many types of person-to-person contacts. “Everything as a Service” is reducing IT’s old role in enterprise organizations for hardware systems and software development (whether on premise or not) to managing the security and cost efficiencies of the various software applications that are being offered by third-party developers as hosted, managed services.

    “Everything as a Service” is complemented by end user BYOD choice of networked endpoints, which include desktops, laptops/tablets, and dual persona smartphones. So, since the applications are moving to the “clouds” and the endpoints are personalized end user choices, the battle for control is showing up at the network connectivity level that Cisco has been long focused on from a hardware perspective. Microsoft is exploiting it’s domination of desktop software tools, which they are now moving to their public cloud.

    Both Cisco and Microsoft want to standardize and support end user device interfaces for the best mobile “User Experience” that will influence “Consumer BYOD” and business “mobile apps” developers. That will include legacy telephony options (“click-to-call”), but, as Steve Taylor’s recent survey points out, we don’t have all the standards (yet) for Mobile UC. So, SIs and channel partners will have to do the heavy IT migration lifting for most organizations, because it is not just traditional person-to-person phone calls any more, but also involves business process applications (CEBP).

       2 likes

  10. February 25, 2013 at 11:42 am

    This debate has not focused on a big issue for organizations regarding business communications, i.e., the challenges of “migrating” gracefully and cost-effectively from legacy communications technologies to the future of UC and mobility (Mobile UC). This migration is not just about infrastructure snd integrations that individual end users don’t really worry about, but also about flexible user interfaces and ease of use that is indeed what every consumer/end user sees and do care about.

    We have all noticed that the Internet is becoming the network of the future for all forms of online business applications, as well as for the many types of person-to-person contacts. “Everything as a Service” is reducing IT’s old role in enterprise organizations for hardware systems and software development (whether on premise or not) to managing the security and cost efficiencies of the various software applications that are being offered by third-party developers as hosted, managed services.

    “Everything as a Service” is complemented by end user BYOD choice of networked endpoints, which include desktops, laptops/tablets, and dual persona smartphones. So, since the applications are moving to the “clouds” and the endpoints are personalized end user choices, the battle for control is showing up at the network connectivity level that Cisco has been long focused on from a hardware perspective. Microsoft is exploiting it’s domination of desktop software tools, which they are now moving to their public cloud.

    Both Cisco and Microsoft want to standardize and support end user device interfaces for the best mobile “User Experience” that will influence “Consumer BYOD” and business “mobile apps” developers. That will include legacy telephony options (“click-to-call”), but, as Steve Taylor’s recent survey points out, we don’t have all the standards (yet) for Mobile UC. So, SIs and channel partners will have to do the heavy IT migration lifting for most organizations, because it is not just traditional person-to-person phone (or video) calls any more, but also involves business process applications (CEBP).

       1 like

    • Speaking as individual end user, I completely agree with you. For me and my colleagues it’s all about flexible user interfaces and ease of use. However, we are still waiting for business process applications which would make our daily routine way easier.

         1 like

  11. February 28, 2013 at 6:19 am

    ” 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 ”

    Apart from WebEx product, how is Cisco product set that diffrent?

       0 likes

  12. March 1, 2013 at 8:17 am

    This article is completely inaccurate IMHO and misses some key points of Microsoft’s differentiation.

    * Cisco wants to sell you Jabber, WebEx. Telepresence, Call Manager and Switches (all overpriced with high maintenance costs IMHO). Microsoft has one software program (and 5 vendors making phone handsets) that can do it all at typically 50-66% the costs of a phone only Cisco solution.

    * Cisco’s problem is they love to sell overpriced gear with high maintenance costs. Why would you want best of breed devices…when you guy overpay for the Cisco label stamped on your phone.

    * The hauppauge of Cisco software and hardware raises costs to train and provision users. With Lync, you just enable an Active Directory user…inside or outside the company…with desk phones (from Polycom, Snom, Aastra, etc.) or using your PC.

    PS – Like Juniper, I think Cisco is a swell routing company. That doesn’t mean they know how to make users productive with that experience (over Microsoft, the office productivity firm)…and it takes more than upgrading to 10GB Ethernet to make a user communicate effectively. IMHO, Lync will make a user twice as productive in a real world environment with elegant simplicity of unified communications tool…which is why it grows at 300% every year in the marketplace.

       1 like

  13. 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.

       0 likes

  14. “The future of a company is less about the nature of its issues and more about its capacity to invent social structures able to solve them”. Technology is important but the race to change organisational sharing behaviours is a marathon not a sprint.

    We’ve all been in technology long enough to know that competing vendors catch up with each other on features, benefits etc – in the same way the big social platforms have done over the years.

    The capacity to change (a product) before the case for change becomes desperately obvious is what a company should buy. WebEx Social has 4 releases a year with many features based on customer feedback because you know, this kinda reduces the risk of getting it wrong.

    Cisco’s deep integration with voice and video is of itself a killer app because it makes people feel ‘strong and connected’ (try writing a business case around that!).

    That’s why right now, Cisco is the finest runner in that race.

       0 likes

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