Last December at Collaboration Summit we showed how you can integrate desk phones with Cisco Spark. One of the features we demoed was the ability to register a desk phone using a mobile phone generated QR code. This is an incredibly useful and important feature–and a great for an on-stage demo. But, if anyone left that day thinking this was the most important takeaway, they missed the massive disruption that Spark is introducing.

Born in the cloud, Spark is an open and programmable platform designed to deliver the best collaboration technology in the world. With revolutionary capabilities such as business messaging, file sharing, voice and video meetings, calling and more, Spark is bringing many more benefits than any single app.

Spark is entirely built for businesses. With world class security, manageability, compliance, analytics, and the best administrative console in the world it is setting the new standard for business SaaS offers. With all of these capabilities and the ability for developers to build on it, Spark is massively disruptive to leading on-premises unified communications system manufacturers.

If we saw ourselves as a leading on-premises UC system manufacturer, I’m not sure we would have ever introduced Spark at all. We’d be very wary of upsetting the applecart. Instead, we see ourselves as a collaboration business. Every day we come in thinking about how we can create the right collaboration tools, rather than thinking about just a better phone or the ultimate video conferencing system.

This need to think about our customers rather than our products is best articulated in Arthur Levitt’s seminal 1960 Harvard Business Review article “Marketing Myopia.” As the article summary explains,

“For companies to ensure continued evolution, they must define their industries broadly to take advantage of growth opportunities. They must ascertain and act on their customers’ needs and desires, not bank on the presumed longevity of their products.”

In other words: Be customer-oriented, not product-oriented.

Levitt’s most famous example is the railroads. He wrote the article at the end of an era for many railroads, some of which had been the world’s most powerful companies in their heyday. At that moment in 1960, the railroads were rapidly losing passenger business to the airlines. “They let others take customers away from them because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business,” Levitt wrote. “The reason they defined their industry incorrectly was that they were railroad oriented instead of transportation oriented; they were product oriented instead of customer oriented.”

Looking foward as a customer-oriented business, we believe the desk phone as we have known it will fade over time. Again, this would be worrisome if we consider ourselves a “manufacturer of desk phones.” But I don’t think about our UC team as a maker of desk phones.

I think about the desk phone and conference room speakerphone not as phones, but as small pieces of real estate on the desktop. That real estate will continue to be dedicated to communications. There may be something new in that space. It may look like a phone – it may not. It may have features not seen before, and it may drop some of today as “must have” features. But no matter what the look, I know it will be amazing communications and collaboration tool – and I expect it to proudly carry a Cisco logo.

One final note: In the next few quarters, you’ll see us introduce new video systems and collaboration hardware with cool flashy new features. Remember, those features are definitely important, but don’t let them distract you from the massive disruption happening behind the scenes.


Rowan Trollope

Senior Vice President and General Manager

IoT and Collaboration Technology Group