Let’s get this thing started. To answer the question in the headline, “yes.” A thousand times yes. Maybe more. I spent my day in panels related to team collaboration. Here’s what I heard and learned (plus a case study video for good measure).

Is Team Collaboration the Future of Enterprise Communications?

Jonathan Rosenberg, VP and CTO of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group, stood out on a hefty panel including five other companies. Panelists shared use cases of team collaboration platforms, from service technicians in the field to product review cycles to dental appointment confirmations. Summary: All that, and the kitchen sink.

Rosenberg used the example of a very large U.S. retailer that uses Cisco Spark for in-store chat among employees as well as communications between stores and corporate offices. And in another, NBC Universal used Cisco Spark in managing broadcasts from the recent XXIII Winter Olympic Games.

Panelists largely agreed on the benefits and approaches to team collaboration. Rosenberg provided Cisco’s perspective of team collaboration as the container around traditional unified communications and video in the enterprise – or, “a wrapper around the stuff you already have to make it better.”

Team Collaboration Applications: Market Overview

In a panel hosted by Diane Myers, Val Agostino, a senior director in the collaboration group, represented Cisco. Myers shared an overview of the market before diving into questions for the panelists. To level-set the conversation, she defined team collaboration as “a diverse set of important capabilities” including unified messaging, integration with business applications, and collaboration tools.

Team collaboration has a diverse landscape with a variety of vendors – pure plays, UC vendors, UCaaS providers, web properties, and others. The panel largely agreed on the basics and priorities of team collaboration platforms.

(Am I allowed to say my favorite quote of the session – possibly the day – was “I think you’ll all agree that Slack has not won the war.” Well, I hope I’m allowed to say it. Because I just did.)

Agostino provided good insight into Cisco’s approach: “Even in 2018 it’s still really difficult to collaborate as a team. We looked at team collaboration through that lens: What kinds of work do teams really do?” Cisco thinks of team collaboration as workflow-centric vs. messaging-centric. The developers look at the workflows across physical and digital experiences.

Team collaboration is ultimately about moving your team forward. Which of the modalities is most important to your business. When you’re looking at solutions, really look at what people do to get work done. – Val Agostino, Cisco

Myers asked panelists to identify considerations for buyers looking at team collaboration platforms. Responses: TCO, security, application integration, your users’ use cases, persistence, mobility, the flexibility to adapt to shifting priorities, and importantly, the experience for administrators and IT.

Team Collab App Decision Factors: Enterprise Adopters Share Experiences

It was good to get perspective from the organizations actually selecting and implementing the products. Blair Pleasant moderated a panel of four customers, covering a variety of industries and product platforms. One company was a startup, another 200 years old, and yet another the result of a recent merger of three large companies. Despite the differences, their stories had certain similarities.

The smaller organizations saw strong organic adoption of the products. In some cases, they were implementing something entirely new, whereas others were focused on reducing redundant tools. Startups often have this challenge because before they’ve set an official standard, employees often bring dozens of tools into the environment for different tasks.

Common use cases among the panelist organizations were bringing video conferencing to all users, not just execs; supporting mobile and remote workers; communicating directly with external clients; and supporting global teams

Some good tidbits from the conversation:

  • Identify “friendlies” in your user environment and get them involved in the rollout process. They help spread organic adoption and often go from early adopter to champion.
  • When you give people choices of tools, they take those choices. Eventually, you have to make and enforce a product choice.

Richard Bugbee talked about Charter Communications’ adoption of Cisco Spark: “We’re coming off a merger. Out of the three companies, what were the dominating factors? For us, that was Cisco video conferencing. It was easy for us to rely on our existing Cisco infrastructure.”

Of Charter’s roughly 100,000 employees, Bugbee’s team identified about 40,000 who would need to be in the rollout. Charter started by piloting it with IT teams, then with teams were already using similar products. With such a large user population, they did a full cutover to the new tool – and had IT remove the other ones.

“We didn’t have to deal with culture change,” he explained. “Collaboration was already occurring. It was a matter of shutting down other tools to centralize on one.”

How did they deal with user resistance? “Open lines of communication have been the biggest help in addressing user resistance. It’s usually just educating people how to complete the same tasks with the new tool.”

Blair asked the panelists to identify “hidden gotchas” from their implementation experience. They listed challenges including network readiness, device compatibility, regional restrictions (i.e. voip), unknown use cases, Outlook integration, and change management with the user base.

Ideation Nation: More than Just Electronic Whiteboards

The common definition of ideation is “the formation of ideas or concepts.” For the purposes of this panel, moderator Ira Weinstein defined it “products and services that provide a digital environment for the generation, development, and communication of ideas and concepts.

Insight from one of the Cisco Champions attending EC18.

John Restrick, CTO for Room Systems at Cisco, represented Cisco’s perspective on a panel that also included Google, Microsoft, and Polycom. There was plenty of agreement about the benefits of digital whiteboards, but the panelists differed on how to best integrate them into conference rooms – as all-in-one (video conferencing + whiteboarding + content sharing) devices or separate devices. Cisco Spark Board takes the all-in-one approach, with the idea of simplifying the meeting room experience by adding functionality without adding more hardware.

Restrick pointed out that although electronic whiteboards themselves are not particularly new, there’s a distinct difference in the user market than when they were first introduced. (Not to mention features and functionality.) With prior products, the challenge was that the user population hadn’t learned them. Today, with touchscreens on phones and tablets, people understand and are comfortable with the paradigm.

Coming up on Tuesday
Jonathan Rosenberg delivers the Cisco keynote at 10a ET.

Watch it live at nojitter.com and let me know what you think.

P.S. Can we stop talking about user experiences as “delightful”? Pretty please? It’s software, not chocolate mousse.

P.P.S. If anyone had a strange coating of glitter in their hotel room, the head of housekeeping informs me that there was a cheerleader convention, event, tournament, something at the Gaylord Palms last week. Apparently, the cheery previous occupants of my room also enjoyed pancakes or waffles with their glitter, because it was quite sticky and aromatic. Business travel – gotta keep it interesting.


Want more of the John Legend story? Here’s the long version.


Kim Austin

No Longer with Cisco