Jonathan Rosenberg on stage at EC18Who better to deliver the first keynote of Enterprise Connect, but “industry pioneer and all-around nice guy” Jonathan Rosenberg – also known as VP and CTO of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group.

Why yes, that was me in the front row this morning.Can I admit something? Just between us? OK, good. I’m a Jonathan Rosenberg fan. 

If you ask, Rosenberg will tell you that collaboration is exciting again. Not just because of technology, but changes in the way people work. As he explains it, “today’s challenges are far too complex for one mind to solve.” Proof? Nobel Prizes are increasingly awarded to teams than to individuals.

And teams themselves are evolving. No longer limited by distance, companies are looking beyond their own backyards to build teams with the best people from all over the world. I know that’s true for my group at Cisco. In my immediate team, we’re all in the United States but scattered from coast to coast, with a stop in Texas for good measure. Our extended collaboration marketing team is truly global, hence the 6:30a WebEx meetings to more easily include both Singapore and London. Likewise, it’s becoming more commonplace to work with people outside the boundaries of your company – contractors, consultants, partners, vendors.

Four things to fix

Rosenberg outlined four things that it takes to deliver team collaboration: stop data breaches; enable ad-hoc meetings, make remote work, work; solve multivendor for real.

Breach lock

As he says, “the most important lifeblood of your business is going to flow into these applications.” And old security approaches don’t work in the cloud. Encryption in transit and at rest was designed for the old client-server era when everything was on premises. When your data gets encrypted in the cloud, each piece is a vulnerability — it’s “open season for attackers,” he says. Examples: the recent Meltdown and Spectre attacks.

So what’s the answer? Breach lock is an innovative new security tech from Cisco. It doesn’t matter if the cloud security is breached. “If the bad guys get it, it’s just useless data.” End-to-end encryption doesn’t match the business model of Cisco competitors. If the data is encrypted in the cloud, can they sell that data? No. Can they mine it to advertise against it? No.

Many companies said end-to-end encryption was impossible. It’s not. –Jonathan Rosenberg

And then, he went rogue. Kinda. To prove his point about breach lock, Rosenberg hacked into Cisco Spark data in the cloud and posted it. Why? To show what a hacker would see. Basically, alpha-numeric soup. Because the data is encrypted before it hits the cloud, there’s nothing in the cloud to see.

Video mesh

What’s the secret to solving work with distributed teams? It’s video. Humans are visual creatures. But the hard part of video is getting people to use it all the time. But it has to be simple to do and a good experience. Once you have that, people use it.

Today’s challenges are far too complex for one mind to solve. –Jonathan Rosenberg

At Cisco, if you join a meeting without using video, it’s like you have a disease. Everyone wonders if you’re OK. And if you join a meeting without video, you’d better have an excuse. Like you’re eating a burrito. (And if you’re eating chips, WebEx will remind you to mute your microphone, hence others on the call start envying your lunch crunch.)

The whole concept of distributed teams makes video even more important than ever before. If more of your meetings have remote participants, better video is a big part of bringing people together, helping them collaborate face-to-face. Video hardware makes a difference now more than ever before.

Web-based video like WebEx is good, but it’s dependent on the public internet. So, what’s the answer? Video mesh. With it, your IT team can deploy media node servers on premises. When the software (say, WebEx) joins the meeting, it automatically joins the nearest one. Then the Cisco cloud joins them all together for the best quality meeting.

With video mesh, you don’t worry about capacity planning. If you have extra traffic, it rolls over to the cloud. Video mesh is totally invisible to users. They just hit the big green button, and they’re connected.


The hardest part of team collaboration is often making it work in your network. You likely have an interesting mix of hardware from different vendors. Replacing everything is rarely a viable alternative. So your solution has to work with the mix you already have.

This is where Rosenberg fulfilled the promise of his tweet to do something unprecedented. After a slight tease about walking on hot coals, he went into demo mode – of a competitor’s product. He showed how easily you can join a WebEx meeting from Skype for Business. “We’ve been doing more with our friends from Redmond than ever before,” he said. “As much as we compete, we can’t imagine a world without Microsoft.”

This is the age of teams. In the age of teams, team collaboration must first and foremost be a great meeting experience. –Jonathan Rosenberg


What’s the Way Forward for Communications & Collaboration?

The morning started with another good session with end-user organizations talking about their technology experiences. With a variety of industries, from entertainment to city government, and technologies from multiple vendors, they covered a lot of territory.

I appreciated the advice they shared about the experiences selecting, implementing, and increasing adoption of tech among their user communities. For example:

  • Publish internal use cases within your own organization to help spur ideas and adoption with other groups.
  • Study your top users. If their usage slows down, investigate to see why. Are they traveling? Are they not satisfied with the products? Cultivate top users as champions and advocates.
  • Find the right partners and the right environment to meet your goals.
  • The world lives on mobile devices, so choose a solution that works across both mobile and desktop platforms.
  • Don’t try to dictate your rules to the business.

Michael Sherwood, director of technology and innovation, for the City of Las Vegas, talked about how the city is using Cisco Spark in different ways. For example, employees can build work orders and send them out via Cisco Spark. Key people can review the scenarios and then bring others into the conversation as needed.

Read more about how the City of Las Vegas is using Cisco Spark as part of its innovative Cisco Kinetic for Cities implementation to manage city services.


P.S. I also had the good fortune to spend time with some of the Cisco Champions here at the event. It’s always a bonus when I get to meet customers and partners (ok, and co-workers!) in person after working with them through WebEx and Cisco Spark. Thanks Chris Driggers and Jose Bogarin for joining me for lunch!

P.P.S. It doesn’t happen often, but I actually left a presentation early today. The session title was definitely intriguing, but the presenters hadn’t even addressed their topic directly by the 20th slide. Instead, they spent a lot of time trying to define team collaboration as a solution for a very narrow user base that basically excluded anyone who didn’t sit at a desk. And when it seemed clear that the speaker hadn’t actually used the products he was comparing, it was time to go. Interestingly, I wasn’t alone in making an early exit.


Kim Austin

No Longer with Cisco