Cisco held its annual Collaboration Summit this week in Boca Raton, Florida. This year’s event was, in many ways, the coming-out party for the newly appointed GM and SVP for the Collaboration Business Unit, Rowan Trollope. In his opening remarks, Trollope was refreshingly frank about the challenges in the UC industry today and how complexity and a lack of user-friendly solutions have held the industry back from mass adoption. Solving these challenges was the underlying theme of the conference, as the majority of product releases and announcements were focused on extending UC past the traditional corporate walls and making them easier to use.
One of the more interesting products announced was Cisco Expressway, which can be thought of as an edge gateway that makes it possible to extend Cisco UC outside the company boundary securely without the need for VPN concentrators, device level registration, passwords, etc.
Typically, UC is deployed to internal workers, but if someone outside the company network wanted to use Cisco UC applications, they would need to create a VPN tunnel between the remote location and a company location. With Expressway, a Cisco device or application, such as a Jabber client or IP phone, would point to Expressway and handle the secure connection between the outside world and inside network. This is ideal for home workers, small branch offices and B2B connections. No VPNs, no passwords, no device registration - just deploy it and use it.
Another product designed to extend UC simply is Jabber Guest, which uses Expressway to allow any “guest” of the company to communication with internal employees through a web browser. A good B2C example of this would be an investment firm that wants to have face-to-face updates with its customers. Many banks either send the account manager on the road to visit customers or ask the customer to come to the office periodically for meetings, particularly high-net worth clients. This traveling to go from one to the other is always going to inconvenience one of the two parties, but that’s the way business has always been done. With Jabber Guest, the broker would send the customer a link, the customer would then click on the link, and through the browser a Jabber Guest session would be invoked. For the customer, there’s no software or hardware to deploy and no complications – just click and go. There are literally thousands of B2B, B2C and field service examples for Jabber Guest, and I'm sure any customer that currently runs Jabber will have a look at this.
Cisco also announced something called “Intelligent Proximity,” which allows customers to automatically link a mobile phone with a corporate desk phone. The analogy Trollope used a few times was that his car had more integration with his mobile device than his company phone system. He’s certainly correct about this. With most new cars, the phone automatically syncs with the car so the driver can easily scroll through contacts, dial, take calls and listen to music and other functions. With Intelligent Proximity, the system knows when a worker is near the user’s workspace and can automatically move the call from mobile device to desk phone. There’s a lot of potential for proximity information as it can help create a much better experience for the user, without the user.
Over the years, Cisco has built and acquired many, many UC products to give the company the broadest portfolio available. However, the growth in portfolio has a price, and that is the difficulty for customers to get all the Cisco stuff to work well together. While Collaboration Summit had its fair share of product announcements, the overall theme of the event was simplicity and extending UC, something that should benefit Cisco, its customers and its resellers much more than just overwhelming us with new products.