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Cisco announces changes to Spark: What you need to know

At the Collaboration Summit in San Francisco, Cisco today announced updates to its Spark communication service.

Cisco Spark collaboration summit
Credit: Cisco

From an event perspective, this is a busy week for Cisco (disclosure: Cisco is a ZK Research client). In my last post, I mentioned that the company is holding its third annual Internet of Things World Forum in Dubai. This week, Cisco is also running its annual Collaboration Summit in San Francisco.  

As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I expected Spark to be a significant part of the Collaboration Summit, and that certainly is the case. If you're not familiar with Spark, the product is Cisco's Workstream Communications and Collaboration (WCC) tool that competes with the likes of Slack, Unify's Circuit, Glip, and many others.

See also: Altocloud integrates Cisco's Spark for customer engagement

At this year's event, Cisco made an announcement that indicates Spark is shifting away from being a product and evolving into a platform. The vision for Cisco is to use Spark to deliver a single collaboration experience that spans all modes of communications. To deliver on this vision, Cisco announced the Spark products listed below:

  • Spark the service is a complete, cloud-based collaboration (UCaaS) service delivered from the Cisco collaboration cloud that enables customers to message, meet, or call anyone inside or outside the organization. The Spark service includes 1:1 and group messaging, persistent chat, content sharing, audio/video/web meetings, and voice and video calling. Even though Cisco offers voice calling, it does not compete with its carrier customers, as the Spark service does not include PSTN services. Customers will still purchase the PSTN services from their service provider.
  • Spark the room and phone operating system enables customers to connect Cisco video endpoints and IP phones to Spark meetings. Cisco has a cloud-based collaboration management portal to enable IT to provision the devices, as well as add users and enable features. Alternatively, users can provision the devices themselves through activation from a mobile device or from a QR code. As an added benefit, the cloud management platform also monitors utilization so IT can make decisions on how Spark is being adopted across the company.
  • Spark hybrid services connect Spark to existing Cisco call platforms, such as Communications Manager, Business Edition Series, and HCS services. This is significant for existing customers who want to continue to use the products they are currently using for calls, but also use Spark for messages and meetings. I'm sure there are more planned, but this initial release includes four hybrid services. The first one is directory services, which populates the Spark contact list with the company directory established in the other calling platforms. The next two services deal with calls. Call service connect seamlessly connects call between Spark and the phone system. Once the call is connected, call service aware enables workers to share content with a single click over the same session. Lastly, Cisco is adding an “@spark” calendar service. Workers who use Webex are probably familiar with having to add @webex to calendar invites to add join links to the invite for the organizer's personal room. Similarly, @spark is used to create a Spark room and add links to the invite to launch the application. The downside is that if Spark and Webex are being used, the user needs to add both @spark and @webex.  
  • Spark for developers is a set of open APIs for ISVs to leverage to build, extend, and customize collaboration experiences. The release of Spark for developers begs the question of what the relationship is with Tropo, Cisco's cPaaS solution. The easy way to think of the difference is that if the ISV wants to integrate with a full collaboration solution, then Spark is the right choice. If the developer wants modular building blocks to add things like “click to chat” to an application, then Tropo is appropriate. At launch, Cisco announced integration with a number of application partners, such as GitHub, Instagram, Pagerduty, Trello, Zendesk, Zapier, IFTTT, and built.io. One important note is that Cisco leveraged the developer best practices from Tropo in putting together the Spark developer program. This will create consistency for Cisco's collaboration developer partners as they move between Spark and Tropo.

Lastly, as part of this launch, Cisco has simplified the process of buying Spark with the following three steps:

  1. Choose a messaging service: Business messaging, business messaging and basic meetings, or business messaging and advanced meetings.
  2. Choose call services: Hybrid or cloud calling.
  3. Chose add-on services: Rooms, audio conferencing, and additional centers, such as events, training, or support. 

Since Rowan Trollope took over as the head of the Collaboration Business Unit at Cisco, he has been laser-focused on improving the usability of Cisco products. All of the parts of this announcement are focused on creating a simple, consistent experience that cuts across all modes of communications, which is something Cisco has lacked greatly in the past.

One final note, if you want more details on my thoughts of the launch, Dave Michels from TalkingPointz and recorded this video discussing it:

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