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Cisco’s acquisition of Synata brings search to Spark

The 7 tools fueling Spark's big data revolution
Credit: Dawn Hudson via Public Domain Pictures

Last week the Enterprise Connect trade show was held in Orlando, Florida. The show is the collaboration industry’s largest event and because of that, there were dozens of vendors that issued press releases touting the latest and greatest innovations in the market.

One announcement that I thought flew under the radar was Cisco’s intent to acquire privately held Synata. Jim Duffy wrote a short article covering the news but the importance of this acquisition hasn’t been discussed.

Explaining what Syanta does is fairly simple. It lets user search encrypted files and messages, even if they’re stored in cloud storage drives. Cisco will use this technology to enhance its team-messaging product, Cisco Spark.

There are currently about a dozen or so of these products on the market including high flying Slack, HipChat (acquired by Atlassian), Glip (acquired by RingCentral), Circuit from Unify and at Enterprise Connect Avaya took the covers off of Zang Spaces and Mitel was showing off of MiTeam.

The value proposition of all of these applications is to find a better tool for sharing information for team collaboration than by using e-mail. Most of the products also let you do some form of real-time communications, such as voice and video. It’s hard to understand the value of something like Spark without using it and in mid 2015 I authored this post using myself as an example.

With respect to Spark specifically, one of its competitive differentiators is the integrated security. Cisco is the market leader in IT security and applied its expertise to Spark. All messages and documents stored in Spark are encrypted. This is a mandatory feature for heavily regulated verticals such as healthcare and financial services. For example, a doctor may want to use Spark to share patient information with other specialists, but if the data gets breached, it could cause a privacy violation. Another example could be a CEO and CFO from a publicly traded company sharing financial information for an upcoming quarterly earnings call. A breach there could have serious implications, even jail time for the executives.

However, encryption is a double-edge sword. It’s great that no one can see the data but that also means it’s not searchable. One of my concerns with the entire team messaging market is that while it is indeed cutting down the number of emails being sent, it is doing so by moving the messaging to another platform, like Spark. Once a user has hundreds or even thousands of Spark “rooms”, how can a worker find content without being able to conduct a search?

Synata fixes that problem. At Enterprise Connect I talked with some users of Spark and the news of the Synata acquisition was very well received as the inability to search on the content itself was starting to cause some frustration. Spark is still relatively new and the novelty of it will keep people using it in the short term. As the utilization of the product grows and businesses become more reliant on the tool, it must be enterprise grade and that means having the content be secured but also searchable.

Another feature that Synata brings is something called “graph search”, which indexes the connections users have made with each other while interacting with the platform. In this digital era, everyone wants more data to analyze. This feature could be particularly useful for line of business managers that want to correlate usage of Spark with productivity to help tweak processes or ensure workers are trained properly.

Cisco Spark is certainly a powerful tool enabling organizations to change the way they collaborate. Synata brings some required functionality to it required for businesses to scale the usage of it across an organization rather than just a departmental tool.

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