Cisco goes social with Quad

What do you get when you cross aspects of social network tools with key business apps like calendar and real-time communications tools like VoIP, IM and video? According to Cisco, an online environment workers will live in all day long because it improves connectivity and productivity.

The company will flesh out more details of its Quad enterprise collaboration platform -- pieces of which have been coming together for months -- at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston next week, but I got an in-depth demonstration last week and came away impressed. While many of Quad's capabilities are supported in products from other vendors, the seamless integration of Cisco's unified communications portfolio makes this compelling.

The Web-based Quad -- which takes its name from a college quad, a place of learning -- is at its heart a corporate social tool designed to efficiently connect workers in large organizations. Unlike consumer social tools, it has policy and security controls you would expect in a corporate setting.

When you log in you get a screen with a tabbed interface, the tabs being New post, My view, My profile, People, Community and Library. The three most important:

* My view -- the main landing page, which you can configure the way you want. As demonstrated, that page was dominated by a central panel dedicated to a watch list of people and projects the user was following, and the calendar was off to the right (you can also have RSS feeds, a list of activities, etc.). At the push of a button you can call, IM or establish a video link to anyone who shows up in any of these panels, demonstrating the way Cisco has integrated real-time communications tools.

* My profile -- which represents the user's external face to the organization. It lets you list your blog entries, outline your areas of expertise, list your work activities (so people can track what you’ve been working on), post documents and even post meeting recordings -- all things that should aid team formation in disparate corporations. It even lists alternative contacts and reporting structures.

* Communities -- designed to connect employees with similar interests. Three types are supported: Open, which everyone can see/join; Restricted, meaning you have to be asked to join; and Hidden, which are only known to people in the group (say product development).

Since it is Web based, you can get all of this, including the multimedia components, from any Internet-connected PC outfitted with a camera and a microphone, says Murali Sitaram, VP of Enterprise Collaboration. No client software is required.

The allure of the tool is evident when you see it in action. And it is also immediately clear that Cisco is on a collision course with Microsoft, IBM/Lotus, Google and others by pursuing this type of product. The good news for the buyer: a new wave of collaboration tools driven by the success of consumer social networking tools should be washing up on desktops soon.

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