Chapter 1: Quad-play and the Curse of Interesting Times

Cisco Press

Excerpt from The Power of IP Video: Unleashing Productivity with Rich Media.

Published by Cisco Press

ISBN-10: 158705342X

ISBN-13: 9781587053429

It was still early days for some of us at Cisco on a December morning in the year 2000 when we filed into a conference room at the Cisco Systems, Inc. headquarters in San Jose for an orientation event. The boot camp, as the event was called, might have been designed as a few days of team building interspersed with presentations from senior Cisco executives. The purpose of these sessions was to familiarize the new hires with how the Cisco culture works.

As we reflect today, many of the details from those sessions have now faded from memory, and we bet that many of the facts presented back then may have little relevance today. However, a particular question that Cisco Chairman and CEO, John Chambers, posed to the group that day as part of his presentation has stayed with us till today, and it remains just as relevant not only for Cisco but for any individual or organization. At a particular moment during his presentation he turned to the audience and asked, “What if I doubled your workload and halved your resources—how would you do work?” Audience responses ranged from working smarter to refusing to work at all. After a few moments of back and forth, Chambers offered up the answer himself and said, “You’d choose to work differently.”

He went on to elaborate how when faced with a perpetual challenge of doing more with less, as individuals or workers, we tend to prioritize differently, allocate resources differently, and design our work processes differently. It’s about how we as humans adapt to our situations. And that’s exactly what has been evident over the years not only at Cisco, but across many organizations around the world.

Doing more with less has become not just a mantra for downtimes or tough times or belt-tightening times—it has now become an accepted way of doing business at all times, largely because it is now indeed possible to do so with emerging technologies. It is now possible to revamp, upgrade or fine tune our business processes on a continuous basis. It has allowed the gross domestic product (GDP) of the US to lead the world in productivity[1] and kept us in the constant hunt for more innovative communications tools.

When we observe how businesses have evolved—not only as workers at those businesses, but also as customers or owners of those businesses—we can identify three key trends have propelled that “work differently” phenomenon in recent years:

  • Virtualization (anytime, anywhere capabilities);
  • Globalization; and
  • Consumerization of applications.

Let’s take a closer look at how these underlying trends are influencing productivity across the board.

Virtualization: A Common Modus Operandi

Simply put, virtualization is the ability to replicate our desired environment anywhere, anytime using communications technologies such as voice, video, web, and mobility. We all have probably checked a business email or two or taken a conference call while attending a kid’s soccer game or a family event. And was it better than missing either of those altogether?

We have probably used our home at times for work, knowing it was better than sitting in traffic during commute hours. Rather than wonder about how a purchase may work out, we have probably reached out to other customers around the world to find out what they have to say about a product or service they might be considering. Some of us have probably decided to dismiss an agent or a stock broker because we can now virtually enable those services right at our finger tips without the need to hire an intermediary.

Quad play in virtualized Environments

The workplace is being altered by a combination of integrated voice, video, web and mobility applications—commonly referred to in the industry as ‘Quad-play’ technologies. These quad-play environments blur the distinction between workspace and personal space for users, making it less location-specific and more situation- specific. We now have the option to choose between work moments and relaxing moments at any given place. We can choose the commute to work and have a working moment when we take a conference call in the car. Or we can view a video training course from the comforts of our home late in the evening. Or we can choose to count a morning jog as a work moment where we have our own eureka moment about a business problem at work. Quad-play capabilities turn multiple time-zones into a single time zone: Real-time. Project teams who collaborate from locations in North America, Asia and Europe are familiar with taking calls at odd hours. Ours is a generation that may go down in history as having blurred the boundaries between personal life and work life, but to our credit we may also go down as the one that took concrete steps in eliminating drudgery from work life—there’s hardly a dull moment these days.

During the course of the following chapters we discuss in greater detail how different technologies, especially IP video, have helped productivity, revenue generation and empowerment for individuals and organizations. We have covered examples from Cisco and its customers to illustrate the point.

Use of web, voice, video, and mobility applications at Cisco assumed a level of adoption that demonstrated not only a return on investment (ROI) and a set of best practices for Cisco to share with the industry, but also a series of solution offerings for other organizations to take advantage of (discussed in Chapter 2). Web conferencing, voice over IP, security and wireless solutions have offered multi-faceted services to make work life rewarding and productive for knowledge workers all over the world. Along the way the industry has rewarded Cisco efforts by acknowledging that converging voice, video, data and wireless over a single network within an organization is now considered a foregone conclusion.

Why Video?

Internally, through effective use of video, web, voice and mobility, Cisco has benefited from virtualizing many of the face to face events and deriving significant savings in the areas of e-learning, business meetings, sales communications, and product introductions. The power of IP video remains central to the discussion around the future of communication technologies at Cisco—since it not only stimulates an insatiable demand for bandwidth at work and home—it also offers an irreplaceable level of intimacy, detail, and texture to the interaction. According to the famous anthropologist, Ray I. Birdwhistell, body language and facial expressions deliver 65 percent of the communication[2].

Whether it’s for learning, working, relaxing or playing, video when unified with web and high quality voice, delivers richness to the interaction making a virtual experience that much closer to reality. Over other media, video has always offered the best return on our time in terms of quantity of content delivered in a given moment. With the interactivity of the web and the ubiquity of mobile phones alongside strides in online video, rich media content offers an experience not witnessed before.

Globalization 3.0 at Our Doorstep

A natural outcome of the quad-play environments remain our interdependence on people, places and services we may never see, touch or influence. The world of work has shrunk bringing co-workers located across nations and continents to common teams, projects and conference calls on a regular basis. Quad-play environments might have in some cases contributed in making the workplace a bit more complicated, competitive and culturally nuanced. However, cries of protectionism in quad-play environments, though understandable, may already be too late in the game.

A Rocky Ride

Global stock markets have always been in transition but they seldom made front page news for reasons they did on February 27, 2007. It was a day when the Chinese stock market slid and over the next twenty hours, the sliding frenzy caught on to the rest of the world as markets opened in other time-zones.

Here’s how it went. A tribal elder of the free market global village, former Chairman of Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, stepped up to a podium in Hong Kong a day before and pronounced that a US recession in the second half of 2007 was likely. Those comments were followed by rumors that the Chinese ministry was contemplating greater regulation of capital gains.

You as a reader enjoy the advantage of hindsight on whether the developments should have rattled the Chinese stock-market investors, who began to fret whether America would be able to sustain buying from China at the same rate—all the shoes, slacks, and sundries that it had been importing. Either way, in February ‘07 Chinese stock market speculators, who had pulled money out of their homes to earn a living off of the stock market, weren’t taking any chances. The blessing of interesting times—a term often attributed to a former sage from China—was about to take effect on Wall Street a few hours after the Shanghai Index dropped 270 points or 8.8 percent in one day. US investors who experienced several years of superior returns on international stocks were about to find the globalization ride a tad queasy.

This was not the first time Asian markets were going to impact the global economy, but this was the first time the Dow slid more than 400 points in sympathy to the Shanghai market index. The prior year, 2006, was the first time in history when net outflow of investments from the US had exceeded investment inflow to the US. This was also the first time that we collectively watched, gasped, and heaved as the market fell 200 points in two minutes due to a server backlog of sell orders on the New York Stock Exchange that were exercised almost simultaneously, inside a few minutes, as a back-up server took effect causing a precipitous drop in the Index[3].

So how did we, the co-authors, respond to a memorable financial event unfolding before our eyes and temporarily threatening to unravel our relatively modest nest eggs? We relied as investors on the same communications technologies that had helped us over the years to virtualize many of our business processes. One of us remembers pulling up financial guru Jim Cramer’s video interview posted on Street.com to make sense of the day[4]. After digesting Cramer’s recommendation of selling almost everything in China for almost anything Blue chip, we checked our portfolio status over our mobile handsets; clicked to place a call over our soft-phones for real-time financial advice; and adjusted our portfolios in a matter of minutes.

One of us investors happened to be traveling that day and could not be reached. Shouldn’t be any worries, we thought, what’s a Treo or Blackberry for. Except that those nifty mobility applications don’t work according to plan 34,000 feet in the air on a flight bound to California. The realization that where there is no network, there is very little action, began to sink in about as quickly as the out-of-network investor’s portfolio in the following minutes and hours of incommunicado. Oh sure, they picked up the voice mails and the headlines by the time the plane had approached the jet way, but only after the markets had closed. What else could one do except take it on the chin with a brave face and wait for the next day.

But the questions lingered for days after the event. Since when has what happened on main street USA had such an impact on the Chinese investors that their decisions in turn had an adverse impact on Wall Street? Was the interdependence that we now felt with other world economies a direct outcome of how communications technologies over last several years have changed the way we work, live, play, learn and invest?

Has it Really Gotten that Flat?

As authors with the task of writing a book on IP Video, we collectively wondered what the financial interdependence of world markets we were witnessing really meant. Was this the phenomenon that Thomas Friedman, the Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times columnist, had described as Globalization 3.0 when he spoke to a Cisco audience several months ago about his bestselling blockbuster of a business book, “The World is Flat.” We heard him bring up terms such as “ten flatteners,” “triple convergence,” and “globalization 3.0.” We followed his logic through the speech and dutifully reviewed our respective copies of the bestseller on planes and in airport lounges.

Of course we understood off-shoring and outsourcing but we had also grown up with the metaphor that the world economy catches a cold when the American economy sneezes. So we weren’t sure if the interdependence of an underperforming and under-represented Chinese stock market could have the potential of shaking up anything on Wall Street. Was this really globalization 3.0 in action?

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