At Cisco’s Collaboration Conference wrapping up in San Francisco today, Cisco doubled down on their bet on collaboration.  Since acquiring WebEX in 2007, Cisco has not been shy in acquiring companies to rapidly fill out their Unified Communications and Collaboration Portfolio – 3 of the 4 acquisitions announced in the last month are directly beneficial to their collaboration portfolio – Starent enhances mobility, ScanSafe enhances security, and Tandberg enhances open video capabilities. Cisco has also tasked their development teams with improving and delivering new products enabling them to deliver a dizzying 61 distinct new products and product upgrades.    A year after publicly proclaiming their intent to compete aggressively in the collaboration market, Cisco is leveraging their agility and speed to deliver a cacophony of capabilities to the market.

Cisco’s Collaboration Portfolio is keeping up with the Jones… and the Smiths and the Johnsons

Cisco announced large and small product upgrades and introductions this week.  Cisco is clearly aiming to equal and exceed the capabilities of other best of breed vendors across the Unified Communications and Collaboration market.  The 8.0 generation of Cisco Unified Communications Products were in evidence, and there were many interesting new products.

· InterCompany Telepresence  – Cisco is providing a Cisco-hosted, publicly available directory of telepresence rooms and their new Cisco Media Experience Engine 5600 delivers a purpose built chassis to support interoperability of various video systems as well as video bridging capability.

· Enterprise Social Software – Cisco announced a range of products and concepts to more easily allow communities of interest to form and collaborate within businesses.  The Enterprise Collaboration Platform works with several other products including Pulse  — an opt-in feature that allows users to accept automatically identified skills and capabilities to populate their profiles, and suggest topics or communities of interest; and Show and Share – a video centric set of community tools.

· WebEx E-mail – Cisco is completing a leg of their collaboration strategy by delivering a 35G mailbox for under $10 per month.  This hosted e-mail is fully compatible with MAPI enabling Outlook users to seamlessly adopt the solution.

Cisco acquisition and product development activities show that they are in the collaboration market for the long haul  and making big bets – and their public announcement of their pursuit of industry standards communicates their acknowledgement that open standards are the best way to achieve business-to-business collaboration – which will be the holy grail in this market.

Cisco’s Public Commitment to Industry Standards

Cisco is frequently criticized for developing and adopting their own standards – which Cisco maintains is critical to a leading edge technology company.  Yesterday they mentioned their participation in the Hiroshima IETF meeting to propose standards at least three separate times.  They are working to deliver standards to the industry around telepresence, presence, and IM interoperability among others.  This public declaration of Cisco’s support for creating, proposing and adopting standards is an important step enabling the entire industry to rationally consider adoption of standards to simplify the deployment of these new technologies.

The New Economy and Approaching Recovery

Cisco is singularly sanguine in their confidence in the recovery of the IT sector, and Forrester shares their view, believing that collaboration will be a key theme for firms as they look to invest in the recovery.  2010's recovery will have a dose of economic reality introduced into buying decisions. ROI and TCO will be critical considerations for companies investing in technology.  Cisco is moving aggressively to deliver Unified Communications and Collaboration as a service enabling variable, pay as you go business models. Cisco resellers (a rich mix of VARs, Sis, and Service Providers) can now deliver a new, very broad set of communications and collaboration solution components – the question is how to engage in the optimal business mode to deliver the highest ROI.  Some will find that they will have to partner or develop new relationships to deliver blended deployment models leveraging both on-premise and in-network capabilities based on the needs of the customer.   Just down the hall at Cisco’s partner conference this is the hot topic – how do disparate channels blend their on-premise, managed, hosted and ‘as a Service’ capabilities to jointly approach customers in an effort to induce them to spend their budgets and fuel the IT recovery through 2010.