Ted-Schadler  by Ted Schadler

Cisco's John Chambers has made "collaboration" a strategy for the company's customers and employees. And enterprise GM Tony Bates is now tasked with driving that strategy. I'm writing from Cisco's launch event in San Francisco. (Well, it's actually still going on.)

There's a lot to digest and analzye, which we'll do over time. But I wanted to share some early thoughts . . .

This week's announcement marks Cisco's formal entry into the broader collaboration market, long fragmented and dominated by IBM and Microsoft for applications and by Tandberg and Polycom for video conferencing.

The company claims 61 products and features, but the key components are email, instant messaging, web conferencing, social software, and video conferencing as well as network-based services like a business TelePresence directory and policy-controlled content tagging. And in the words of Tony Bates, "a video stream runs through all of it."

Cisco's strategy for collaboration fascinates me because it's bold and frankly orthogonal to Microsoft's desktop productivity path and IBM's workgroup history. It's also enterprise-grade by default, unlike Google's consumer-first approach. But I'm fascinated and I believe IT pros should be interested in Cisco's solutions for three reasons:

  • First, Cisco is tackling tackling collaboration from the network up. Instead of building on an architecture of installed software and applications, Cisco is starting with the network. This makes possible global cloud services, new content tagging services, video interoperability, any-device support, and business-to-business services.

  • Second, only Cisco has the video stream running through it. I believe that video is a game changer for distributed teams. And by video, I mean video conferencing from the desktop to the conference room PLUS recorded video for sharing PLUS video distribution and interoperability across carriers, networks, and devices. And only Cisco can do that today.

  • Third, Cisco has demonstrated its seriousness with an account acquisition strategy based on price. Cisco's cloud-housted WebEx Mail services goes head-to-head with Microsoft Exchange Online, IBM LotusLive.com, and Google Apps with a 5 gigabyte mailbox for $5/user/month.

While it's very early going for most of this, I think Cisco's in this for the long haul. Cisco's "new commitment" to standards and interoperability and its channel investments and product acquisitions (approaching $4B in the last two years) signal it's seriousness.

Stay tuned for more.