April 18, 2018
At Cisco’s Collaboration Summit today in Phoenix, AZ the company announced a revamping of its collaboration product line designed to harmonize its disparate collaboration offerings and deliver new cutting edge capabilities (see the press release for complete details.) Gone is Cisco Spark, which is now rebranded, and revamped as Cisco Webex Teams, with the formerly separate Spark meeting capabilities now fully converged with Webex meetings. (note that it’s now Webex, not WebEx). Cisco also announced Webex Share, a dongle-based device that customers can plug into existing monitors in meeting spaces to enable easy sharing of content, and Webex Assistant, a virtual assistant integrated into Cisco meeting room devices to easily use natural language voice commands to start and control meetings.
These announcements, coupled with new capabilities for multi-company meetings, video conferencing traffic optimization, and analytics are all designed for Cisco to realize its vision of delivering “Simple, Compelling, Affordable, Secure, and Open” collaboration capabilities to its customers.
More tactically, Cisco’s efforts are aimed at improving its position in what is emerging as a three-front battle for UC market dominance as it competes with Microsoft in the large enterprise, emerging UCaaS providers in the SMB, and meeting app vendors like Amazon, BlueJeans and Zoom across both enterprises and SMBs.
Cisco’s decision to rebrand Spark to Webex Teams is a curious one given that Microsoft already uses the name “Teams” for its competing app. The Spark app enjoys widespread recognition among Cisco’s customer base, but Cisco’s Webex brand has much more global awareness (Cisco noted that there are more than 31 million monthly Webex meetings worldwide), so it makes sense that Cisco would look to bring its team offering to a wider audience. Cisco’s refreshing of the former Spark UI, as well as its ability to federate Webex Teams instances across companies without the need for guest accounts (preserving compliance and security policies across shared workspaces) should help it gain ground against both Slack and Microsoft Teams. Missing from this morning’s keynote is the impact on on-premises customers or plans for Broadsoft integration. With the emphasis on cloud, on-prem Cisco customers and partners may continue to wonder if Cisco will follow the approach of Microsoft’s convergence of Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams and have Cisco Teams displace Jabber.
New capabilities including the ability to use augmented reality to bring virtual objects into meetings, a hybrid architecture for videoconferencing traffic distribution, and the incorporation of AI to enable the AI to function as a true virtual assistant provide it with a step ahead of other competitors, but Cisco will need to be careful to ensure that it’s customers and partners are able to implement successful user awareness and adoption processes as the way that people interact with devices, each other, and data, undergoes transformative change.
Existing Cisco customers, as well as those evaluating Cisco for team and / or visual collaboration should consider Cisco’s new capabilities and feature enhancements, especially Cisco’s roadmap for AI, as you develop your go-forward strategy. Cisco’s offerings will remain extremely interesting for existing UC customers, providing them with a go-forward capability to leverage new capabilities as part of a digital workplace strategy.