It's no secret that enterprises are trying to save money in this challenging economic climate. Unified communications and collaboration can easily end up on the chopping block if a business doesn’t view them as critical IT services.
Cisco Systems' collaboration portfolio took a hit in fiscal first quarter 2013 -- down 8% year-over-year. During a recent quarterly earnings call with Wall Street analysts, CEO John Chambers said that while the weak economy is influencing collaboration spending decisions, Cisco needs to make its collaboration offerings simpler for its customers.
Cisco isn't the only unified communications (UC) and collaboration vendor with weak sales, but the company acknowledges that it needs to improve. In response to customers who want better integration and ease of use, Cisco plans to integrate its disparate UC and collaboration technologies -- including Jabber and Telepresence -- into a single call manager. More tightly integrated, open standards-based UC and collaboration products are at the top of many Cisco users’ wish lists moving into the upcoming year as they revisit IT budgets.
Cisco collaboration offerings must evolve with changing user needs
Better integration and ease of use aren't the only areas where Cisco needs to improve. Enterprises aren't buying large and expensive products-- like telepresence equipment, noted Bill Haskins, senior analyst for Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC. IT organizations are exploring hosted or cloud-based collaboration services, "as opposed to buying and installing on-premises equipment, he said.
Cisco has integrated several cloud-based UC and collaboration products into its WebEx enterprise collaboration platform in an effort to simplify deployments and reduce costs for customers. While these changes reduce costs, they have also helped customers who want to deliver these services to mobile workers, said Roberto D. De La Mora, senior director of collaboration solutions marketing for Cisco Systems Inc.
"People don't want to be tied to an office, and want to access these tools on their mobile device," he said.
At the same time, user experience cannot be sacrificed. While telepresence and video have historically been a strong suit for Cisco, De La Mora noted that users want an impressive video conferencing experience from Cisco on their mobile devices.
Cisco must also fill holes in its collaboration portfolio, said Phil Karcher, analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. "Cisco is missing collaboration pieces -- most notably, email," he said. Email is the first thing many enterprises are looking for in cloud-based collaboration, he added.
"Many enterprises are considering tools like Microsoft Office 265 or Google Apps, and Cisco wants to play in that arena. Without email, however, Cisco will remain out of the discussion," he said.
Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates PC, an international architectural practice, has been using WebEx collaboration products since 2001, prior to Cisco acquiring the company in 2007. With six offices worldwide, the firm relies heavily on Cisco CallManager for its IP phone system and hosted WebEx for video and data collaboration internationally among external business partners and clients, said James Brogan, director of firmwide technology at Kohn Pedersen Fox.
More on Cisco collaboration
Cisco collaboration strategy includes social networking
WebEx Social: Collaboration for higher education
Deciding on a collaboration vendor and services
While the hosted WebEx offering has addressed the firm's global collaboration needs, internal employees use Microsoft Lync for instant messaging, desktop sharing and presence capabilities.
"We need a strong platform that we can count on to work globally since our offices are so spread out, and our hosted WebEx tool has really met our [external] collaboration and video conferencing needs," Brogan said.
Internal employees use Lync for internal collaboration because of its tight integration with desktop apps -- like Outlook -- so a tighter federation between WebEx and Lync is important to the firm.
While Cisco collaboration tools that the firm uses are well integrated with each other, "I'd really like all our tools to be as seamless as possible and ideally, a single system," he said. "I would really like my users to know they could definitely do video from anywhere, with anybody."
Packaging and selling the Cisco collaboration portfolio
While Cisco offers a broad set of capabilities and functions, no Cisco collaboration or UC tool will be a 100% solution for any business, noted Steven Reese, senior vice president of technology for Presidio, a managed IT service provider and value-added reseller of Cisco. As Cisco changes its strategy, so must its partners. But it won’t necessarily be about bundling collaboration products, Reese said. Enterprises will need system integrators and channel partners to help them integrate Cisco tools and third-party technologies.
"IT budgets might be smaller, but they have become more meaningful. Customers aren't buying products anymore – it's about creating solutions that will address certain business needs," he said.
While the broad Cisco portfolio lends itself to partners looking for a strong foundation for their own capabilities, Wainhouse's Haskins said vendors must continue to consolidate and simplify their products.
Microsoft includes Lync licenses inside larger software purchases for its customers, which expose customers to the company's collaboration offering without an added cost. Cisco recently started bundling Jabber licenses into CallManager.
"Cisco needs to help their customer understand the product and how to buy. "To be competitive with the likes of Microsoft -- they need to provide a single platform that is easier to implement for the user and buy and sell," Haskins said. "This will knock down a lot of barriers."