Cisco announced late last week its acquisition of browser-based collaboration startup Assemblage in a bid to improve real-time collaboration capabilities through web browsers. The acquisition is expected to help reinvigorate Cisco's collaboration portfolio -- defined almost entirely by its WebEx acquisition in 2007 -- as a way to not only bolster Cisco's focus on mobility and cloud, but also to help it keep up with emerging communication initiatives like WebRTC.
"This acquisition is a great way to breathe fresh life into a market-leading but stagnant product like [Cisco's] WebEx," said Bill Haskins, partner and senior analyst of Duxbury, Massachusetts-based Wainhouse Research LLC. "Assemblage's [strategy] of being a download-free collaboration service ... will help give Cisco some intelligence around how to create browser-based audio, video and Web conferencing services.
Cisco sets sights on single-click collaboration
Assemblage develops real-time collaboration applications -- including shared whiteboarding, screensharing, presentation broadcasting and file transfers of over 40 file types -- using WebRTC and HTML5. Its platform operates on any browser without any extra downloads, plugins or installations. Assemblage's technology can also integrate with Web-based tools that employees want to use at work, like Box.com and Google Apps.
Some of Assemblage's capabilities-- like PowerPoint presentation sharing -- are similar to features within Cisco's WebEx. But if the two are integrated, Assemblage's technology won't require WebEx users to download plugins or software, which is what first-time WebEx users must do today.
Assemblage engineers will bring their web development expertise to the Cisco Collaboration Technology Group and help create new, "unannounced products" that will combine Cisco's strengths with Assemblage technology, according to Ben Renaud, a director of product management in Cisco's CTG.
"Assemblage has a great deal of experience working with the major browsers and has a platform that knows how to get around browser idiosyncrasies. We will be using the key parts of that platform to achieve the same objectives," Renaud said.
"With one click, users [will be able to] drop into a collaborative environment where they can do shared whiteboarding, share documents, or file transferring," he added. "Users can collaborate no matter where they are or what tools they are using."
There is also speculation that Cisco will use Assemblage to extend WebEx and other real-time collaboration applications directly into the browser.
"I expect this to be a play to bring the mobile worker approach to the WebEx product line and maybe some integration with Jabber for a consistent look and feel," Wainhouse's Haskins said.
And while Assemblage's technology does support the emerging WebRTC standard, which will be extended to Cisco's collaboration portfolio, the acquisition isn't just about WebRTC.
"WebRTC is great, but it only works on certain browsers, [like] Chrome. This [technology] opens the door to delivering collaboration technology easily to all browsers and all platforms," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at ZK Research in Westminster, Massachusetts.
Cisco builds collaboration portfolio via acquisitions
Cisco has recently shifted away from its strategy of developing new enterprise collaboration and social products in-house. Instead, the company is increasingly turning to third-party vendors through acquisitions and partnerships -- notably its recent Jive partnership and Collaborate.com acquisition -- to help round out its portfolio.
The Collaborate.com acquisition was focused on asynchronous communications -- like instant messaging -- while Assemblage's platform supports real-time collaboration and unified communications (UC), with a focus on cloud-based communications, Cisco's Renaud said.
"Cisco has been willing to partner more where they can and build where they need to," Kerravala said. While Cisco is expected to continue to add cloud and mobile expertise to its portfolio through acquisitions, future Cisco collaboration buys will most likely be on the smaller side, like the Assemblage purchase, he said.
Cisco's acquisition of Assemblage could also help the vendor better integrate with third-party service providers such as Google, which has carved out a place in the UC market with its real-time communication capabilities. "Anything that Cisco can be doing to integrate with Google is a nice play against Microsoft, and there's some synergies between Cisco and Google -- like email on one side, call control on the other," Wainhouse's Haskins said.
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