Cisco collaboration strategy retooled for the Internet of Things

Cisco has unveiled Collaborative Operations, a portal that applies Cisco Collaboration technology to the Internet of Things by connecting users and machines within industrial environments.

Cisco introduced Collaborative Operations, a cloud-based portal that applies Cisco collaboration tools to industrial environments by connecting office workers with processes, devices and machines in operational environments.

Cisco Collaborative Operations, which was unveiled along with the vendor's Secure Ops Solution for network security management, will combine unified communications (UC) and collaboration tools -- along with machine monitoring and video surveillance tools -- into a single portal to give industrial workers and managers better insight into business operations from the carpeted office all the way out to the manufacturing plant floor.

"This [offering] goes along with Cisco’s Internet of Things [IoT] play," said Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst at Westminster, Massachusetts-based ZK Research. "When you think about collaboration elements, such as presence status, collaboration isn’t just about the presence of people, but the presence of devices."

Cisco collaboration designed with the Internet of Things in mind

Many of Cisco's existing collaboration tools -- like Jabber instant messaging and WebEx video conferencing -- are applicable to a knowledge worker behind a desk, but not necessarily helpful to employees in a manufacturing plant or a warehouse setting.

"As we looked at operational environments, we had to ask ourselves if our solutions worked for those kinds of environments and what kind of collaboration is required," said Greg Carter, director of safety and security solutions at Cisco. "Some of our tools work well, but we have to do a little more to make it really applicable to industrial environments."

This Cisco collaboration portal combines UC tools and delivers them over a secure network. Collaborative Operations can include Cisco Video Surveillance Manager, Cisco IP Interoperability and Collaboration System, landline and mobile voice integration, two-way radios and remote speaker integration, chat functionality, as well as WebEx for conferencing and multiple application sharing. Cisco Collaborative Operations also offers analytics functionality for monitoring operations, which gives businesses the ability to anticipate issues before they happen and react faster when they do arise, Cisco said.

While users -- such as line of business managers -- can customize the system to suit their individual needs, Cisco Collaborative Operations can keep employees on the same page, Carter said. "Video cameras located in the environment can help remote employees see what is happening on the site. We also can tie-in audio with anyone working in the field on two-way radios, with office workers on WebEx," he said.

DJO Global, a medical device manufacturer based in Vista, California, is using Microsoft Lync, Blue Jeans, Cisco WebEx and Salesforce as part of its collaboration and video conferencing strategy, said John Iraci, vice president of enterprise infrastructure for DJO Global. While the company has 4,500 employees worldwide, 3,200 are deskbound employees and the rest are in the manufacturing environment on a daily basis without the use of their own PC, he said.

Each business unit in DJO Global uses UC and collaboration tools in different ways, so picking one platform for the sake of unifying users and information is not plausible, Iraci said. At the same time, some deskbound employees track the medical products as they go through the production line via their PCs. "Communication for these uses can be a really mixed bag, and sometimes there is no easy way to communicate with them consistently," he said.

Extending collaboration to non-deskbound workers will not only give businesses a single place to communicate and locate operational information, but also allow businesses to address machine or device failures more quickly than before with the right expertise, said Matthew Fordenwalt, business manager of customer support and maintenance for Rockwell Automation, a Milwaukee-based global provider of industrial automation, power, control and information services and partner with Cisco.

Rockwell Automation will be helping its customers implement Cisco Collaborative Operations. "The new collaboration [portal] is a fascinating offering because it really can help reduce the time it takes to resolve an issue," Fordenwalt said.

More businesses face the challenge of not being able to find the right skills or expertise within their own company. "You can pull in the right experts that might not be at a desk to see what's happening, but to enable that, you need to have a robust network, which is something we can help our customers put together," he said.

Production or manufacturing units that fail or experience downtime leads to lost revenue. Cisco's Collaborative Operations could reduce that downtime.

"Our industrial customers are asking for collaboration tools purpose-built for their environments … and we are providing a single portal for real-time collaboration with remote experts or those in the [industrial environments]," Cisco’s Carter said. "If businesses can be monitoring these systems in real-time with the right experts -- even remotely -- they might never ever reach a 'flat-time' scenario."

Let us know what you think about the story. Email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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