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Project Squared fuses Cisco collaboration tools into single platform

The Cisco collaboration portfolio is being united with Project Squared, a cloud-based app that combines UC and collaboration tools for employees.

Cisco unveiled Project Squared, a cloud-based application that blends enterprise collaboration and UC tools in one interface, during the Cisco Collaboration Summit this week in Los Angeles.

Sold as a service, Project Squared allows for the ad hoc setup of virtual meeting rooms in a Web browser or mobile app, so users can work together in a secure and natural way -- without having to resort to complex content management services or lengthy email chains.

It may sound familiar to WebEx -- which also provides voice, video and file-sharing in a single browser-based or mobile app interface -- but Cisco's latest venture tackles collaboration from a different angle. Whereas WebEx has been designed and used for formal, scheduled meetings led by a single organizer, Project Squared is positioned as a shared workspace, in which team members can regularly return to collaborate as needed. Images and files are rendered directly in a conversation thread, requiring no downloads.

The announcement proposes to mend Cisco's historically disjointed collaboration and UC portfolio, which encompasses everything from Jabber to WebEx to Cisco Unified Communications Manager. Project Squared promises users the ability to access chat, audio, video and content-sharing tools from one place.

 "Packing applications full of features that aren't useful to users is a waste of time. Cisco needed to simplify and focus on the core applications that users want, and Project Squared is an example of that realization," said Tim Banting, principal analyst at Current Analysis, which is based in Washington, D.C.

Cisco collaboration tools in one place with Project Squared

Project Squared, built on Cisco's Collaboration Cloud, gives users the ability to have persistent, virtual meeting spaces that allow business units and employees to invite internal and external participants by entering a name or email address. Project Squared is accessible from any device, and once inside a virtual meeting room, users can initiate a voice or video call, share messages, or post files and content that can appear alongside related messages. The application also offers mobile notifications to keep employees up to date with the latest activity in their virtual rooms, said Ross Daniels, director of marketing at Cisco.

Project Squared is designed with employee work habits in mind, according to Cisco. The interface provides a single space for users to share information and communicate using the mode that works best for them, Daniels said. The persistent meeting rooms allow users to have their own space for conferencing on demand, without having to schedule a meeting or reserve conferencing resources, he said.

The cloud-based application can integrate with existing WebEx tools, as well as with calendars, Active Directory and Box for file sharing -- bringing together tools employees already use for communications and content sharing, Daniels said. The integration with Box, in addition to the application’s open APIs, suggest Cisco may develop other strategic partnerships as well as an ecosystem of development partners, said Vanessa Thompson, research director of enterprise social networks and collaborative technologies at IDC.

And because Project Squared can be launched in a browser, users can log into their interface from any computer using their corporate single sign-on credentials and IT-approved passwords, with no VPN or plug-ins required, Cisco's Daniels said. Project Squared features end-to-end encryption on content and communications.

In addition to its similarity to other parts of Cisco’s own portfolio, Project Squared also bears a resemblance to Unify's Circuit -- formally known as Project Ansible -- except Cisco has not yet included social features within Project Squared. But, Cisco has hinted that integration with its social collaboration partner Jive will be coming down the road.

Project Squared and Circuit are tackling a similar problem, IDC's Thompson said.

"With the burgeoning number of personal productivity applications and services … company information is becoming more distributed and disseminated across business constituents [and] connecting people to other people and information is becoming complex," she said. "It's critical to [the user experience] to transition seamlessly with other apps users are exposed to."

UC vendors are mimicking the lightweight applications in the consumer space, and replicating the usability and simplicity of those applications without compromising on security and manageability, Current Analysis' Banting said. "These products are serving their end users in a much better way, and I think we'll see many vendors replicate this model," he said.

Project Squared is now available for free via a browser -- Chrome, Firefox and Safari -- and as a mobile application for Apple iOS and Android devices. Cisco is also encouraging users to provide feedback through the Project Squared client interface. "Customers are really going to start shaping the direction Cisco needs to go in, and [help them] appeal to that mobile workforce," Banting said.

Cisco collaboration: New endpoints for the midmarket

In addition to the Project Squared release, Cisco also announced new hardware offerings for midmarket customers, including a new three-screen video conferencing product for business users.

The Cisco TelePresence IX5000 series is a 4K, three-screen system for six to 18 participants that allows users to collaborate via video, content sharing and whiteboarding. The technology uses H.265 compression and requires half the bandwidth of Cisco's previous room-based technology, according to the company.

The Cisco IX5000 series will be generally available in December, Cisco said.  

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writerand follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter. 

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