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Cloud-based collaboration tools recently released from Cisco and Unify have added more real-time collaboration and communications features for online teamwork, while leaving the future of legacy products in doubt.
Cisco's Project Squared and Unify's Circuit, introduced late last year, were built from the ground up using a code base different from the enterprise vendors' legacy applications WebEx and OpenScape, respectively.
The vendors are following the lead of collaboration startups like Igloo and Asana that are addressing companies' demands for tools that require less employee training and much lower -- if any -- up-front costs. Such tools borrow user interface components from consumer-oriented social networks like Facebook or LinkedIn. The end result is brand-new tools that don't resemble the vendors' legacy products, and enterprises may have to consider a migration, as legacy products could be phased out.
The refreshed real-time collaboration market
Cisco and Unify are positioning the new products as adding value to existing unified communication and collaboration tools, Bill Haskins, an analyst with Wainhouse Research, based in Duxbury, Mass., said.
"If you're a WebEx customer and now you are using Project Squared, those two worlds are designed to be able to interact," he said. "You can use Squared to join a video on WebEx."
Project Squared is the latest product in what has been a shifting product roadmap from Cisco. The company first had Cisco Quad, which was rebranded WebEx Social, and neither product saw much success. Cisco also announced a partnership with Jive last year, and integration with IBM's social network platform for the enterprise, called Connections.
With Project Squared, Cisco wants to go further than just another collaboration platform, Constellation Research analyst Alan Lepofsky said.
"Cisco is trying to jump the gun and build a tool for the combination of UC and real-time collaboration, but that does complicate their portfolio," he said.
While Project Squared may crowd Cisco's collaboration product line, the use cases for the tool and WebEx are different, according to Cisco. Project Squared is for specific departments like sales and marketing to collaborate on projects, while WebEx is for online meetings across an entire enterprise.
But launching a product that adds value to a legacy application or suggesting different use cases for products with overlapping features doesn't give enterprises insight into the portfolio's roadmap.
"It doesn't mean those legacy tools will be carried forward indefinitely," Haskins said.
If Cisco's Project Squared continues to be developed and new features like telephony are added, the software will most likely be at the center of Cisco's future collaboration strategy. "This means that WebEx's functionality could potentially be merged over time into the Project Squared framework," Haskins said.
Like Cisco's Project Squared, Unify's Circuit, formally Project Ansible, will most likely take over for legacy UC and collaboration technology down the road, Haskins said.
When migration is the answer
Since enterprises can't count on vendors to invest development dollars into legacy platforms, businesses should be considering a migration strategy once the newer tools have features that meet their business requirements.
Testing the new collaboration platforms won't be expensive. Because the services are browser-based, enterprises can subscribe to them without high up-front costs, or installation of any PC clients, said Tim Banting, principal analyst for Current Analysis.
In addition, the risk of vendor lock-in is dramatically reduced, as businesses can often test-drive a cloud-based collaboration service on a monthly basis, and move to another vendor if they are not satisfied, Banting said.
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