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Cisco stronger against Office 365 with IBM collaboration partnership

Cisco and IBM have formed a collaboration partnership that will integrate four products. The partnership could make Cisco a stronger rival to Microsoft Office 365.

Cisco is plugging holes in its collaboration products through a technology partnership with IBM that includes tapping...

Big Blue's Watson cognitive computing platform for analytics.

The companies announced this week plans to combine Cisco Spark and WebEx collaboration tools with IBM's Verse email platform and Connections social network for business. The collaboration partnership would provide Cisco with services it currently lacks in competing with Microsoft Office 365. Those services include email, calendar, document management and enterprise social networking.

Today, Cisco has had to position Spark, an online collaboration service, as a product companies could use with Office 365. "For Cisco, this fills the always-missing pieces in their portfolio," said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

Even with a more complete portfolio, Cisco still faces "an uphill battle" in selling IBM alternatives to Office 365 components, Lazar said. The commercial version of Office 365 had more than 70 million monthly active users at the end of March, a jump of 20 million users from a year ago, according to Microsoft.

IBM plans to continue selling Sametime, a unified communications product that competes directly with Spark and WebEx. There were no plans to move customers to the Cisco products within the collaboration partnership.

"We will continue to allow clients to choose from the products they prefer to ensure their employees are productive and efficient," Ed Brill, vice president of product at IBM's collaboration group, said in an email.

In partnering with Cisco, IBM will get its Watson artificial intelligence service in front of its partner's increasing number of unified communication and collaboration (UCC) customers. Cisco reported in May that revenue from its collaboration unit rose 10% year to year in the quarter ended April 30, making it one of the company's fastest-growing businesses. Cisco and Microsoft are the largest players in the UCC market.

IBM is looking for partnerships like the one with Cisco to drive Watson sales. IBM is banking on the cognitive computing service, along with the company's cloud computing unit, to help reverse four straight years of revenue declines.

Joint products in collaboration partnership undisclosed

What features customers would get access to in products developed jointly by Cisco and IBM were not disclosed. The combined products would tap features from the vendors' respective technology through their APIs.

"Over the next few months, we'll share more details about new integrations and capabilities that combine our collective strengths," Jens Meggers, senior vice president of Cisco's collaboration group, said in a blog post.

Products built by the companies would leverage IBM's Watson service to analyze data and deliver actionable intelligence, the companies said. For example, a financial adviser using WebEx to conduct an online meeting with an investor could receive advice from Watson during the discussion.

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