Additions to the Cisco collaboration portfolio include a new release of the company's Unified Communications software, a WebEx-enabled product for Web meetings with integrated presence and IM, and TelePresence customer service. The products are also intended to buttress Cisco’s focus on the network as the nerve center for the collaboration experience.
Cisco contends that the network as a collaboration platform fosters integration between business applications, communications devices and Web-based tools, while allowing IT departments to maintain their mandates regarding security, policy and compliance. Microsoft comes at it from a software perspective, while IBM touts systems, server and software as the optimal collaboration platform.
“It's one of the first proof points Cisco's had around the concept of network-as-a-platform,” says Yankee Group analyst Zeus Kerravala on this week's collaboration rollout.
Deeper integration with desktops in those IBM and Microsoft environments is one of the features of Cisco's Unified Communications Release 7.0 software. Another is mobility, with additions that help extend collaboration features across workspaces.
Still another is Cisco Mobile Communicator support for devices running on Windows Mobile as well as Symbian and BlackBerry operating systems. Unified Communications 7.0 also scales Cisco Unified Presence to 30,000 users and Cisco Unity to 15,000 users on a single server, Cisco says.
The new WebEx product is called WebEx Connect. It is a software-as-a-service (SaaS) application platform for collaborative business mashups that integrates presence, instant messaging, Web meetings and team spaces with traditional and Web 2.0 business applications.
“It's the first time one of the major UC vendors decided to go to market with an online, SaaS-based offering,” Kerravala says. “The whole idea behind WebEx Connect is to allow developers to be able to access a lot of the UC elements from the cloud. It's the cloud version of UC.”
Cisco WebEx Connect includes a number of standard applications including enterprise instant messaging, team spaces, document management, calendaring and discussions that can be combined with third-party widgets to enable companies to work from a single workspace. It allows administrators to control enterprise policy, security and compliance for secure inter-company collaboration, Cisco says.
Cisco WebEx Connect also works with enterprise messaging systems to provide integrated communication capabilities within a collaborative mashup. But that's an area where the company can improve, according to one user.
“They need to have a way of having the [Unified Personal Communicator] client be able to talk to all IMs – not just one – all those different clients,” says Mike DeDecker, voice network engineer at Activision. “So a user doesn't have to have four or five different clients working at his desktop just to communicate with the rest of the world.”
DeDecker says Activision, though, can benefit from UC 7.0's standard local route groups feature, which he says reduces and the number and automates the establishment of dialing rules between two sites.
Kerravala expects WebEx Connect to compete with hosted versions of Microsoft's LiveMeeting and Avaya's OnDemand VoIP offering.
The TelePresence component is called Cisco TelePresence Expert on Demand. It integrates Cisco TelePresence into the contact center for in-branch customer service and the ability to summon expertise directly from a Cisco TelePresence meeting
It enables customers to connect with subject-matter experts for in-person customer and point-of-sale service. Users can summon expert assistance directly in a Cisco TelePresence meeting or use a dedicated Cisco TelePresence endpoint and get face-to-face assistance.
For example, a retail bank could provide in-person services to bank customers in every location via Cisco TelePresence, giving organizations the ability to scale resources or expertise, irrespective of geographic location.
Cisco Unified Communications System Release 7.0 and Cisco TelePresence Expert on Demand are available immediately. WebEx Connect is currently available as a desktop and Web-based client; support for mobile clients is scheduled to be available in early 2009.