One of the main topics I’ve been discussing ever since I became an analyst is the struggles people face at work caused by the use of too many tools. We use email, calendar, contacts, tasks, files, chat, audio, video, social networks, and several more applications as we connect and communicate with our colleagues. This complex cornucopia of applications results in content and people that are rarely connected, leading to a lack of context which makes it difficult to work effectively.
Three years ago Cisco started out on a project to combat some of these challenges, and that work came to life a year ago in the Cisco Spark platform. This week in San Francisco, Cisco held an event for the launch of the latest version of Cisco Spark and introduced a new conference room solution called Cisco Spark Boards. I've documented the major announcements in this Twitter Moment:
The first version of Cisco Spark was primarily a group messaging application that people can access on the web or mobile devices like phones and tablets, but Cisco has been rapidly expanding functionality. Cisco Spark now includes voice calls and video calls, and with the latest enhancements not only have they improved the user interface, they have also added white boarding capability, which enables people to easily collaborate on ideas.
It’s important to note they have designed the white boarding capability of the Cisco Spark app to be very secure. When people draw, the system is not actually storing pictures of the content, but instead sending instructions representing the actions, similar to the way multiplayer video games work. So when someone draws a circle or arrow, th instructions for that action are encrypted and sent from their device to the server, then everyone else receives and decrypted those commands, resulting in the them seeing the picture.
In addition to the latest Cisco Spark enhancements, the big news of the day was the expansion of the Cisco Spark ecosystem into the physical world, with Cisco Spark Boards. These are 55 or 70 inch 4k resolution monitors that are mounted in offices or meeting rooms. They have 4k fixed lens cameras and a 12 microphone array which delivery very high resolution video and audio which they claim makes everyone in the room, no matter how close or far from the screen sound like they are sitting right next to you. The Cisco Spark Board can be used for presentations, white boarding, or video conferencing. The boards work in conjunction with the Cisco Spark app to make things easy, for example proximity detection finds all the people near the board who are using the app and can automaticly identify them.
There are several vendors that are doing parts of what Cisco Spark does; there are other group messaging apps, web conferencing apps, file sharing apps, whiteboards, etc. But it’s the way that Cisco is bringing this all together in a simple, secure and affordable ecosystem that makes this pretty unique.
A few of the areas that point to success for Cisco are:
1. Customers are very interested, and adoption is happening quickly. Cisco has millions of people already using WebEx and Jabber, so the potential pipeline for Cisco Spark is already there compared to vendors that have to start working with customers from scratch.
2. They are taking partner ecosystem for building integrations and bots very seriously. Last year Cisco announced $150M developer fund, followed later in the year with Cisco Spark Depot, the catalog of applications and bots that can be added into Cisco Spark spaces. I would like to see more integration with core business applications such as CRM, office document suites, file sharing services, marketing tools, HR systems, etc. Without breaking any non-disclosure agreements, I can tell you many of these things are already in the works.
3. Vision. I often say shipping software is more important than slideware, meaning vendors need to deliver products not just tell me what their plans are. However, vision is still important and I have to say I really like what I’m hearing from Rowan Trollope (leader of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group), Jonathan Rosenberg (CTO) and several other Cisco Spark leaders. I can’t share many details with you now, but their vision and roadmap has Cisco Spark going far beyond what is currently available. For example, think about areas like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, wearable computing and more. Cisco Spark is the essentially the cornerstone of almost everything happening at Cisco, including their call centre business, WebEx, the work they are doing in IOT and more. Cisco's CEO Chuck Robbins has made it clear that Cisco Spark is a linchpin for the company. Hearing this from the top of the company down, and seeing what they are building gives me confidence they will deliver on their vision.
As with any product, of course there are things missing. I’d like to see more progress in areas like project management, integration with mission critical business applications, as well as automation and workflow via AI. Cisco’s recent acquisition of Worklife (one of the top vendors list in Constellation ShortList™ Meeting Management Tools) points to them being committed to filling some of these gaps.
When I work with Constellation’s customers and the major collaboration software vendors, I always focus on what’s needed to really change the way people work. The biggest challenge to the adoption of any new tool is not cost, security, or user interface… it’s status quo. People are used to working the way they do, and unless they can be shown significant benefits to changing, they won’t budge. I really like what I’m seeing in the Cisco Spark platform, and I think their focus on simplicity, integration and security is creating a solution that every customer should have on their shortlist to evaluate.