Cisco Collaboration: Simplicity is More Than Less SKUs

Dec 15, 2015


At the eighth annual Cisco Collaboration Summit in San Francisco last week I tweeted that if I could walk away with one word to describe the theme it would be “simplicity”.  It is a theme that ran throughout the event from the announcements surrounding Cisco Spark, to the user interfaces of the products, to ordering.  As the title of my blog suggests, simplification is more than just reducing the number of SKUs it takes to order a product.  In other words, the Cisco of old is gone.  The new Cisco is all about simplicity from making the products easy to order, install and use.  In fact, Cisco started down that path a few years ago by reducing the number of SKUs it took to order a contact center, but that is just part of the story. Here are some highlights as to how simplicity played out throughout the three-day event.

Delivering on its Roadmap

In the Summit keynote, Rowan Trollope, SVP and GM, IoT and Collaboration Technology Group, set the stage by talking about how his experience of getting to experience zero gravity was a magical moment, and one that is not possible on earth. He said, “It took man with technology to enable that experience. Those kind of joyful moments are rare, but everywhere” to drive the point home that Cisco wants to build those magical moments in the technology they create.  They want to make things ‘simple, magical and open’.

Cisco Spark was developed to fulfill that mission.  This collaboration app started life as Project Squared, and had its coming out party at Enterprise Connect in the spring, rebranded as Spark.  At last year’s collaboration summit Cisco announce that while Spark was an app its intention was to turn it into a platform and that they did. 

This move turned the Spark collaboration app, which allowed calling between Spark users, into a full business-class telephony service in the cloud that includes three primary capabilities:

  • Spark Calling – voice and video calling via a cloud-based PBX, allowing users to make calls within or outside the organization via the PSTN. This includes zero touch meetings, instant phone set-up, and PSTN connectivity through preferred (to be announced) partners
  • Spark Message – one to one and team messaging in virtual rooms with persistent chat, content sharing and iteration – on mobile, browser or thick client
  • Spark Meeting – audio, video, and web meetings before/during/after meeting messaging and content

Cisco also was quite verbose about meeting the needs of all customers, saying that they fully understand that some companies still just want to have all or part of their infrastructure on-premise.  As such Cisco also announced the release of the new Spark Hybrid Services, allowing premise-based clients to also get Spark Services.

Back to Simplicity

But back to simplicity. Starting with usability, for the core Spark application Cisco has released 40 new features just in the last six months, many to enhance usability and simplicity, such as allowing users to swipe over to see tabs that have filters, so they can see things such as favorite rooms, etc.  Cisco also designed it so that it is easy to make content discoverable, and to do things like add team members. For example, teams can automatically add in through active directory for new hires, etc.

Cisco also delivers seamless video experiences between different devices that is secure and doesn’t require configuration.  For example, an ad hoc meeting can be started on a desk phone, answered on a mobile phone in a conference room and moved to a larger screen through proximity sharing.  Plus with scheduled meetings with Spark Service users can join with one click.

Then there was simplicity built into the actual provisioning of phones.  Jens Meggers, VP and GM, Cloud and Collaboration Technology group demonstrated how easy it is by taking a new 8865 phone and showing how to register and configure it by finding a user in the directory and sending him an activation link to a QR code, which the user can simply show to the camera, and it registered his phone with the cloud and configures it. 

One of the key things is the ability to manage all three main capabilities through one management interface, making it simple to manage rather than having to, toggle through different management portals delivered on different platforms.

Finally, Cisco made it very simple to order with simple consumption models, minimal add-ons, and pre-packaged apps.

In all, I love the design methodology and the streamlined apps.  I love the simplicity.  However, the greatest challenge for Cisco with Spark will be the same as with other ‘new way to work’ apps that have and will enter the market, and that is increasing the adoption and stickiness of the application.  It’s a great start.  Time will tell.


Nancy Jamison


Nancy Jamison is a Principal Analyst within Customer Contact within the Digital Transformation group at Frost & Sullivan. She covers all aspects of customer contact including cloud and premise-based systems and applications in the core areas of inbound/outbound routing, IVR, Workforce Optimization, and recording and analytics, with a particular focus on peripheral and emerging areas that impact the Customer Experience. These include speech technologies, omni-channel customer care, Big Data, digital marketing, Back Office Workforce Optimization, and Support Interaction Optimization.

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