Will Circuit and Spark Ignite the Social Collaboration Space?
Mar 17, 2015
Enterprise Connect 2015 is in full swing and many communications vendors are announcing new products or major product enhancements. Today, March 17th, two communications vendors made significant announcements about recent developments in the enterprise social collaboration space. Cisco announced the official launch of Spark, the commercial and improved version of what was revealed as project Squared in November last year. Unify announced major enhancements to its collaboration solution Circuit, including the ability to integrate Circuit with premises-based telephony platforms and to invite external parties to join Circuit conversations.
We previously discussed these solutions here, here and here. With Circuit and Spark, Unify and Cisco appear to be betting on a social facelift of the original concept of unified communications (UC) as the future of enterprise collaboration. The new products are built around the vision of highly collaborative and intuitive teamspaces and are both cloud-based for more flexible product development and consumption. Both Cisco and Unify have acknowledge the growing popularity of social tools whereby communications and collaboration are centered around interest groups and specific, contextually defined and therefore highly relevant topics and conversations.
However, the first iterations of these products were lacking integration with existing communications tools such as enterprise telephony (the private branch exchange (PBX)) and email. While telephony and email appear to be somewhat outmoded by more advanced collaboration tools, the truth of the matter is, business users are still highly dependent on them. Quite important, telephony and email are the only two truly "federated" (i.e., connected to the external world) tools. While social tools enabling internal collaboration have significant value, the external connection (to partners, suppliers and customers) is necessary to provide a truly unified and convenient user interface and the coveted "single pane of glass" experience.
Today both vendors confirmed their commitment to their new social collaboration solutions and demonstrated strong focus on continually enhancing customer value. New features and capabilities added to both products are reported to be based on direct customer feedback and therefore address actual customer pain points.
Unify announced the following key Circuit enhancements:
- Circuit Enterprise Integrator, including:
- Universal Telephony Connector, which integrates Circuit with any Unify or third-party SIP voice platforms.
- Microsoft Exchange Contacts Connector, which enables Circuit users to click-to-call non-Circuit contacts from their Exchange contact lists
- Box Connector, which allows Circuit users to share files stored in Box with anyone in a Circuit conversation
- Guest access, which enables Circuit users to invite external parties to join Circuit conversations
- Meeting recording
- Android app in addition to the already available native iOS app
In addition to launching Spark as the commercial product based on project Squared, Cisco also announced the following enhancements:
- Room moderation allowing users to control who invites (or removes) others in rooms
- Simple administration allowing administrators to set up single sign on (SSO) and directory sync, provide role-based access, get usage reports, and more
- Calendar integration
- Windows client
- Enhanced meetings whereby Firefox users can share their video and computer screen with no plugin required
- Expanded language support
I am hoping that, going forward, Cisco and Unify will enable greater integration with email and telephony and will provide more enhanced search and tagging capabilities, among other improvements, that will make these solutions even more appealing to the mass user and therefore "stickier". Competition in the enterprise collaboration space is intensifying as other vendors approach the market from different angles: adding social elements to their email solutions (e.g., IBM), adding enterprise features to consumer social networking products (e.g., Facebook), etc. Solution providers will need to continually innovate in order to maintain differentiation and offer greater customer value.
I also need to make a note of caution. While various trends including mobility, globalization, the rise of the virtual organization and the influx of millennials in the workplace are creating a perfect storm for the use of more social and collaborative tools in the enterprise, not all workers need to engage with others in a social way. Even knowledge workers do most of their work on their own, connecting with others only occasionally via already available tools such as email, voice, instant messaging or web collaboration. Presenting a compelling ROI for these new solutions may turn out to be a significant challenge for vendors. While the cloud delivery model is likely to facilitate adoption, social collaboration tools penetration may remain limited to very specific groups within the enterprise.
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