Cisco has launched a new collaboration platform with its acquisition WebEx, Cisco WebEx Connect, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) platform that integrates, presence, instant messaging, web meetings and team spaces with traditional and web 2.0 business applications. I recently spoke with David Knight, the Product Manager for this new collaboration effort. He said Cisco WebEx Connect is designed to combine the flexibility and reach of Web 2.0 with the security and management of enterprise networking. This new cloud-based platform will be the foundation of Cisco’s collaboration strategy and will be the first solution Cisco has launched since announcing its collaboration strategic direction.
David set the context for this move by noting two changing factors in the workplace. First, almost every company has become part of a supply chain. They frequently have business partners above and below them in this chain. Cisco is a classic example. It generally does not build final products and it sells through partner channels. Businesses need to effectively communicate and collaborate with their channel partners who operate outside the enterprise firewall.
Second, we now have empowered knowledge workers who have choices. They are using many web 2.0 tools in their personal life. If they are not happy with what the enterprise offers, they may bring these consumer tools into the workplace. This migration can cause a variety of problems from security issues to the simple fact that many of these tools are not designed for enterprise use (see Enterprise 2.0 is not Web 2.0 nor is it an Oxymoron). David gave the example of a manger who put a product presentation on YouTube when the internal platform was not working, exposing this internal information to anyone on the web.
The Cisco WebEx Connect platform is designed to address these issues. I was pleased to see this development. It is a natural progression from the Cisco purchase of WebEx. I was involved in writing two chapters in a WebEx book on the benefits of SaaS that was produced during this transition so I knew that they wanted to move to a more robust business platform beyond the traditional WebEx products (see Software (and more) as a Service: Summary of Why Buy the Cow?). The market was right for this initiative then and is even more ripe now with the need for more cost effective means of collaboration in a troubled economy.
David said they are looking to improve the performance of business processes and partnerships by providing collaboration applications in the “white spaces” between structured data. Cisco WebEx Connect offers the real time collaboration that has long been a WebEx strength with asynchronous features such as wikis, calendaring, and social bookmarking. The platform also ties into Cisco’s Unified Communication system, messaging solutions and extensive administrative controls that support enterprise policy, security and compliance requirements to provide a highly secure collaborative ecosystem.
The AJAX based platform can connect through widgets to enterprise applications with open APIs, an increasing trend. For example, you can add communication widgets into the existing CRM system to support a sales team. Here is an example of a Cisco WebEx Connect screen showing the layers of information available.
The team is the focal point of the platform. The idea is to provide the team with everything they need, creating a virtual “war room” as a dedicated space for their efforts. At the center is the conversation space and then data and other applications can be called for as needed. Cisco is already using this platform itself. Cisco needed the ability to connect small businesses with their partners. They had built an IBM Websphere Portal application and integrated the Cisco WebEx Connect platform to provide a shared space for secure collaboration. Team members can work within the Cisco WebEx Connect platform and bring in data and information from the Websphere Portal system. Here is another look at a real time collaboration interface.
You can find more about the Cisco WebEx Connect platform at their web site and here is the Connect quick tour. You can also find out more about their moves at their Collaboration blog such as this post, Collaboration, Web 2.0: Past as Prologue. I think this is a natural move that draws on the strengths of the two firms to address an expanding market. It will be interesting to see their next steps.
Post script - See Dimitry Sotnikov's post on Webex Connect vs Microsoft Online Services.