The lessons of Cius: Fight BYO at your own peril

In happier times (ie: 2010), Cisco CEO John Chamber and Chief Demonstration Office Jim Grubb show off the Cius

In happier times (ie: 2010), Cisco CEO John Chamber and Chief Demonstration Office Jim Grubb show off the Cius

Less than two years after the would-be Android tablet was all the hype at Cisco Live, the networking vendor has quietly put an end to the Cius.

The strange tale and short life of the Cius is interesting not because it’s (yet another) heavily hyped tablet that failed to live up to expectations. Rather, it’s interesting because Cisco (and CEO John Chambers in particular) prides itself in its ability to recognize market transitions early and capitalize on them. And yet, the creation and inevitable demise of the Cius were the result of the vendor seeking to buck what may be the second-most defining market transition of the current era: the move towards consumer endpoint devices in the business.

In effect, with Cius, Cisco reached out to IT managers, betting that they wanted to keep the control they’d long enjoyed over their networks and the devices that accessed them. The Cius was positioned as the anti-iPad – this wasn’t the device that came in through the front door on a Monday morning after Joe from accounting purchased it at Best Buy on Saturday. This device wasn’t going to be brought to IT, with the owner begging, pleading, demanding, cajoling or otherwise insisting that it be allowed to work with the corporate network.

Rather, Cius represented a device that IT could own and love, an extension of the desktop phones that focused on collaboration, and integrated oh-so-nicely with all of the various Cisco networking features and applications in which they had already invested.

No one can be sure why what happened next happened. Was IT already too far down the rabbit hole in terms of supplying the devices being brought to it? Does IT believe that BYOD will actually be a better long-term approach in terms of cost-effectiveness and its ability to take endpoint demand off the shoulders of IT? Is the answer somewhere in between those two extremes? Most likely.

But whatever the case, when Cisco came calling with Cius, IT (for the most part) declined to participate. Which is unfortunate, because Cius was a fascinating device, and for old-school IT departments, may have represented the last shot at maintaining the status quo while still embracing the tablet.

But in the end, as Cisco video and collaboration group chief Marthin DeBeer told CRN, “we’re not going to bring out additional models of Cius because that would be like swimming upstream.”

Rather, Cisco will focus on moving its video and collaboration software offerings (most notably Jabber and WebEx, but also Quad and other collaboration packages) to a variety of platforms – an opportunity that Cisco sees as much more lucrative than insisting on owning the whole stack.

Give Cisco some credit, for – to borrow from Jim Estill – “failing fast, failing quick, and failing cheap.” Or at least as “cheap” as you can fail when you’re working on the kind of scale that Cisco is. And give Cisco credit for recognizing that it misread the BYO market transition and quickly and completely changing course to once again put itself on the right track.

For solution providers, the lesson here is simple: it’s a proof point that no matter how big you are, you aren’t too big to be defeated when you stand up against a trend as strong as BYOD. As Chambers is fond of saying, it pays to recognize these trends early and to be in the right place to not only meet them, but to steer and guide them.

If you’re not talking to your customers on a regular basis, both educating them about the possibilities of doing BYOD in a cost-effective and controlled fashion, you’re potentially missing that transition. If you’re not listening to them and how they’re thinking about BYOD, the kinds of pressures and opportunities they’re seeing as a result of BYOD, you’re potentially missing that transition.

And if you’re still pitching and preaching a monolithic, all-endpoints-shall-come-down-on-high-from-IT viewpoint, you’re definitely missing that transition.

The demise of Cius should not be a surprise – the marketing drumbeat behind the device has rapidly gone away, and when it announced its Jabber-on-every-device strategy at its Partner Summit last month, the Cisco-branded tablet was nowhere to be seen.

Cisco is not alone in facing this kind of challenge. While Avaya hasn’t publicly called it a day on its Flare Experience tablet as of yet, recent demos seem to focus much more on the same collaboration environment running on an iPad or another (read: more consumer-oriented) Android tablet device.

And when new RIM CEO Thorsten Heins last month announced that his company needs “to refocus on the enterprise business and capitalize on our leading position in this segment” in order to get back to profitability, company watchers, investors, and industry analysts largely responded with a huge facepalm. While Heins did not mean to suggest, as some reporters and analysts implied, that RIM was ceding the consumer market to the iOS and Android platforms, in today’s device market, any effort to control the enterprise has to start with devices that capture the consumer’s imagination well enough to find their way in through the front door on Monday morning.