Cisco highlights interoperability in growing collaboration portfolio

Amy Chang, executive vice president and general manager of collaboration at Cisco

When she came to Cisco to lead the company’s collaboration business, Amy Chang used the term “bridges, not islands” a lot. 

Granted, it ties in well with Cisco — with its “there’s a bridge” campaign and even its logo, an homage to the Golden Gate Bridge. But for Chang, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco collaboration, the mantra is about more than that.

The process of rationalizing the company’s collaboration offerings had started before her arrival, with the early 2018 announcement that Cisco Spark was dead, and in its place stood Cisco WebEx Teams. Under Chang’s leadership, Cisco would take the next step, as WebEx Teams and WebEx Meetings became, as Chang said at this year’s Cisco Partner Summit “one single, simple, gorgeous user application” – bringing all of the company’s collaboration crown jewels (and user experiences) under a single wrapper. 

“Pretty much, in sales and research, we had a bunch of siloed products. Now we’ve integrated all those capabilities into one app for all 300 million-plus WebEx users,” said Sri Srinivasan, senior vice president and general manager of WebEx Meetings, Teams, Calling and Devices and Chang’s primary right-hand executive.

But the real bridge-building was done outside Cisco, as the company showed off tremendous strides in terms of interoperability between WebEx and key third-party applications. Yes, there’s slick integration with Salesforce and other major apps, but the single most crucial integration for the company and its partners is with its direct competitor from Microsoft, the similarly-named Microsoft Teams.

“Partners told us interoperability was key,” Chang said in a keynote that highlighted the newfound connections between WebEx and Microsoft Teams and Office 365. 

Discussing the collaboration business with press after the keynote, Chang credited Srinivasan, a 14-year veteran of Microsoft prior to joining Cisco, with the speed and skill with which the two were able to come together despite remaining heated competitors.

Sri Srinivasan, vice president and general manager of Webex Teams, Meetings and devices, showing off Webex Share

Sri Srinivasan, vice president and general manager of Webex Teams, Meetings and devices

“It’s about building relationships and trust — it’s an act of collaboration,” Srinivasan said of the company’s ability to work with Microsoft. “And we’re both going it on one simple principle. We’re doing it for our customers.”

Getting that interoperability added a lot of opportunities for partners to add professional and managed services around Cisco’s collaboration stack, said Vinu Thomas, CTO of Presidio, a U.S.-based Cisco partner, including good opportunities around collaboration analytics.

Looking forward, the Cisco executives put a lot of focus on the opportunity around cloud-based contact centre, an area where Cisco has a presence, but Srinivasan admitted hasn’t been able to scale. But he shared a release coming “very soon” will scale up to 30,000 agents. 

“Together, we’re already number one in North America and number two globally with 3.6 million agents,” he said. “When we together get even a third of that agent base on cloud, that’s a $2 billion annual recurring revenue for all of us.”

The collaboration team also used Partner Summit to show off a variety of new and upcoming hardware and software, ranging from the realtime meeting transcription and meeting digital assistant tools the company acquired with Voicea, furthering its “cognitive collaboration” efforts, to recently-introduced hardware including the suite-based WebEx Room Panorama, down to the WebEx Desk Pro unit, an “instant office” collaboration screen, to the company’s first Bluetooth headset. The company even offered a future glimpse at AR/VR goggles for collaboration, giving a look at where the company sees the business going long-term.

To accompany the new products, Chang also drew attention to new business models, as its brought its phones and other hardware devices into its Flex licensing structure, effectively introducing them as a hardware-as-a-service option.

“We can blanket entire campuses with our devices, and it’s so easy with phones that are $5 a month or mini room kits that are $60 a month,” Chang told partners.

Also on offer now is what Cisco calls “Partner Customized Offers,” essentially the ability to white-label some or all of the collaboration stack under a partner’s brand, or to pull in Cisco functionality through API calls. Chang called for partners to embed collaboration functionality “in the very environments our customers live in.”

“The foundation is ready with a unified platform, ready to sell in Flex. There’s never been a better time to sell the stickiest of all software, contact centre. There’s never been a better time to sell distinctive solutions, and there are more opportunities out there for every partner in this room.”

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at ChannelBuzz.ca. He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997. 

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