Collaboration is a hot topic in IT these days, especially with the rise of BYOD and mobilization of the workforce. With its latest round of collaboration products, Cisco covers a lot of bases while showing how complex modern workflows have become.
According to Cisco, it has VoIP and telepresence services in some 95% of Fortune 500 companies. At the same time, nobody does collaboration quite the same way. Many factors shape an organization's approach to collaboration, including business type and size, how mobile employees, customers, and vendors connect, business hours, and make-up of corporate IT infrastructure.
Cisco's new collaboration tools take this diversity into account and provide options for myriad scenarios. Though IT budgets are stressed these days, the networking giant is banking on customers seeing these tools as force-multiplying investments that allow them to be more productive with fewer people.
For companies that use Cisco’s popular Jabber client, a new product extends functionality that normally requires a subscription to “outsiders," such as guests and customers. Jabber Guest provides the ability for two-way voice and video interaction from pretty much any device type, which takes the basic “would you like to chat with a representative?” utility and amps it up with video.
As part of the Collaboration Edge Architecture, Jabber Guest clients connect to the new highly configurable Cisco Expressway secure communications gateway. Jabber Guest is a one-click activity for users, while administrators set all session parameters and times of availability on the back end.
Cisco also unveiled its Intelligent Proximity technology. This gives users the ability to sync their smartphones with the new DX650 Android-based Smart Desk Phone and seamlessly transfer calls between the user’s mobile device and the DX650 when nearby. It’s a pretty slick capability, and, hopefully, the DX650 has better success than the Android-based CIUS tablet that didn't perform too well for Cisco. Though elegant in design, the DX650 is very much a desk phone, tethered to a PoE port or local AC adapter for operating voltage.
[Read what Cisco CEO John Chambers told Interop attendees earlier this month in "Cisco's Chambers Conjures Future of Network."]
I admit to being somewhat dazzled by the appearance of the MX300, Cisco’s new team endpoint for teleconferencing. With a 55-inch minimalist silver-gray-framed screen, the MX300 is suitable for wall-mounting, standing (on its own matched stand) or rolling around to where it’s needed. The MX300 is not yet Intelligent Proximity-compatible, but Cisco said that functionality is coming.
Rounding out Cisco’s latest round of collaboration tools is a mid-tier VoIP non-video desk phone, the IP Phone 7800. This model is touted as highly power-efficient, and is meant for customers who find the flagship 7960 phones too expensive or overkill from a feature perspective.
All of Cisco’s collaboration offerings are designed to be managed and provisioned quickly (with some self-serve capabilities) by Cisco Prime Collaboration. Though I have personally never used it, I am told that much of its development comes from the same team who does the Prime Infrastructure (PI) framework for wireless and switch management.
Based on my experience as a daily user of Prime Infrastructure, I hope Prime Collaboration is more thought-out and less buggy than PI, or all of the cool new products could lose some of their luster due to a frustrating management suite.