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New Cisco WebEx Manages Total 'Meeting Lifecycle'

Cisco also expands Jabber UC platform to mobile devices.

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Cisco Systems is upgrading its WebEx cloud-delivered meeting service to cover the entire "meeting lifecycle"--from pre-meeting planning to post-meeting action items followup--so that the entire meeting experience exists in the WebEx platform. Cisco also used a recently-concluded Collaboration Summit 2011 event in Miami to announce an expansion of its Cisco Jabber unified communications client to run on mobile devices. The expansion to mobile addresses the "post-PC era," said Michael Smith, director of marketing for Cisco's collaboration business.

"People aren't throwing their PCs in the trash can just yet, but what's happening is that there's a transition away from collaboration being a desktop-only solution," said Smith. "[It's now] more toward collaboration moving onto mobile devices and moving into cloud-based services."

Jabber, from a 2008 acquisition by Cisco, was introduced in March, but the upgrade now makes the unified communications (UC) platform available as a Web browser plug-in, which means that Jabber can be embedded within a Web-based application such as a company's human resources, finance, or customer-relationship management apps, delivering "collaboration-enabled business processes," said Smith. "I can literally bring collaboration right into the business application."

Cisco also has released a software development kit (SDK) for people to create applications that incorporate elements of Jabber such as presence, instant messaging, voice, or video. A second SDK due out in the first quarter of 2012 will include high-definition video in Jabber-based apps. The improvements in WebEx, which enjoys a 58% share of the SaaS UC market, help manage not just a WebEx meeting but all the planning beforehand and the followup afterward, said Raj Gossain, vice president of Cisco's Collaboration Software Group.

In advance of a meeting, participants can view and edit the agenda, documents to be discussed, and PowerPoint presentations to be shown, Gossain said. Afterward, the meeting minutes can be posted at the same URL at which the meeting took place. In addition, action items can be shared there, such as a sales report that was requested, or a link to more information. This way, all meeting participants can be kept abreast of the meeting followup.

[When it comes to Web collaboration environments, you need to bring naysayers along slowly. See Are Collaboration Killers Roaming Your Halls?]

"The meeting space ... is a persistent location," Gossain explained. "When the meeting's over, all of the content for the meeting space is searchable. And this space exists for as long as the meeting owner wants to save it."

The new WebEx offering will be beta-released in December and become generally available in the first quarter of next year. All new features of WebEx will be globally rolled out by the third quarter of 2012.

Managing pre- and post-meeting communications can make WebEx meetings more productive, said Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. "How often is it that you go to a meeting and there are notes taken and nobody distributes them afterwards?" Kerravala said. "By not tracking the full meeting lifecycle you actually lose some of the value of it and I think that is what Cisco is trying to address."

Kerravala also gives high marks to the Cisco Jabber UC platform, especially on how it compares to the widely used Microsoft Lync UC client. While Jabber has some of the same functionality as Lync--presence, IM, voice, video, e-mail, and document sharing--Lync is still largely optimized for the desktop computer.

"What Cisco has tried to do with Jabber is to make it much broader and optimized not just for desktop but for the whole post-PC world. It's actually very slick," Kerravala said.

Microsoft announced earlier this month that the Lync UC will become available on the Mango release of Windows Phone 7.5, its OS for smartphones.

Cisco said Jabber runs on computers running Microsoft Windows and on Macs as well as on mobile devices running Apple iOS and Google Android operating systems, including the Cisco Cius tablet computer.

Cisco also said it is offering a free scaled-down version of WebEx for hosting meetings of up to three participants. Although it won't have all the capabilities of a full-featured WebEx service, it will give users a taste of the WebEx experience.

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