Cisco releases new collaboration products

At the UC Summit in San Diego Cisco Systems (NASDAQ: CSCO) released a portfolio of new collaboration tools highlighted by WebEx Connect, a software-as-a-service platform, which includes instant messaging, Web meetings, team spaces and other Web 2.0 applications.

Also in the mix will be Unified Communications System 7.0 and TelePresence Expert on Demand.

Cisco believes collaboration is the companies biggest market opportunity forecasted at $34 billion; greater than even unified communications which is pegged at $27 billion, according to research sources DataMonitor, Gartner, IDC, InStat and Synergy Wainhouse.

“Customers are not making cost cutting a priority any longer. That is a thing of the nineties,” said Laurent Philonenko, vice-president and GM for Cisco’s UC division.

“Today it is more about productivity and customer service and intimacy.”

This new collaboration portfolio will be available as an on premise and in the cloud. It has also been optimized to interoperate with competitive systems from

Nortel Networks, Avaya, IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT). The portfolio will also support devices running on Windows Mobile as well as Symbian and the RIM Blackberry operation systems.

Cisco is also working on iPhone ready applications for this collaboration portfolio. Philonenko said that those applications are at least two quarters away.

In the SMB segment, a market that Cisco has heavily invested in, Philonenko said customers want an integrated solution containing audio, Web and video collaboration.

“What we have done is integrated these platforms so that you can launch a WebEx session in a video conferencing session either on premise or in the cloud,” he said.

Martin van Niekerk, business development manager unified communications for Cisco Canada, said Canadian organizations are looking to collaborate in different ways. “With workers that are remote a simple audio conferencing system is not enough. To truly collaborate in vast distances you need video, audio, chat and discussion forums in a connected environment for individuals and on a team basis,” van Niekerk said.

With the customer service and intimacy opportunity, Philonenko said that Cisco has spotted a trend where company employees are able to devote about 30 minutes of their work time answering calls from call centres.

“We are starting to do this ourselves at Cisco. It is called Directory 3.0 and you describe your skills on certain topics and the idea is instead of looking for people you look for answers and route that to the caller. Sometimes the right answer is not in the call centre,” he said.

Van Niekerk said this technology is about improving customer call centre resolution.

“If we can resolve the customer issue on the first try it will improve on loyalty and the bottom line without adding to labour costs,” he said.

Through the Telepresence On Demand solution, a user can receive expert assistance from a person with knowledge instead of call centre operator. The TelePresence Expert on Demand combines the company’s UC technology and Unified Contact Center product.

“Expert advisor is a game changing product in the contact centre. Today they put you on hold to find somebody and it is a shot in the dark. This brings experts in the contact centre and it makes sure an expert takes your call,” Philonenko said.

Philonenko believes this feature will be huge for channel partners. Currently Cisco channel partners deal with customer questions in a one-to-one communications basis. With this new process, channel partners can go to the Web site, talk to someone at Cisco, connect with WebEx, exchange information and have it stored in one place for everyone to see, he said.

“This will make a huge difference and cut the time to make proposals dramatically. All the data is in one space,” he said, adding that before it was a communication with the channel, the customer and then Cisco. “We have closed that loop,” Philonenko said.

The new collaboration portfolio will also have workspace personalization where users can add photos and ring-tones to the IP phone. It will also feature visual voice mail where users can see all voice messages on a display and choose which one to listen to first.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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