Cisco takes social collaboration to the cloud

Cisco is taking enterprise social collaboration to the cloud.

The company Tuesday announced at the Enterprise 2.0 conference here today that a cloud-based version of its social collaboration software will be available in North America in July.

The new cloud-based offering is one of a number of updates to the collaboration offering that Cisco unveiled today.

The company also said it’s changing the name of the product from Cisco Quad to WebEx Social as part of a move to unify the Cisco collaborative business apps.

“We want to be a broader integrated collaboration provider,” said Raj Gossain, a Cisco vice president of product management. “We wanted to let people know that we’re expanding [WebEx business app]. We’re unifying our efforts.”

Gossain also noted that users are increasingly looking for cloud-based social collaboration tools. While he thinks customers who are already using the on-premise version of cisco’s collaborative software, new customers are more apt to go with the cloud version.

“There are a number of customers who are looking at the cloud so they don’t have to manage infrastructure,” he added. “They don’t have to worry about it. They’ll be able to deploy these solutions more quickly and easily. They can simply buy this as a service.”

He also said almost every request Cisco receives for social software includes a question about the availability of a cloud-based offering. “They may want to know it’s available, even if they’re not quite ready to go there,” Gossain said.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst with ZK Research, applauded the move to come out with a cloud-based solution.

“Between WebEx, Quad and Jabber, Cisco has optimized their solution for the post-PC world,” he said. “Cloud is a much easier delivery model than premise software, especially when you’re dealing with a lot of different kinds of devices. Scaling software through traditional, legacy means is very difficult when you’re dealing with consumer devices.”

Kerravala also pointed out that the cloud-based offering will make Cisco more competitive with social collaboration tools from Microsoft, Jive Software, Novell, Yammer and IBM. “Cisco has made a living of catching markets in transition and they are trying to catch the intersection of mobile and social,” he said.

Gossain said the tool arrives as enterprises gain more confidence about moving forward with social collaboration software.

Until recently, many IT executives have been hesitant about bringing social software – wikis, document sharing, video, blogs and Facebook-like collaborative setups — into their companies. They mostly felt that such tools nix the idea of a business hierarchy and lets workers seamlessly connect with employees of any rank without going through their boss.

Executives have also feared that giving employees an unedited voice through social media could be dangerous. Gossain said there’s less fear these days and more desire to help employees work better together.

“There’s been a marked shift,” he added. “There’s an acceptance. We’re bordering on an expectation that organizations are going to socialize their enterprise. And that’s not just mid-market. That’s large enterprise customers, and mid-market and small customers, as well.”

Cisco today also announced that it has integrated WebEx Social with Microsoft Office so people using Word, PowerPoint or Excel can jointly edit and post updated documents, presentations and spreadsheets back to WebEx Social.

Cisco also updated its WebEx Social clients for the iPhone and the iPad, enabling users to move from social networking to real-time IM, online conferencing and voice calls directly from their mobile application.

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