Project Squared will help partner stickiness: Cisco

LOS ANGELESCisco Systems is launching a cloud-based collaboration solution for team-based project collaboration the vendor says will help partners get stickier with their clients.

Cisco took the wraps off Project Squared on Monday at its Collaboration Summit conference, held here. Comprising unified communications, customer collaboration, conferencing and collaboration endpoints, the collaboration portfolio is a $4 billion business for Cisco. Project Squared is designed to integrate with solutions across Cisco’s collaboration portfolio, but isn’t reliant on them and can be used on its own.

Built on Cisco’s Collaboration Cloud, Project Squared is a business collaboration app that combines chat, audio, video, multi-party meetings and content sharing in one application. It has a heavy mobile focus with apps available on iOS and Android, as well as a desktop-based browser version.

According to the vendor, Squared is designed to answer the demands of workers to stay connected across devices and share ideas with project team members in real time without violating enterprise security policies.

“We created Project Squared and the Cisco Collaboration Cloud platform to deliver on our dream to transform the collaboration experience, making it easy to stay constantly connected to the people, projects and ideas that matter most,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s collaboration technology group, in a statement. “We have lots of ideas on how to continue to enhance the Project Squared experience, and we’re on a mission to keep integrating with important business tools so that [you] can do your best work.”

Integration is a key focus for Squared, which integrates with business tools such as calendars, Active Directory, WebEx and Box. It’s also a key part of Cisco’s collaboration strategy – making sure its cloud applications integrate with the business applications companies are already using, even those from other vendors.

A screen shot of Project Squared accessed through a laptop browser.
A screen shot of Project Squared accessed through a laptop browser.

“Unless there’s an answer for how it all works together, cloud applications are just toys,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, vice-president and chief technology officer of Cisco’s collaboration technology group. “And toys do not a business make.”

Cisco is betting on integration as the key differentiator for Squared from competitors like Slack, he added.

“Slack is an island and it works for those using it but it doesn’t plug into Unified Communications of exchange. “We’re betting heavily on the integration of cloud with existing solutions. Security is also a big differentiator with end to end content security – I won’t name names, but we’re not in the business of selling ads and we don’t want to see your content ever.”

Squared is built around the concept of Rooms, basically a conversation thread where team members can be added, files shared and messages sent. Different rooms can be created for different projects. With a click, WebEx video chats can be launched with room members and files still shared will the video chat continues.

Richard McLeod, senior director of collaboration sales for worldwide channels with Cisco, said channel partners are excited about Project Squared because it builds on top of what they’re already doing with clients around collaboration.

“It’s an interesting opportunity for partners to elevate their relationship with the client, and create value-added applications for line of business,” said McLeod. “Partners are excited about how it lowers their own cost of deployment, and lets them bring products to market more quickly.”

Cisco has emphasized what Squared is not. While Cisco is embracing consumer-focused design practices, it’s built for enterprise users.

“It’s not being marketed and sold as a consumer product, but people are coming to work with consumer sensibilities and we need to design with that in mind,” said Rosenberg.

It’s also not a social network application for the enterprise – while vendors like Yammer and Jive want to be the Facebook for the enterprise, that’s not Cisco’s goal with Squared.

“That has its place, but it’s not great for teams getting together to collaborate on projects and be more productive together,” said Rosenberg. “There’s no hard lines, and Square has some social aspects, but the focus is on team collaboration. It will integrate with other products like Jive.”

The missing piece right now for Project Squared is monetization. Right now, it’s available for free. Obviously that will change at some point, but right now Cisco says it wants to see how real customers use and consume the product in the wild.

“We need to learn from real users and real customers so we can get the commercial terms right,” said Rosenberg. “If you can demonstrate great value to users in IT there’s plenty of opportunities to monetize.”

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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