Cisco's Quad Experience Shows Why Spark Bypasses IT Department

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Cisco's Quad Experience Shows Why Spark Bypasses IT Department

By Rich Tehrani, Group Editor-in-Chief, TMC  |  January 14, 2016

The IT department has an unusual relationship with business. In some ways it’s been emasculated, sent to its room without dinner and told not to come back until it learns to shut up about all of the devices and apps people want to use without permission. BYOD has become BYO Everything.

In short, users have spoken; they have told management and CIOs to stick it. They will determine what they use, how they use it, and where and when they will use it. That’s not even taking into account Millennials, who say all of the above but also request a signing bonus and corner office as they transition from the dorm room to your organization.

This is a strange trend indeed where workers are more empowered and tell the company what to do. This didn’t happen in a vacuum. Corporate managers were certainly a driving force. When the iPhone (News - Alert) came out, they dropped their BlackBerries by the millions, regardless of corporate BES server investments made by IT. They just didn’t care.

The corporate collaboration market is without a doubt a huge area of growth for Cisco (News - Alert). Moreover, its been on the leading edge of virtually all business and carrier technologies via acquisitions. Cisco knows you need to evolve or perish. Very few companies can acquire and integrate as well as Cisco.

It’s interesting to note that the networking leader has a few areas of weakness. One is consumer hardware, where its acquisition of Flip digital cameras turned out to be a poor decision thanks to the advent of great cameras on smartphones. Somehow, the company didn’t realize tit could pivot to become GoPro (News - Alert). Linksys is another example of challenges in the consumer market. Cisco sold and spun off the company because the low-margin business wasn’t its forte.

Homegrown software is another challenge. The company’s Quad software was the enterprise Facebook (News - Alert). It was an amazing solution to corporate collaboration. It just didn’t make it as a product – in part because it seems more and more decisions are going from the bottom up. Slack took off because entrepreneurs started using it, and then word spread. Quad required the decision to be made at the top of the organization, and that’s just not how things work in the industry. In other words, those entitled employees made decisions to adopt something, with or without the need for anyone’s approval and, over time, a trend began.

Cisco is smart, which is why it released Spark – a Slack competitor with voice and video integration. It’s basically Quad in the cloud, which you can try for free. Yes, freemium, the future of software. Get used to it.

Collaboration is a huge business, but social is becoming the core of collaboration, and Facebook is experimenting with enterprise solutions. Slack has caught fire, and Cisco has to be very concerned about how the center of power has shifted from Cisco to pure software companies.

Spark integrates with WebEx, has a great feature set, and is dead easy to use on virtually every platform from a browser to native apps.

The challenge will be to see how the market reacts. Will it become killer software? It isn’t trending on the iOS app store for collaboration – at least not yet. The challenge for Cisco will be competing with Facebook, the company you think of more when you ponder who is the leader in collaboration. Facebook is synonymous with bottom up, but Cisco has always implied top down.

The fight to own collaboration will be won at the consumer level. Cisco is now fighting this battle at the right altitude, but it’s unclear whether the market will respond. Those entitled employees want to work with the cool company; they want to be on the perceived leading edge.

Can a company that was part of the dotcom bubble make the necessary leap to hipness? We’ll see. Microsoft (News - Alert) is doing it; Satya Nadella has really impressed me. The Surface Book is drool-worthy. My sense is if Redmond can do it, so can Cisco. But it won’t be easy.

Edited by Kyle Piscioniere