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Cisco Is Crazy for Collaboration

Cisco CEO John Chambers
Cisco CEO John Chambers
Photo: David Needle
SAN FRANCISCO -- Cisco made several major collaboration, e-mail and communications announcements Monday, but CEO John Chambers said later that "technology is the easy part."

Instead, to be successful, Chambers said technology has to match the goals of the company using it.

"Every CEO will tell you the hardest change is cultural change," Cisco's chief said during an event here kicking off the communication giant's collaboration push. "But the way we used to do things is rapidly becoming a dinosaur."

For example, Chambers said organizations in which a company leader makes all the key decisions in a top-down manner don't work anymore. "We're moving from command and control, which I love, but it's in the past," he said. "It's about collaboration and teamwork now."

Chambers said collaboration technology, including extensive use of its telepresence and WebEx conferencing products internally, had been key to Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) being able to make four acquisitions in the past month.

"I'm trying as CEO to change completely how we operate as a company and sustain a 12 to 17 percent growth," he said. "And I feel comfortable our odds of achieving that are very high."

That goal will largely be realized if Cisco can convince enough customers to be as gung ho about new collaboration technology as Cisco said it is. "The next generation will be all around video, it's the way we communicate," Chambers said.

Cisco rolled out new IP phones (the 8900 and 9900 series) with video capabilities and integration to social networks. In a demo, company officials showed how you can transmit videos by plugging the Flip video camera, another Cisco product, into one of the new IP phones.

Other announcements included a hosted e-mail solution called WebEx Mail that is interoperable with Microsoft Outlook and supports mobile devices. Like Google's Gmail, WebEx Mail allows far more storage than Outlook.

"One of the key features is that you get 25 gigabytes of mail capability from day one -- we think that's very compelling," said Tony Bates, Cisco's senior vice president and general manager of enterprise, commercial and small business. "And it's combined with our Ironport product, so you have a secure environment in the cloud."

Entering the social networking fray

Chambers said social networking software -- blogs, wikis, and the like -- can accelerate collaboration and how well companies perform in meeting their goals. "Today, some of these are great, but they don't cut it in the enterprise. CIOs won't allow it," said Chambers, pointing to security and other concerns related to popular consumer-oriented social networks.

So Cisco is getting into the fray with its own enterprise social software that it's currently starting to beta test. Cisco Show and Share is a social video system designed to help organizations create and manage highly secure video communities of user generated content. Show and Share lets users record, edit and share video with comments, ratings, tagging and RSS feeds. Also, speech-to-text transcripts can be uploaded for easy video search and viewing.

Cisco's other social software announcement is the Cisco Enterprise Collaboration Platform, a portal that features a corporate directory with social networking capabilities. Users can create team spaces and community environments on the fly, and it also offers a customizable framework for integration of legacy business applications and Web 2.0 content, according to Cisco.

The company also unveiled its first full-scale integration of the instant-messaging technology it acquired from Jabber in 2008. Jabber is the lead commercial sponsor behind the open source Jabber XMPP protocol for instant messaging and presence awareness. It's also used in Google's forthcoming Wave communications system.