Cisco CTO: Collaboration Is Saving Us Millions

Collaboration and social media are popular IT buzzwords, and according to Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO), they’re a way that businesses can save money as well.

Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior took the stage today at the VoiceCon conference for a keynote in which she detailed how Cisco (NASDAQ: CSCO) uses collaboration tools and social media technologies like Twitter and wikis to cut costs and get business done.

“As human beings we have a natural tendency to want to build relationships,” Warrior said. “The goal of technology therefore is to fulfill that human need as naturally as possible.”

For Cisco, helping to fulfill that need comes in a number of forms. One of the simplest is Cisco’s use of wikis to help internal collaboration. Warrior noted that Cisco has over 66,000 wiki accounts internally, using approximately 4,000 wikis and 150,000 wiki pages in total.

She added that perhaps the most popular wiki at Cisco is the Apple Mac support wiki, since Cisco does not directly support Apple Macs for its staff. She estimated that 20 percent of Cisco’s workforce currently uses Macs, however, so the Cisco Mac support group emerged as a self-organized group that provides support for that community.

“Guess what? There is business value in this,” Warrior said. “We have saved close to $1.5 million in help desk costs because of this one wiki.”

In total, Warrior estimated that Cisco’s wiki efforts save close to $4 million in costs annually.

Wikis aren’t the only way Cisco is using collaboration technology to save money. Warrior said that using Cisco’s own “telepresence” offerings will save it at least $174 million in its fiscal 2009 year.

Those could be crucial figures for enterprises looking to leverage social media and collaboration technologies to speed up business processes and decision-making, while searching for ways to cut costs in one of the deepest economic downturns in decades.

The developments are certainly important for Cisco itself, which is trying to reduce its own cost structure while at the same time growing its business in a time of economic uncertainty.

Rise of an “Information Fabric”

Warrior’s also making use of emerging collaborative technologies herself. She said she posted a question on Twitter asking her followers about their predications on the future of collaboration to help her in her keynote today.

While Warrior noted that she’s a fan of the microblogging service, she told the audience that her boss, Cisco CEO John Chambers, prefers video blogging.

Personal preferences aside, Warrior said that the emergence of technologies like wikis, telepresence, Twitter and video blogging signal what she sees as a coming shift in how we view IT, and the work it enables.

Warrior described a future in which information technology evolves into what she called the “Information Fabric” — less about technology per se, but more about access. The term builds on her company’s wider use of “fabric” as a synonym for “network,” most recently in its new blade server products, which come as part of Cisco’s Unified Fabric initiative.

But to Warrior, an Information Fabric has a broader connotation.

“There is a lot of information out there, and the question is not how do you move information from point A to B, but about having the right people have access to the right info,” she said.

Part of the collaboration transformation is also about the changing nature of work itself.

She added that the time periods in which we work will become less fixed, with the concept of the workday changing to “work time.”

“We don’t go to work anymore — we simply do work,” Warrior said, adding that as a result, when we work will dictate where we work, in terms of location — be it fixed or mobile.

That’s a vision of the future that dovetails neatly into Cisco’s own expectation that the network will remain at the heart of all of those new work scenarios, which are all reliant on IP-based communications and Web-based collaboration tools.

Yet the transition may take some effort. In Warrior’s view, the industry challenge when it comes to collaboration is about creating platforms that enable users to personalize the tools they use.

“The future is all about technology adapting to people’s needs, rather than the other way around,” Warrior said.

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