Cisco Brings Flexible Payments, App Site to Spark Collaboration Tool

The company is expanding its enterprise communications capabilities at a time when Microsoft, Facebook and others are rolling out new offerings.

Cisco collaboration

Cisco Systems wants to make it easier for tech partners to integrate their products with the networking vendor's Spark collaboration platform and for customers to buy the technology for use in the cloud, on premises or in a mixture of both.

At the company's Partner Summit this week, Cisco officials unveiled new capabilities for Spark, which the company has quickly grown from a mobile communications apps to a platform for the bulk of Cisco's cloud- and on-premises enterprise communications offerings, including video conferencing, document sharing, voice communications, presence and chat.

The new capabilities include a flexible payment plan to make it simpler for organizations to buy the collaboration services and a site where customers can see business applications that are integrated with Spark. The new features are designed to make it easier for customers to embrace the platform, according to Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Business Unit.

"We are completely reinventing how the world connects and communicates," Trollope wrote in a post on the company blog. "We are right on the cusp of massive change that will be fueled by machine intelligence and virtual reality. Our goal is to get amazing technology into everyone's hands."

The new Spark capabilities come during a week that put a focus on the growing demand for enterprise collaboration technologies. At an event in New York City, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella unveiled Microsoft Teams, a collaboration tool that brings together such features as chat, meeting, notes and activity notifications, and integrates with such familiar applications as Office 365. Microsoft Teams reportedly has a feel similar to Slack's successful collaboration technology, and officials with Slack acknowledged the launch of Teams with a full-page ad in the New York Times and on its website telling Microsoft that they are "genuinely excited to have some competition" and giving advice on what customers want in their collaboration services.

In addition, all this comes a month after Facebook rolled out a business-focused collaboration and chat room offering called Workplace by Facebook.

With its new Spark Flex Plan, Cisco is aiming to make it easier for organizations to embrace its collaboration technologies, particularly as they continue to migrate to the cloud. The new plan acknowledges that many businesses are not moving everything to the cloud, opting instead to keep some of their business on premises. The new flex plan is designed to enable customers to make the transition to the cloud at their own pace, Trollope wrote.

Cisco now is offering a single contract through which customers can choose cloud or on-premises solutions, or a mix of both, and change that mix whenever they want. For meetings, they can choose from cloud-based Spark Meetings or WebEx, or the Cisco Meeting Server on-premises offering. In addition, for calls, organizations can use Cisco Spark call or the Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Trollope wrote.

The new Cisco Spark Depot highlights the focus company officials are putting on partnerships in expanding the reach of the collaboration platform. The company in the past has unveiled a number of partnerships with the likes of Salesforce.com and Apple, and now is creating a central place where customers can see what products are integrated into Spark. There are more than 60 products currently in the site from Salesforce.com, Box, Redbooth, ServiceNow, Trello, ServiceNow and Jive.