Cisco Systems is putting the finishing touches on integrating its Jabber instant messaging assets into its WebEx Connect suite and will likely add a Twitter-like status update tool to that suite, a company official told eWEEK June 30.
Cisco WebEx Connect is a SAAS (software as a service) collaboration platform. The software, which Cisco hosts on its servers and sends through the cloud to users upon their request, lets workers all over the world view presentations at the same time while chatting via phone.
The application lets users send IMs to colleagues across companies; launch WebEx meetings from a Web chat; share documents and discussions in team wikis; and access applications through business widgets. For example, users can add a WebEx Connect plug-in to their Google iGoogle page to access their online meetings.
Later in summer or early fall 2009, Cisco will replace the existing AOL IM client back-end with the Jabber IM technology, said Alex Hadden-Boyd, director of marketing for the collaboration software group at Cisco. Cisco gained those software assets when it acquired Jabber in September 2008.
Adding a SAAS e-mail client to WebEx Connect is also in the works. This technology comes from Cisco’s August 2008 purchase of PostPath, which makes e-mail and calendaring features that aim to compete with Microsoft’s Exchange e-mail server and Outlook e-mail client.
IM and e-mail tools are table-stakes communications applications in the online world, but Cisco is also weighing more modern tools, including a status update feature that would let team workers update each other in real time within the WebEx Connect framework. This tool would be similar to the popular Twitter microblog service.
Hadden-Boyd declined to say when this feature might come to fruition, adding that it “is definitely part of our long-term plans. We think it’s natural for us to go there.”
*Interestingly, Jabber is based on the XMPP (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol) communication protocol, which is what Twitter used to propel data across the Web before switching to HTTP.
Still, Cisco would be likely to build such a tool rather than acquire an enterprise microblogging startup such as Yammer, Socialcast or Present.ly (Cisco did use Present.ly to enable users at its recent Cisco Partner Summit to communicate).
Cisco to Compete with Microsoft, IBM, Google
Gartner analyst David Mario Smith told eWEEK Cisco is missing the social features enterprise workers have come to expect from collaboration suites, making a Twitter-like tool an important play. The company should also consider some form of content management functionality, Smith said.
Forrester Research analyst Rob Koplowitz said he believes social features are a foregone conclusion for Cisco: “As more social capabilities like communities and microblogs come online, Cisco will become even more competitive.”
E-mail, IM, presence, Web conferencing and wiki tools comprise the core of most of the collaboration software platforms today, so it is clear that Cisco intends WebEx Connect to be the beachhead in its attack on not only e-mail incumbents Microsoft and IBM, but also newer players such as Google. Google makes Google Apps, a SAAS suite of e-mail and other applications it hosts on its own servers.
Cisco Senior Vice President Doug Dennerline hinted at the Cisco Live conference June 30 that the company may develop a service that would allow business users to create documents they could draft and share through WebEx Connect, so it is clear Cisco is carefully considering this. Koplowitz added:
“Whether they invest in productivity applications or not, they are becoming more viable as a collaboration vendor. We have to remember that Cisco has proven to be quite good at integrating acquired technology and has the resources to either build or acquire to quickly fill gaps. Over the past year they have signaled that they are serious about competing in collaboration. “
Through all of this, Cisco has made a point of extending WebEx Connect to mobile devices for corporate road warriors who need to collaborate with colleagues and partners while roving from state to state or even country to country.
In January, Cisco enabled the Cisco WebEx Meeting Center collaboration application to run on Apple’s iPhone 3G smartphone and the iPod Touch. This feature has been upgraded to support the iPhone OS 3.0 and allows users to invite people to join a WebEx conference from their iPhones.
Cisco in July will also begin allowing users to attend WebEx meetings on 3G smartphone browsers, including RIM BlackBerrys, Nokia devices and Samsung BlackJacks.
Ultimately, Cisco’s collaboration enhancements show that Cisco is becoming an increasingly compelling alternative to the traditional players in the space, Koplowitz said.
Still, Smith said while Cisco may eventually build up a collaboration suite comparable to those of Microsoft or IBM in terms of technology firepower, it will lag behind those two “titans” in market share.
*Correction: This story corrects an earlier version to note that Twitter no longer uses the XMPP communication protocol.