IBM and Cisco Systems on June 30 announced plans to partner and integrate their collaboration tools and add some cognitive technology to help transform the way people work.
IBM will integrate Cisco’s Spark and WebEx collaborative workspace platforms with IBM’s cloud-based Connections and Verse collaboration solutions to form a suite of tools that will tap into the power of IBM’s Watson cognitive computing system to help users gain insights from information they have access to.
Cisco Spark offers three types of communication for users—messaging, meeting and calling—from the cloud. WebEx is Cisco’s online meeting and video conferencing solution. IBM Connections is a set of social solutions, including software, real-time social communications and content management capabilities, while IBM Verse is a cloud business-email hosting platform and messaging software as a service.
The goal is to simplify collaboration and provide users with analytics by combining IBM’s social and email solutions with Cisco’s collaboration solutions and adding a little taste of Watson to spice things up. That is, to help provide the right insights in the right context, IBM said.
Ed Brill, vice president of offering management for IBM’s collaboration solutions, said the partnership is bringing together a market leader in real-time telepresence, voice and video with a market leader in social collaboration to offer a combined solution in the collaboration stack space and compete with the likes of Microsoft Office 365 and Google for Work.
The idea behind it is two-fold: to provide best-in-class technologies across the stack so clients are able to choose the market leaders together without having to consume them separately or doing their own technical integration; and to enable both companies to incorporate and consume cognitive capabilities and use Watson to redefine the way people work together.
Later this year, IBM will introduce the WebEx and Spark capabilities integrated directly into Connections and Verse, both for the meeting service and chat capabilities themselves and to enable users to do more. For example, a user looking at a file in Connections may want to have a meeting about that file—the integrated solution would provide them with one-click ability to launch that meeting in the WebEx environment, Brill said.
“We intend to sell this as a single solution like we do today with IBM Connections Cloud and incorporate the capabilities into that so the customer does not have to go and buy or license things from two separate vendors if they don’t want to,” he said.
However, neither company will bundle the technologies as a new product. “What we’ll probably do is put together some more advanced offerings,” Brill said.
Users looking to incorporate all of the Cisco voice, video, telepresence technology will have to pay a little more.
“We’ll have an advanced offering for that,” Brill said. “I think it will similar to how Microsoft has E3 and E5 plans for Office 365. We’ll probably get into a bifurcation or some sort of segmentation like that. But it’s still Connections Cloud and Verse. It’s still the things we sell today.”
Meanwhile, as part of the integrated solutions, IBM’s Watson will provide a set of capabilities and APIs the companies will consume throughout the service and also make available to developers who want to develop collaborative apps on top of the service.
IBM, Cisco Partner to Deliver Cognitive-Infused Collaboration Stack
Broadly speaking, the Watson capabilities can be classified in two ways: to provide more of an action-oriented decision support role and to provide a knowledge-oriented access-to-information role, Brill said.
“There’s a whole set of bots and APIs that will be available to the service for users to tap into,” he noted.
For instance, two doctors in an e-meeting together, wherein one might be looking at a patient and another is consulting with the other remotely, could tap into the Watson bots for knowledge and information that would support the decision they’re trying to make about a particular diagnosis.
“Today that information is either not easily consumed or requires them to leave the context of the environment they’re working in and go look it up somewhere else,” Brill said.
IBM has entered into a number of partnerships with other major players that not enhance IBM’s offerings, but also enriches opportunities for IBM’s partners. The IBM partnership with Apple is a prime example of this, in which IBM has developed more than 100 IBM MobileFirst for iOS applications.
IBM watcher Rob Enderle, founder of the Enderle Group, noted that with a partnership between giants it is almost impossible to initially tell who benefits more.
“Given both companies are also partnered with Apple, but in kind of competitive roles, getting this partnership to work out will be difficult and there are lots of conflicts between the firms now,” Enderle told eWEEK.
He said he expects this will be more of a cross-firm bundled product effort than a long-term strategic partnership. It serves both firms to showcase they are willing to partner to further their social collaboration efforts, which should strengthen these efforts.
“Both firms are experienced in partnering with competitors successfully as well, so while I don’t expect this partnership to be that deep, it should be relatively long-lasting and it is more likely to meet its sales goals than similar partnerships between firms, like HPE, that aren’t good at making complex relationships work,” he added.
Brill said IBM realizes Cisco has a well-developed channel of partners that sell their solutions and have not had the opportunity to sell a collaborative stack, especially with an email engine.
“So we think that’s a whole new route to market, especially for small and midsize businesses, he said.
The partnership also provides greater viability for the IBM Connections Cloud solution because now it’s not just IBM standing behind it, but IBM and Cisco together.
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, agrees that the partnership will benefit both companies.
“IBM has long been a smaller player—compared to Microsoft—in collaboration solutions and services, so integrating Cisco’s popular WebEx and Spark solutions should help increase the satisfaction and retention of its customers,” King said.
Similarly, the deal should open doors—or open them wider—to Cisco among deep-pocketed enterprise customers, he added. And if the cognitive features IBM talks about deliver what the company promises, the results should be even better, King said.
“At Cisco, we are constantly innovating to improve the collaboration experience and there has never been a better time to take our offerings to the next level,” said Jens Meggers, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Cloud Collaboration Technology, in a statement. “That’s our goal here—to think exponentially and together with IBM create the next generation of collaboration.”