Cisco Systems officials spent much of the week quickly ramping up the company’s collaboration abilities, unveiling everything from a new mobile app designed to make it easier in these days of greater worker mobility for workers to meet to a new room-based TelePresence system that is powerful yet energy-efficient.
Another move Cisco made was partnering with carrier AT&T to bring a cloud-based collaboration service that gives business users an avenue for connecting with colleagues, partners or customers wherever they are and on whatever device they’re using, from smartphones and tablets to notebooks and desktop PCs.
The collaboration service from AT&T, which is scheduled to be available from the service provider next month, will leverage Cisco’s Collaboration Meeting Rooms (CMR) Cloud, which is a video collaboration service that combines WebEx Personal Rooms and the cloud-based WebEx Video Bridge to create a single meeting solution.
The goal of the CMR Cloud is to give users an always-on, secure and highly scalable Cisco-based conferencing platform, according to officials. The service—AT&T Conferencing with Cisco CMR Cloud—integrates video, audio and Web conferencing technologies into a single solution through which users can virtually meet and share content, according to AT&T officials.
The new service dovetails with the larger trends in the collaboration space toward software and cloud offerings, according to Abhi Ingle, senior vice president of big data and advanced solutions at AT&T.
“Traditionally, business video conferencing meant expensive equipment investments and a fixed office space,” Ingle said in a statement. “Now, we’re making video collaboration easy and accessible to virtually anyone with a connected device.”
Businesses for years have been looking to adopt video conferencing and unified communications (UC) technologies as ways of improving employee productivity, saving money by reducing travel expenses, and developing new ways for businesses to communicate with workers, partners and customers. The collaboration market over the past several years has been undergoing a rapid transformation away from expensive room-based systems to cloud- and software-based solutions that let an increasingly mobile workforce connect from anywhere and on any device.
Established players such as Cisco, Polycom and LifeSize Communications have been aggressive in building out their cloud and software collaboration portfolios as a growing number of smaller vendors—such as Vidyo and Blue Jeans Network—gain traction in the market with their software- and cloud-only offerings.
Cisco officials have argued that what is needed in the collaboration space is a combination of hardware and software that can be leveraged to enable more complete solutions. That was on display this week. On the first day of Cisco’s Collaboration Summit 2014, company officials unveiled their Project Squared mobile app, which combines video and audio with content sharing, multiparty meetings and chat and enables users to start a virtual room and invite others inside or outside the organization to join and participate.
Cisco, AT&T Alliance Aims at Business Collaboration
On the same day, Cisco rolled out its new TelePresence IX5000 series room-based system for six to 18 people that comes with three 70-inch screens, three 4K cameras and a high-end audio system. It’s easier to use than current TelePresence systems and, starting at $299,000, is less expensive. It also uses half the bandwidth of its predecessors and less power than is needed to run a hair dryer, officials said.
Despite numbers from IDC analysts that show a continuing decline in worldwide revenues for video conferencing equipment, there are myriad cases where a telepresence system is preferable to conferencing over a smartphone, according to Chris Wiborg, Cisco’s director of collaboration portfolio marketing.
“We do still believe there’s a place for this type of high-end system,” Wiborg told eWEEK.
Also at the summit, Cisco announced the Business Edition 6000S, a product aimed at the midmarket that integrates collaboration technologies in a 2921 Integrated Services Router.
Cisco continues to pour a lot of effort and money into its collaboration solutions despite some money-losing quarters over the past several years. In the most recent quarter, the company’s collaboration revenues fell 10 percent from the same period in 2013. Still, Cisco executives and industry analysts have said that collaboration technologies continue to be a priority for businesses, though the market is still in the middle of its transition to cloud and software solutions.
In a conference call with analysts and journalists the week before Cisco’s Collaboration Summit, CEO John Chambers said the company is going to continue to invest in its collaboration technologies and grow its enterprise licensing revenues.
“We are going to continue to transform a collaboration portfolio and move to more enterprise license agreements in subscription,” Chambers said. “As our new video products ramp well but at dramatically lower price points, we saw declines in TelePresence and unified communications [revenues].”
He noted the strength in the WebEx business and said that “collaboration should be the greatest productivity driver for our organizations.” Chambers foreshadowed what was coming up at the summit, talking about “bold moves that will secure our leadership position in cloud-based, simple, secure and converged collaboration.”
“I think we have great potential to grow this business over time,” he said. “I really like our position and our pipeline, and I’m very optimistic about returning back to positive growth levels relatively quickly in the collaboration arena.”