Cisco Brings Online Collaboration Solutions Under WebEx Name

The company is adding Office and greater email integration to its WebEx Social enterprise social networking solution, which previously was known as Quad.

Cisco Systems executives are bringing their disparate Web collaboration solutions under the WebEx umbrella, and expanding the capabilities of its enterprise social networking offering formerly known as Cisco Quad.

The networking vendor is using the WebEx name to bring together the myriad collaboration offerings it provides, including the Quad social networking solution and Callway, Cisco€™s hosted TelePresence offering. The move will give enterprises a wide range of collaboration solutions in a central place, according to Michael Smith, director of Cisco€™s Cloud Collaboration Applications Technology Group.

€œThe interest level in social [networking solutions in business] is very high,€ Smith told eWEEK. €œWe want to bring these other collaboration solutions into a more unified experience.€

Industry observers are seeing rapid adoption of enterprise social software as businesses are looking for ways to improve collaboration and increase employee productivity, particularly in a world where the amount of content is growing and more workers are mobile. In a June 18 report, IDC analysts found that almost all companies selling enterprise social software solutions saw double-digit growth between 2010 and 2011, with IBM and Jive showing 70 percent growth. Yammer was the fastest-growing vendor in the top 20, with growth between 2010 and 2011 coming in at 132.3 percent.

"Compartmentalized and specific collaboration is still required by many organizations and traditional collaborative applications providing closed-loop and B2B communications will retain their existence in organizations alongside more open social solutions,€ Michael Fauscette, group vice president of software business solutions at IDC, said in a statement. €œAs organizations' workspaces become increasingly divested from traditional office environments, workers will ultimately choose the most appropriate combination of tools to perform daily tasks. It will be imperative for vendors to recognize that ad hoc collaboration will continue to complement social activity streams, particularly as enterprise social software becomes more embedded in business processes and the workspace."

Cisco€™s Smith said social networking in business enables workers to collaborate from wherever they are and on whatever device they choose, and do so in a more dynamic forum than simply email. This can be particularly important for mobile and home workers.

€œIt€™s not just connecting,€ he said. €œIt€™s also [recreating] the social experience you miss by the water cooler.€

Cisco over the past few years has aggressively expanded its online collaboration capabilities, both through in-house development and via acquisitions. In 2010, the company introduced Quad, looking to bring to businesses the same communications features found in such social media environments as Facebook€”such as profiles, updates, video communications, Twitter-like microblogging, people searches and auto-tagging€”that employees use in their personal lives. The company last year began offering Quad as a hosted or managed service.

At the Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston June 19, Cisco executives unveiled an assortment of expanded capabilities for Quad, which is now known as WebEx Social. Key to the new features is integration with Microsoft€™s Office suite, enabling WebEx Social users to extend what they can do to content. Through the integration, employees collaborating via WebEx Social can use Word, PowerPoint and Excel to jointly edit everything from documents to presentations to spreadsheets, and then post them back to WebEx Social for everyone to see.

Cisco also is offering greater email integration, enabling workers to stay in their email clients, including Microsoft€™s Outlook, while working in WebEx Social. The mobile experience also is being enhanced, enabling users of Apple€™s iPhone and iPad to easily transition between the social software and real-time instant messaging, Web conferencing and voice calls via their mobile application.

WebEx Social users also can participate in high-definition video calls through a Web browser. Businesses also can deploy WebEx Social in a variety of ways, including as an on-premise solution with the WebEx Social Server and via the cloud, either through a Cisco hosted offering or through ones from partners Logicalis, ACS and Alphawest.

Cisco also is offering programmers a WebEx Social software developer kit to bring such Cisco capabilities as Activity Streams, Watch List and Open Search to business applications.

WebEx Social will be available globally in July, with the cloud-based offering becoming available in North America the same month.

Cisco also is offering new capabilities in its WebEx Telepresence cloud service, formerly known as Callway. Through the new features, users can host up to nine participants on the WebEx Telepresence network. In addition, through a new online portal, administrators can now centrally manage user subscriptions and contact lists.

WebEx Telepresence also now supports TelePresence MX300 and SX20 systems.