This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

Cisco is trying to lay the foundation for the transition to social as a primary work tool, displacing email.

Today at the Enterprise 2.0 event, Cisco announced a number of enhancements to WebEx Social, the product formerly known as Quad. The first, and most obvious change is the name–Quad goes away and Cisco will use the WebEx brand for its social networking product.

I was never a huge fan of the name “Quad”; I understand what Cisco was trying to do but it did highlight the fact that it was a separate and distinct product from WebEx and the other collaboration products. The WebEx brand is solid and is something Cisco can look to build on. This is pure speculation, but I’m guessing that the two products will eventually have a common foundation that Cisco develops from, which should give the two products the same look and feel. Additionally, (up on my soap box), a common set of APIs and development tools is important to fueling the Cisco Developer Network efforts (off soap box).

The next big change for Social is that it’s been pushed out to the cloud. Customers can buy the traditional premise based solution if they want, or they can buy it as a hosted solution from a partner or from Cisco. The “cloudification” of this product makes a ton of sense since cloud delivery addresses the needs of the mobile worker better, and much of the company’s differentiation over arch-rival Microsoft is in its lead in mobile. Cisco can argue it’s even with Microsoft at the desktop and it may be, product-wise, but Microsoft dominates legacy PC mindshare so the faster the market moves to the cloud and goes post-PC, the better it is for Cisco, market-share-wise.

Cisco also announced a number of other enhancements to the product, including integration into Microsoft Office and Outlook. Customers can now edit and post Office documents into WebEx Social. Additionally, customers can create and post updates to WebEx Social directly from Outlook. I think these enhancements are significant because I firmly believe workers don’t want more applications to flip between. Rather, it would be easier for workers to use more features within the applications they already use.

Cisco also beefed up the mobile aspect of WebEx Social. Users on Apple mobile devices now have the capability of shifting between social networking and communication tools such as chat, WebEx conferencing and voice. Shifting between modes isn’t nearly as easy when the user is mobile as it is when the person is working on the desktop, so these improvements should add to the usability of WebEx Social as a key mobile tool.

This announcement may not seem as big as some of the other things that Cisco has released over the past year, but I do think there’s a big end game at stake here for Cisco. Much of Cisco’s growth over the years has been tied to their ability to catch market transitions at the right time: Circuit to packet, hubs to switches, TDM to VoIP, and the list goes on and on. With WebEx Social, Cisco is trying to lay the foundation for the transition to social as a primary work tool, displacing email. Some pundits guffaw at this thought, but I think there’s merit to it.

Consider the early days of email, when our primary communications tool was the phone. The first thing people did back in the day was check your voice mail. When I got off a plane, I would have sometimes a dozen voice mails. Today, I never get voice mails; instead the first thing I do when I start my day is check email and then continue to check it all day long.

However, the younger generation doesn’t do this. They check their social network and post status updates of what they’re doing, they post pictures, videos and everything that keeps people updated on their lives. I can easily see a day when workers come to the office and the first thing they do is check their social tool and instead of posting pictures and play games, they post documents, presentations and videos related to work. Instead of posting status updates like “Hanging with the bff” they’ll post status updates of when meetings are and what projects they’re working on.

I have no doubt this transition will take place, so for Cisco, the questions are–do they have the right products, and is the timing right? As for functionality, I think Cisco’s focus on mobile first makes all the sense in the world for the reasons I listed above. Not that Microsoft is the only competition in social, but they are the only competitor that has both social tools and unified communications, and is trying to integrate them. Timing will have a lot to do with how this market shakes out, but it appears that Cisco’s well positioned for the shift to social as a primary work tool.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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