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

The company has talked about simplification and interoperability for a while now, so it’s good to see them put it into action.

Earlier this year, Cisco talked about making a commitment to making their products easier to use and to interoperate with other vendors’ systems. Both are areas where it’s been easy to be critical of Cisco in the past since their products have been relatively difficult to use and the company has thrived off vertical integration that creates what competitors call “lock in”. Now this was fine when Cisco’s competition were the likes of 3Com, Nortel, Lucent and other companies that couldn’t manage themselves out of a paper bag. However, Cisco’s competitors today are the likes of HP, Dell, Microsoft and Juniper. Even the “smaller” competitors are of the size of Polycom and Brocade, much bigger and better-run organizations than competitors past. If Jacob Marley were to take Chambers up and show him the “Ghosts of Cisco future” they would certainly look to face much tougher rivals than the “Ghosts of Cisco past”. So, new competition dictates new strategy.

Last week Cisco made a couple of announcements that indicate there indeed is a change in the air. First, and I was a little surprised to see this, Cisco has joined the Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC), the group of service providers and vendors that embrace the concept of interoperability. I was a little surprised because Cisco’s arch-rival vendor, Polycom, has been the driving force behind OVCC; but after talking to Cisco’s David Hsieh, it’s clear Cisco really is embracing the concept of interoperability. I think the one thing Cisco fully understands now is that video will never be “the new voice” without interoperability. Any video endpoint needs to communicate with any other video endpoint with zero work on the user’s part. I’m not saying that all features need to be interoperable but the systems should at least be able to connect and have a basic level of functionality. Interoperability will create a “rising tide” for video like it’s never seen before, so it benefits all parties involved to be on board.

Last week Cisco also announced version 9.0 of its core unified communications system, which was loaded with advancements that indicate the changing Cisco mentality. First was the “Extend and Connect” that works with Cisco Jabber, which is designed to bring any third party phone into the Cisco environment. This isn’t just smartphones and IP phones but includes phones in hotels, convention centers, airports, oil rigs or cruise ships. To use this feature, users input any phone number into the Jabber client and the calls are now routed to that phone number. This allows Cisco UC to interoperate with any of the hundreds of millions of phones in existence today. For the business customer, Cisco UC can now “extend and connect” to any competitor phone, IP, digital or analog.

UC 9.0 also includes some features to enable workers to replicate their desk phone features onto their mobile phone without the need to have a mobile client installed on the phone. The solution lets workers have access to a unified inbox, message waiting indicator, callback, conferencing and four-digit dialing. To enable this, Cisco has done much of the behind-the-scenes work and tied UC Manager to the mobile service provider. I actually think this feature will be a big hit, as having to switch between clients to make “business calls” and “personal calls” is a big nuisance. If workers have to manually do something, they won’t. Build it into the interface and they’ll use it.

The release of UC 9.0 also had a number of enhancements to video, including an integrated version of Call Admission Control, which manages bandwidth to help optimize call quality and bandwidth utilization. The other addition to 9.0 is that users can now reach other users through dialing a person’s email address instead of a phone number. In this day of IP calling, isn’t it about time that phone numbers get retired in favor of things that are easier to remember, like an email address?

The last significant part of the 9.0 release were the call center enhancements. The solution includes something called a “Packaged Contact Center Enterprise” which appears to be a turnkey, pre-integrated version of Cisco contact center that allows customers to get their contact centers up and running much faster than before. This is part of Cisco’s commitment to simplification, which enables customers to start realizing the benefits faster and more consistently. The consistency should help Cisco be able to quantify UC benefits more easily than before. There were a few other improvements such as improved call routing and management. I’m not a contact center person but they do appear to enable greater usability.

One last improvement is for corporate procurement and deployment. Cisco has create four “bundles” for various types of workers including deskless, desk-bound, occasionally mobile and road-warriors. This should help customers determine what features to buy by matching the work style with the bundle that matches the profile best.

Overall I thought this was a strong set of announcements from Cisco. The company has talked about simplification and interoperability for a while now, so it’s good to see them put it into action.

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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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