Two weeks ago Cisco hosted a Collaboration Summit for analysts, consultants, and partners in Phoenix, Arizona. Conference attendees were treated to great weather and fantastic food. Unfortunately, the conference was thin on content and light on vision. At the start of Padmasree Warrior’s keynote I was optimistic when she described Cisco “new workspace” vision involving:
The focus on “work” is of primary interest to me and has long been a perspective from which I approach social software and collaborative technologies. Warrior also said their collaboration vision involved tapping into popular consumer trends around social networks and mobile devices. However, what followed the next two days was disappointing from a vision perspective and seemed more of a confusing rationalization of a disjoint product portfolio; one based on an aspirational view of the world in which video plays a big part and where desktop virtualization saves the day for IT.
To be honest, I was mostly interested in hearing about Quad, Cisco’s entry into the enterprise social software market. Yet, there were no sessions discussing the product. However, on a positive note we heard of Cisco’s plan to launch Quad this week on their intranet for tens of thousands of their employees. Perhaps this exposure of social software within Cisco will enable it to gain a more prominent role in their collaboration strategy going forward. For now, it seems Cisco equates collaboration with video.
The two main talking points that Cisco presenters focused on last week were video and virtualization. A presentation didn’t seem complete until either or both topics were somehow injected into the story. For example, during the last presentation on Wednesday morning (the only full day of the conference) we learned how Cisco solved the problem of delivering video to a virtualized desktop environment. While this interested the technologist in me, it seemed like an odd choice for such a prime spot on an agenda at a collaboration summit (especially since there were no presentations dedicated to Quad).
In another example, on Thursday we were introduced to Cisco’s Social Miner. This a a product that watches social media streams for topics of interest and enables enterprises to detect and respond to tweets or blog posts. The session started out very well and identified multiple levels of social media engagement maturity. I would have liked to have gone deeper into each of these levels and how Social Miner addresses them. The topic quickly (far too soon in my opinion) shifted over to Cisco’s other customer contact products, which integrate with Social Miner. However, perhaps the strangest segue of the conference came during a demonstration of Social Miner when the speaker asked “How does video fit in to this?”
Cisco’s view is that video (and not just any video, “pervasive video” were the words often used) is an essential element of collaboration. I couldn’t disagree more. This is a message PictureTel was pitching thirteen years ago. While the picture quality is better and telepresence is able to capture a more nuanced meeting experience, the fact is most people do not like having a camera in front of them during a meeting (or any other time for that matter). Certainly video is taking up an increasing share of Internet bandwidth, but this is through the consumption of video, not the production of ad-hoc, collaborative video streams.
During a demonstration of how Cisco’s products could bring together four workers within an ad-hoc video-based meeting, the sharing of a fictional design drawing quickly became the primary focus, relegating all of the talking heads to a small part of the screen. To me, this demonstration was a metaphor for the relative importance of video within an online meeting. Audio is essential, screen sharing is valuable, but video is of secondary importance. Of course, there are many niche applications where video is critical (a customer story at the summit involving the use of video on drilling platforms was compelling). However, this hardly approaches the level of pervasive.
It’s not that enterprises do not have a need for creating video. I believe most probably do and, in my opinion, Cisco could make video creation a core part of an information worker’s toolkit. However, it wouldn’t be through pointing a camera at someone. Rather, it would be through screen recordings that capture presentations, demonstrations, or otherwise making it possible to provide rich, visually-appealing, data-focused videos (often called screencasts) and then make it easy to share these recordings with their colleagues. After all, video should be about visual communication, not just talking heads.