When a company makes millions of dollars in revenue completely through partners, you expect a high level of partner appreciation and support. Cisco’s annual revenue is approaching $50 Billion. As a result, their partner summit is an extremely high end event, and exceeded my expectations as a first time attendee. You can get a taste of it from the video above.
Deep Partner Support
This event was a little different for me. I tend to focus on the user experience and cover events like the recent Cisco Live, which is more geared towards user facing product/service announcements. However, it is certainly interesting to learn how Cisco manages to get such a vast array of offerings into the hands of so many customers and ensure they all have the necessary support. The video below shows how many different types of partners they support, as well as the fact that these partners include some very big names.
Heavy Focus On Security
While the nuts and bolts of Cisco’s various partner programs were certainly impressive, I had a few big takeaways. One is that Cisco realized a great way to support their sales partners is to give them a great security story. Security was a massive focus throughout the event. From new security based offerings, to improved security in existing products, to highlighting the work of their security focused acquisitions; presentation after presentation offered security assurances and leadership. Cisco is extremely happy to be compared head to head against any competitor on security. If you are security conscious (and what enterprise isn’t?), this has to be a major consideration when choosing a vendor for any aspect of your network.
New Collaboration Team
On the collaboration side of the shop, we had a host of new faces with rock star executive credentials. These people certainly have the chops to manage a multi-billion dollar business, and it appears that their vision for Cisco isn’t to re-revolutionize the collaboration industry, but to build upon an already successful business model, fill any remaining gaps, and look to their partners/customers for future trends to support. They are continuing to make huge investments into future technologies like speech-enabled virtual personal assistants, which some expect to be commonplace in tomorrow’s meeting rooms. The following execs are either new to Cisco entirely, or at least new to their role in Cisco Collab. Their LinkedIn profiles speak for themselves, this is quite a team.
- Amy Chang, SVP of Collaboration Technology Group (LinkedIn)
- Aruna Ravichandran, Vice President Global Marketing, CMO, Collaboration / Webex (LinkedIn)
- Alexandra Zagury, Vice President, Global Collaboration Sales (LinkedIn)
- Cullen Jennings, CTO of Collaboration and one of only 16 “Cisco Fellows” (LinkedIn)
I thought the session on Cisco’s Dev Net would be tangential to my coverage, and I was just attending for my personal interest. It turns out Cisco’s Dev Net program is directly related to their collaboration suite and is completely relevant to my coverage here. I met with Susie Wee (SVP and CTO of CiscoDevNet) and it turned out to be a personal highlight of the event for me. In a very short time, Susie has built a community of over 500,000 developers working to customize Cisco offerings for their companies’ environments. I am absolutely enthralled by the creativity and capabilities of today’s coders. You give them an API to work with, and suddenly your favorite product has plugins and apps which can vastly increase its power. Building and supporting any large online community is a rare and substantial achievement. Building a community of a half million developers working (for free) on ideas to make your company’s offerings more valuable and attractive is about as big a win as you could ask for. I wasn’t the only one impressed by Susie’s accomplishment with Dev Net, as the big guy himself announced her recent promotion on stage as part of the final keynote.
Cisco Collab User Experience
The new Webex Room Kit Mini gives Cisco a huddle space offering, at the going market price point for similar kits promoted by competing cloud video solutions. Considering fast the huddle room market continues to grow, and the previous successes of Cisco’s collaboration hardware design teams, it is a pretty safe bet that this product will sell very well into the existing Cisco channel. It also provides a good lead-in for potential new Webex customers. As seen by the success of other cloud video vendors, when new customers buy a few huddle room kits, they often buy dozens, if not hundreds, of desktop/mobile licenses so their employees can connect to their new huddle systems.
The other thing that really stands out on the user experience front is the success of the new Webex Meetings. I’ve been saying for a long time the old “WebEx” was a top down adoption model. People used it because their boss told them to, and the boss chose it because it’s Cisco and meets all the IT/Security requirements. But it wasn’t loved and it never had any sort of grassroots or viral adoption. The old “WebEx” was a screenshare UI trying to awkwardly accommodate video. The new Webex Meetings is a true videoconferencing solution. It is what users want/expect/demand from desktop/mobile video. It isn’t really rocket science, it’s simply full screen video, with minimal controls that disappear when you stop moving your mouse. A face-to-face, looking through a window, meeting experience. When this was announced at Cisco Live, I predicted it would be a massive success and Cisco would see Webex adoption like they’ve never seen before. At this event, they confirmed that prediction, and even the Cisco execs seemed shocked by their own customers’ adoption numbers.
I spoke with Sri Srinivasan, Vice President and General Manager for the Team Collaboration Group who confirmed that Cisco has learned from their Webex Meetings UI success, and will be applying that lesson to the Cisco Teams UI. I strongly believe that getting this right could be the biggest thing Cisco does in the collaboration space since acquiring Tandberg. They are integrating everything from Jabber to their Broadsoft offerings into Webex Teams. If Webex Teams continues to be a functional tool, that people like but mostly use because their boss told them too, Cisco will be fighting for every sale against more viral offerings. If, on the other hand, Webex Teams nails the experience so that it goes viral to the point where people are sharing it with their friends and using it even when their boss wants them to use something else, that would change the landscape of the collaboration industry. When Cisco Spark was new, I had some workflow suggestions, several of which Cisco later (perhaps coincidentally) incorporated. I think Webex Teams needs more than another round of these tweaks. It may sound dramatic, but I truly believe that Cisco Teams could be the key to the collaboration kingdom and it should get a design budget as if the future of the Cisco Collab rides on it.
Thanks to My Hosts
The Cisco events team deserves a lot of praise for throwing off a flawless event. This was an entire week full of activities and speakers for a very large attendance and everything was very smooth and well organized. I particularly want to thank Christine Johansen, PR Manager for Cisco Collab. Not only did Christine manage to find time for me with all of the execs I had questions for, during the course of the event as she sat in on these meetings and noted if I learned something new that interested me. She then managed to shuffle things around in the midst of the event to get me additional meetings with other execs related to these new interests. As a result, I had excellent use of my time in Vegas to the point where I had face to face briefings with the right person on just about every aspect of Cisco Collab that I was looking to learn about.
I look forward to the next Cisco event, and to seeing how this new Cisco Collab team takes on the challenge of supporting today’s working teams and business communicators.