Those of you who read my recent blog from Enterprise Connect will remember that there was little to no news from Cisco, which given their recent developments with Spark, the Broadsoft acquisition, and new product launches such as the Room 70, was surprising.
Today everything became clear – they were storing everything up for a single big announcement at their Collaboration Summit in Phoenix.
Spark and Webex Merge
The single, biggest bombshell was dropped before Rowan Trollope, Senior VP at Cisco for IOT and Applications, even started to deliver his keynote - Cisco Spark will rebrand as Webex Teams. This makes a lot of sense, both from a technical perspective and a customer perspective.
Technically, Webex and Spark had a lot in common already – they shared a single video platform, you could join a Webex meeting from the Spark client already (and in some cases have greater functionality), so there was already a huge amount of overlap. The superior content sharing and messaging capabilities of Spark were really the only two things that separated the platforms, so effectively this makes Spark Webex 2.0 (or possibly even 3.0).
From a customer perspective, this makes even more sense. There was already some confusion as to whether to create a Spark meeting or a Webex meeting for a web/video/audio conference – this makes the answer extremely simple – everything can be Webex, and you choose to start your meeting either as a chat and content, or as web/video session, but with no restriction of how you move between the two modalities – they are one and the same. If you still want to have an "old-fashioned" Webex only meeting, you can, but the option is there to do so much more. It should be noted that this is probably the most obvious example yet of one of Cisco CEO Chuck Robbin's directive when he took over the helm – to make Cisco products easier to buy and use.
Once that bombshell was digested, there were a host of other announcements:
5 (Other) announcements made today by Cisco
- Spark is rebranding
The first, most obvious one, was that every single product that had Spark in the name is re-branded. So the Spark Board is now the Webex Board, the Spark Room Kit is the Webex Room Kit, etc. That's a fairly obvious one, but at the same time it's an awful lot of pdfs for the product marketing teams to update!
- Webex is changing
There's a major enhancement to Webex Meetings (the "old" conferencing application) – meetings will start as video first, rather than a blank screen with video thumbnails off to one side. In addition Webex Meetings will now support up to 75 video rooms (up from 25) in a single meeting, with full multi-streaming, regardless of whether you join from a VC device, a mobile phone, or a web session. When content is ready to be shared then that will take priority, but the days of staring at a white screen are over. Finally, Artificial Intelligence will start to appear in any Webex connected Board or Room series device over the next few months, with features like facial recognition likely to be released first
- Webex Share
A new content sharing device called Webex Share – a simple, low cost, way of sharing content wirelessly to any legacy TV or large display that you currently have, directly from the Webex Teams Application. If you're already using Spark proximity then this will work in exactly the same way. This should be available by "winter" this year, so anytime from September onwards, in theory.
- Collaboration platform integration
A new roadmap for integration with Microsoft, Google, Slack, and other collaboration platforms. I'll be honest and say that I'm sceptical on this front for a number of reasons.
- Firstly, it's only been 6 weeks or so since Jon Rosenberg, Cisco's CTO for Collaboration, stood up on stage and said he didn't think that there would be any serious integration between all of these different platforms and vendors.
- Secondly, all of these integrations at very much at the whim of the other vendors in this market – and historically they haven't tended to play well together at the best of times. However, it's good to see someone trying to make everything work together.
- Broadsoft, what's the plan?
Finally some idea on the roadmap for Broadsoft. The initial major announcement is that for the foreseeable future it will continue to be supported and developed, whether that's as a direct Broadsoft delivery, or a platform delivered via a service provider. This should be reassuring to a lot of people out there, as Broadsoft, in it's many forms, is easily the largest platform globally for hosted VOIP and UC. However, in time, Cisco will be taking a lot of the voice capability from Broadsoft to underpin Webex Call, which will be a hosted PBX fully integrated into Webex Meetings and Teams. This has been an aspiration for Cisco for some time now – a relatively basic hosted voice platform for Spark has existed in the USA, Canada, and Australia – but this will provide full Enterprise class PBX functionality, globally, for businesses that need more than basic DDI routing and hunt groups.
All in all, it's a fairly major set of announcements!
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