By Corey Moss

First, I’ll point to a story I wrote almost five months ago Cisco, Spark, Webex, Teams – What’s Going On? as this week it’s back in the top trending spot. In fact, it’s been in top trending quite a few times since it originally published.

I put out this tweet this week – and it seems that I’m still hitting on something here.

The article I refer to is on UC industry leading publication No Jitter, and the reference refers to a statement made by the writer, Associate Editor Michelle Burbick in ‘What’s Up with Cisco’s Collaboration Business?’ published on September 17th:

Industry watchers have started to question Cisco’s Collaboration strategy, with the group this year grappling with a leadership overhaul; the Spark-Webex rebranding (which some say signals a misstep), and the BroadSoft acquisition, which sparked a flurry of speculation not only on its impact on Cisco but also the larger UC industry. And let’s not forget this has all taken place with a backdrop of continued transition from hardware to software and a subscription-based model. Taken altogether, that’s an awful lot of change with which to contend. 

Burbick does add that industry analysts and other third-party experts mostly seem to agree that Cisco is making strides with its Collaboration business, if not for a few bumps along the way.

In fact, there is also an Editors note:

[Editor’s note: Since publishing this piece this morning, Cisco confirmed Jonathan Rosenberg’s departure as CTO and Cullen Jennings, who had been Fellow in the office of the CTO, as his replacement.]

Now Jonathan Rosenberg has been an extremely important cog in Cisco’s collaboration business – the face of it in essence. In CRN article ‘Yes, I’m Leaving’: Cisco Systems Collaboration Chief To Depart, Rosenberg confirmed his impending departure in a tweet today, saying he’ll explore new opportunities once the transition to new collaboration CTO Cullen Jennings (known as @cfluffy on Twitter) is complete.

Rosenberg, responsible for the strategy and direction of its Webex, Jabber, and telepresence solutions, as well as Contact Center and UC Manager, came aboard with Cisco in early 2013 to drive the cloud business as Vice President and CTO of Cloud Collaboration. Later that year though, Cloud was removed from the title.

And to this day, as stated in my tweet, the hardware transition to software and cloud struggle continues. In fact, I will point to one product as the root of all of the Spark/Webex/Teams problems for Cisco, though some may vehemently disagree —

The Spark (now Webex) Board.

Let’s begin here. In December 2015, almost a year after the launch of Cisco Spark at Enterprise Connect that March, Cisco reported in a press release Cisco Spark Changes the Game in Collaboration, with the preface ‘Expect amazing new experiences as we blend team messaging, meetings and phone calls in the cloud. Exposed APIs mean the sky is the limit for what comes next.’

I was at Enterprise Connect that year, and watched Trollope’s Spark launch presentation on one of the big screens. I followed it (kind of) and wondered where this was all really going. I tried to interview someone from Cisco at EC to talk about Spark, however it became the only interview which I lost to technical issues.

Maybe a sign?

Now – I’m always a fan of “game changers” as many know, and Cisco really played it up here in the press release. The big collaboration reinventing experience, delivering three types of communication tools people use at work the most— messaging, meeting, and calling—from the cloud.

There it is, the cloud. And a statement from former Cisco Collaboration Sr. VP & GM Rowan Trollope:

“My team is passionate about making tools for work that are as simple and delightful as the tools we use at home,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Collaboration, Data Analytics and IoT groups. “Spark lets us give amazing experiences to companies of all sizes—from tiny start-ups to the Fortune 100. And we’re just getting started.”

And that they were.

Well, actually if you ask me it was a rollout of sorts and it did enter the industry with a bit of force. However it wasn’t until that big moment at Enterprise Connect 2017, and it was all about — hardware.

Right, the Spark Board.

The Cisco Spark Board won the Best of Enterprise Connect 2017 Award in what was described by Angie Mistretta, Sr. Director of Collaboration Solutions Marketing – ‘One of the highlights of my career was being part of the evolution and launch of the Cisco Spark Board.’

Right, hardware – a collaboration device.

EC Cisco Spark

In fact Cisco, according to the blog, affectionately code-named the board “Darling” during development.

Right.

Well, it did run on Cisco Spark’s cloud collaboration platform – correct? Yet, the hardware is what won the big award, not the cloud solution (per se).

Now, this is in no way diminishing collaboration products/devices – there are many noteworthy solutions on the AV, UC and collaboration market today. Yet a cloud application launched by Cisco with a bang in early 2015 took two years to win a Best of award at Enterprise Connect in – for hardware.

If we go back to Best of Enterprise Connect Awards of previous years – the 2013 winner was Voxeo CXP, the 2014 winner was CaféX Fusion Live Assist, the 2015 winner was Sprint Workplace-as-a-Service, and the 2016 winner was CaféX Chime technology

Telling for Cisco indeed, right up to this very moment. Again – hardware notoriety for a company continuously struggling to make a name in the cloud.

As for acquisitions, Broadsoft (completed in February 2018) – one of Cisco’s numerous (as in a multitude) over the last several years, was truly interesting from the start. A reported Cisco cloud strategy accelerator at the time of the announcement (by Cisco), it added ‘industry leading’ cloud calling and contact center solutions. Former BroadSoft CEO Michael Tessler and his organization joined with Cisco’s Unified Communications Technology Group led by Vice President and General Manager Tom Puorro (under the Applications Group led by Rowan Trollope).

In a November 2017 IR Unified Communications article What Impact will Cisco’s Acquisition of BroadSoft have? the following was stated:

In the collaboration space Slack has been occupying a dominant market position for years. Microsoft Teams came off the blocks with force the past year and the incumbent ruffled more feathers in September with it’s Skype for Business Online announcement. The combination of Broadsoft’s collaboration solution with Cisco Spark – where there is potential overlap – makes for an interesting & competitive offering: one we’ll be keeping a close eye on.

Just as a point, Slack has continued to dominate, and newcomer Microsoft Teams has been somewhat alongside (and both integrate with Zoom) while the Spark application continued to struggle to find its way. And it continues with Webex Teams and the Webex (originally Webex Teams) Board.

Yet in May, not long after the acquisition was completed, Trollope took off to become CEO of Five9, a cloud contact center company. In fact, Five9 is rated as the #1 service in GETVOiP The Best Call Center Software Systems of 2018 – listed among other cloud contact center leaders leaders Ring Central, Genesys and 8×8. Cisco… not there.

I guess Trollope’s now seeing true riches in the cloud.

In another No Jitter article published on the 17th New Execs Eye Change at Cisco Collaboration, Elka Popova, Frost & Sullivan program director is quoted as saying “Like any company in the process of a major transition, Cisco needs fresh blood.”

Trollope, a major cog in the Cisco collaboration wheel left the company in May to head up a small cloud contact center company. Rosenberg, a huge cog in the Cisco collaboration wheel left the company yesterday.

A short history of collaboration confusion leading up to… really Cisco, what’s up?

Collaboration re-imagined? Not quite yet.

(Note: Read the full No Jitter article ‘What’s Up with Cisco’s Collaboration Business?’ here).

Header image: Cisco Webex Board

Me at Barco

With over 20 years in audio visual integration and IT/computer sales and consulting, Corey Moss is the owner of Convergent AV. Corey writes for the publication and hosts/produces podcasts – The AV Life, The Collaboration Factor and Convergent Tech Talk. He has written for numerous industry publications about AV, IT, unified communications and collaboration (UCC), cloud and software, IoT, cybersecurity and more. He has also conducted interviews with AV and IT executives and global influencers. Find him talking about a whole lot of things, tech and otherwise. On LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/mosscorey/.