Chambers: When It Comes To Collaboration, We're A Different Cisco

Cisco Systems is thinking about its collaboration business a whole lot differently than it was back in 2006, according to Cisco CEO John Chambers.

"We sat down and we said, 'We cannot do this our traditional way,'" Chambers said at the 2014 Cisco Collaboration Summit in Los Angeles Monday. "'We have to have people who think more consumer-like and more software-like.'"

As the 19-year Cisco CEO sees it, Cisco's legacy collaboration technologies, such as the room-based TelePresence systems it introduced in 2006, have been too narrowly focused on the C-suite and large enterprise organizations. The price and complexity of those systems, he said, made them off-limits to many smaller organizations, which lacked the IT budgets and resources to deploy them.

Related: Going Mobile: Cisco Again Shakes Up Collaboration Line With 'Project Squared' Cloud-Based App

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"[TelePresence] transforms how we communicate as a company, the business process, etc.," Chambers said. "But it was too expensive and too complex."

Now, Chambers said, Cisco is singing a different tune, striving to deliver cutting-edge collaboration technology to organizations -- and devices -- of all sizes.

"[It's] something we are going to call 'No Compromise Collaboration' for everyone -- literally from the boardroom, if you will, to individual smartphones," he said.

Cisco has backed this new collaboration philosophy -- under the direction of Collaboration Senior Vice President Rowan Trollope -- with a number of new solutions this year. Cisco Monday took the wraps off Project Squared, a cloud-based mobile application that delivers messaging, file sharing and other collaboration capabilities directly to a user's smartphone, tablet or Mac.

Cisco this year also has rolled out new collaboration solutions purpose-built for the SMB market, such as the Cisco TelePresence SX10 Quick Set. Unveiled in March, the SX10 is a plug-and-play TelePresence system, starting at $3,999, that lets smaller organizations leverage the hardware they already have in place -- such as a flat-screen TV -- to launch an enterprise-grade videoconferencing service.

Cisco's blitz comes as the San Jose, Calif.-based company's collaboration business struggles to return to growth; in its first fiscal quarter, Cisco said its collaboration business was down 10 percent year over year, compared with a drop of 4 percent in the previous quarter.

Meanwhile, Cisco not only continues to face competition from traditional collaboration players such as Microsoft and Avaya, but from a growing group of cloud-based unified communications startups including Blue Jean Networks and Vidyo.

Solution providers, however, seem optimistic that Cisco's recent investments in collaboration are about to pay off.

"The mood is changing," said Robert Bellmar, executive vice president of conferencing and collaboration at InterCall, a Chicago-based Cisco partner. "What I mean by that is it almost felt like a different company a few years back when Rowan [Trollope] first started. Now, it's coming together holistically and that transformation is picking up momentum, and that's really exciting to see."

Bellmar said InterCall's Cisco collaboration business will definitely be up this year compared with last year, but declined to share specific sales figures.

"I'm very bullish," Bellmar said. "I love the new focus on the end user."

Bellmar said he hasn't seen Cisco's collaboration solutions make a major move downmarket into the SMB space just yet, but that he expects that change to come.

"We are heading there," Bellmar said. "It depends on the company and industry. But it's coming. It's close to reaching a tipping point."