Cisco announces new collaboration products

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At its Collaboration Summit in Boca Raton, Florida last week, networking giant Cisco announced a number of new products it claimed will make workforce collaboration simpler for employees and more secure for organisations.

Perhaps more importantly for customers, these additions to Cisco’s collaboration portfolio come at a time when recently introduced ‘bring your own device’ [BYOD] and remote working policies have thrown a spanner in the works of even the most carefully thought-out technology-based collaboration strategies.

In other words, IT teams have spent a great deal of time and money equipping office-based employees with access to full suites of video, audio and web conferencing tools, along with enterprise messaging and presence tools - only to find that employees prefer to use their new iPhone 5 for work or have started working from home on a regular basis.

Cisco’s Donald Mclaughlin, director of collaboration sales in the UK & Ireland, prefers to put it another way. The impact of these trends on existing collaboration strategies has been one of “positive disruption”, he insists.

“If the essence of collaboration is to increase productivity - and most of us agree that it is - then it stands to reason that any productivity boost is going to be that much greater if employees are using devices that they are comfortable using, that they enjoy using,” he reasons.

Either way, many companies need to rethink their collaboration strategies in light of these trends and this is what Cisco is now trying to address with the additions to its collaboration portfolio.

Cisco Expressway, for example, is the company’s new gateway that will allow IT teams to extend UC tools beyond traditional company boundaries - to mobile and home workers, for example. Typically, remote access to conferencing and messaging tools has been achieved with the creation of a VPN [virtual private network] tunnel between the remote worker’s location and company premises. With Expressway, there’s no need for a VPN, password or device registration. Instead, Cisco Expressway uses Transport Layer Security - “the same technology that’s widely used to secure e-commerce transactions,” says the company. Cisco Expressway will be available in December.

Cisco also announced Jabber Guest, which plugs into Expressway and enables companies to extend secure, controlled access to enterprise collaboration tools to trusted third parties: contractors, partners, customers and so on.

Tackling the BYOD issue, meanwhile, Cisco announced a new technology, Intelligent Proximity, that will enable employees to link their mobile phones with their desk phones, so that they can switch calls already in progress between the two, as well as export contacts and call histories from their mobiles onto their desk phone. This product will be available in November and the first phone to support this capability is the Cisco DX650 Smart Desk Phone, based on Android.

Finally, Cisco hasn’t forgotten the hard-pressed IT teams charged with getting UC products, new and old, to play nicely together. For them, it has introduced Prime Collaboration, which will allow them to manage “the vast majority” of Cisco collaboration products from a single management console. It will also enable IT teams to authorise the addition of employee-owned devices to company-based UC systems.

The “vast majority” - what does that mean exactly, IP EXPO Online asked Mclaughlin? “There are still a few components to be added,” he said: these include Video Communications Server (VCS), Cisco Expressway, “and also some of the components within our contact centre solution”.

“Compatibility with Prime is now a requirement for every Cisco products that comes to market and so we expect it to evolve continuously,” he added. “Every existing application will also eventually become part of Prime, and we have created flexible API [application programming interfaces to ensure the service can be enhanced with additional products without the need for a full update.”

These announcements could be good news for companies that have long been forced to juggle multiple UC products in order to give employees the broadest collaboration experience possible. If these new additions live up to the promise of bringing some simplicity to that task, while at the same time extending the reach of collaboration tools, they’re likely to receive a warm welcome.

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