Cisco lights a Spark under UC&C

Senior VP of collaboration Rowan Trollope addresses the UX pain paints of UC&C and how Cisco is re-jigging its entire approach to the user experience with its new UCaaS platform.


Since Canadians are known for constantly saying we’re sorry, the apologetic tone of Rowan Trollope’s recent keynote at Cisco’s Collaboration Partner Summit was no big shocker to me.

Trollope, I remembered, originally hails from Toronto.

“UC is a great idea. But in the hands of end users, it never really delivered on that promise,” said Trollope, senior vice-president and general manager of collaboration at Cisco Systems Inc.

He’s publicly addressed the UX pain paints of UC&C before. Numerous surveys also attest to the unremarkable UX of the technology, including one last year suggesting 43 per cent of users feel “frustrated and overwhelmed” by it.

So Trollope focused his San Francisco keynote on how Cisco is re-jigging its entire approach to the UC&C user experience with its new Spark UCaaS platform.

Spark was originally launched in March as a business messaging app called Project Squared. The latest news is that Spark is now a full-blown platform that includes voice, video and web conferencing.

But merely integrating them into one suite isn’t reinventing the UC wheel from a UX perspective, right? Trollope acknowledged as much, saying that approach “doesn’t work very well” because those three things — all created in the “pre-cloud and pre-mobile” era — were never designed to work together in the first place.

“We needed to completely redesign all three of these … not to be three integrated things but to be one thing, one designed experience,” he said.

Trollope then launched a series of on-stage demos to illustrate how Spark offers an easier user experience: video conferencing units that automatically enable Spark meetings on your smartphone when you enter the room; video calls hopping from desk phones to mobile phones to conferencing units; screen sharing during web and video calls with just one tap; access to your call history data from any Spark enabled device.

Trollope described Spark as “one button to join that goes everywhere” so collaboration is “seamless from room to room.” With Spark, you’ll theoretically never have to worry about whether a certain meeting room or device is configured with a specific type of meeting hardware. That’s mainly because it’s cloud-based, which also allows users and developers to build their own integrations and customizations on top of Spark through APIs.

(Don’t worry, you can run Spark on your existing on-prem UC setup via Spark Hybrid Services, formerly known as Fusion.)

Spark is supposed to make UC a pleasing — not just productive — user experience. Trollope recounted a question posed to him three years ago by current Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins.

“Chuck said, ‘How are you going to make this — and he pointed to his iPhone — work with this?’ and he pointed to his desk phone,” Trollope recalled.

The answer came this August, when Apple announced a deal “optimizing Cisco networks for iOS devices and apps, integrating iPhone with Cisco enterprise environments and providing unique collaboration on iPhone and iPad.” It’s Cisco’s acknowledgement that enterprise UC has to embrace the consumerization of IT trend that Apple touched off in the first place.

“Everyone brings their smartphone to work. It’s really about people choosing what they need,” Jason Thorsby, Cisco Canada’s director of collaboration systems engineering, told me in an interview. “Tim Cook said Apple changed the way people live via the iPhone. Basically, we’re looking to change the way people work.”

The hope, Trollope said in his keynote, is that Spark can make workplace communication and collaboration “pleasant and fun again … as opposed to the hell hole of emails that everyone’s been in for a long time.”

Trollope didn’t spell out “hell” the polite Canadian way (that would be H-E-double- hockey-sticks). But he did spell out one of the most detailed plans we’ve heard thus far to make UC&C more user-friendly, scalable and adaptable. In today’s user-centric universe, that counts for a heck of a lot.

(Speaking of collaboration, Allstream was honoured at the San Francisco summit as Cisco’s Canadian Collaboration Partner of the Year, a testament to the strong alliance both companies have forged to deliver the best UC&C experience to enterprise users here in Canada.)

Photo courtesy of Cisco Systems Inc.

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