Cisco social platform available to mid-size firms

This week Cisco Systems Inc. will expand the availability of its social networking platform called Quad, which has been limited to a small number of large enterprises since its debut five months ago.

Companies with as few as 2,500 employees will be able buy the platform, which integrates social media-type applications behind the firewall with Cisco’s telephony, presence and video capabilities for enterprise-wide collaboration.

The expansion will give the bulk of Cisco customers the ability to set up company-wide platforms similar to ones built around Microsoft’s SharePoint portal and IBM Corp.’s Lotus Connections.

The difference is that SharePoint and Connections need extra capabilities from other software they make and from partners to create the kind of solution Cisco Quad offers almost out of the box.

Almost, because to get the full benefit of Quad an organization needs Cisco’s communications infrastructure. Also, Quad only runs on Cisco severs.

However, Quad’s wider availability may answer the question of whether enterprises want a company-wide collaboration platform that offers social media-type features.

No one doubts that social media applications like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have become important tools for many staffers.

However, Irwin Lazar, vice-president of communications and research at Nemertes Research, notes that branches or departments have been doing most of the investing.

According to a Nemertes survey released in September, only 12 per cent of organizations have an enterprise-wide single platform collaboration platform, he said in an interview on Monday.

“We see a lot of companies struggling with the business case to justify the investment,” he said. “It’s really hard to quantify the value of something like Quad.”

On the other hand, he said, organizations that have taken an enterprise-wide approach to this type of collaboration say it has improved the ability of teams to work together and shortened product cycles.

Quad derives its name from Cisco’s grouping of the way people work into four broad categories: They create and use documents through portals and intranets; communicate by voice, e-mail, instant messaging and video; collaborate through teams and social networks; and also work through business processes. Quad, Cisco says, unites them all.

Briefly, it does this through a dashboard with integrated views into calendars, blogs, e-mail, communities and other links uses let staff see.  

Contacting other staff via phone, IM and video is said to be an easy click thanks to an integrated application called Show and Share. Show and Share can also transcribe video into a searchable text transcript. Meanwhile an application called Pulse lets staff find people and shared information. For example, a staff member can learn not only who a colleague is and their expertise, but also who is on their team, who they report to and whose online work they follow.

“We see this as a different approach to collaboration,” said Murali Sitaram, vice-president and general manager for Cisco’s enterprise collaboration platform, “where you’re not just looking at what people are doing but at the consumption of knowledge, which allows you to deduce interesting information from.”

“Part of what we’re trying to do is ensure that through quick connections with people we can establish a rapport and relationship,” he added, “faster than before.”

Ron Gruia, a Toronto-based industry analyst who specializes in emerging telecommunications technologies at Frost & Sullivan, says easier access to intra-company resources and expertise has been a goal of many providers. It doesn’t help that many enterprises still don’t have a clear social media strategy, he added.

Still, he said enterprise collaboration is a growing market that will come under the control of IT departments as demand increases. He also predicts that telephony software makers will add these capabilities to their products as a way to differentiate themselves from competitors.

Nemertes’ Lazar said that organizations using SharePoint have to turn to Microsoft partners such as NewsGator from NewsGator Technologies Inc. to gain the features Quad offers. Similarly, Lotus Connections needs Lotus Sametime for telephony.

Another choice is Jive from Jive Software, an on-premise or software as a service platform. Coming is Novell’s Vibe, announced earlier this month and expected to be on sale before the end of the year.

Cisco’s Sitaram said that the new release of Quad not only allows mid-size companies to buy the platform, it also adds a few features. One is Report Content, which lets a user forward a document for review to a “content misuse” staffer for regulatory compliance checking.

New features will be added with every release, he added, about three times a year. The spring release will include the ability to use Quad on the upcoming Cisco Cius tablet, iPads and iPhones. It will also include dashboard templates for specialized departments.

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