Cisco, the social networking company

Cisco Systems Inc. is taking the wraps off its three-years-in-the-making Quad collaboration platform, announcing limited availability starting in July.

Quad integrates Facebook-style social networking tools, instant messaging, presence and unified communications tools into a single platform oriented toward enterprise, rather than consumer, collaboration.

Cisco will demo the platform at the Enterprise 2.0 conference in Boston on June 15. Quad will be available in July in Canada, the U.S., U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

While e-mail has long been the primary tool for business communication, it’s now being used for applications it wasn’t designed for, like file repositories, said Murali Sitaram, vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s enterprise collaboration platform. The siloes between real-time and asynchronous collaboration tools have to be broken down, he said.

Cisco also announced prosumer video tools based on its Flip camcorder line, including a new MinoPro camera and online video workspace called FocalPoint, which integrates with Cisco’s Show and Share video distribution platform. The MinoPro holds four hours of high-definition video, but doesn’t allow for external audio, something that’s long been on the wish-list of Flip users.

While there are better cameras out there, Cisco is trying to make collaboration through video as easy to use as text, Sitaram said.

The Flip gives users an HD video capture device they can carry in a pocket, said Paul Fulton, general manager of Cisco’s prosumer group. “Consumers bought these cameras and brought them into the enterprise,” he said, and they are doing “amazing things.”

But most of that content ends up on the user’s PC. FocalPoint is a cloud-based, multi-tenant workspace that allows users to edit video and share it across the enterprise, Fulton said.

Irwin Lazar, vice-president of communications and collaboration at Nemertes Research Group Inc., said soon-to-be-released research from the company shows that the IT department is increasingly being asked to integrate consumer technologies and applications into the enterprise.

Cisco’s WebEx Connect 6.5, meanwhile, adds browser-based, clientless access to contact lists and instant messaging.

With acquisitions like WebEx, Jabber and Flip, Cisco has been broadening its reach from an enterprise switch and router company, said Info-Tech Research Group Ltd.’s Tim Hickernell.

“It’s been clear for some time that Cisco has a broader collaboration strategy,” Hickernell said. “Cisco is building a capability of being a provider of internal social networking.”

And Cisco’s timing is good, he said. Internal social networking is still at the early adopter stage, he said. Social media is mostly being used externally by enterprises.

There are a couple of reasons for that, Hickernell said. Use of social networking tools begins at the consumer level. And with external social media use, “it’s easier to wrap your arms around and establish ROI,” Hickernell said. The case for internal social media largely comes down to, “Your main benefit will be increased productivity – trust me” – not an easy sell to executives, he said.

Cisco’s certainly not the only one in the space, if you take out the voice and video infrastructure elements. Recently completed research by Info-Tech identified Cisco as “an emerging player” in a field that includes Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp., EMC Corp.’s Documentum, Jive Software Inc. and Socialtext Inc.

Unlike those companies, Cisco is moving into enterprise social networking from the telecom and networking side rather than the content side, Hickernell said.

And Info-Tech’s research was completed before the research firm could evaluate Quad, he said. “They certainly are a contender in the market now,” he said. For a company that’s heavily invested in Cisco and WebEx products, “this only gets better,” Hickernell said.



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