Cisco's Rowan Trollope unveils Project Squared.
Cisco's Rowan Trollope unveils Project Squared.

LOS ANGELESCisco Systems is moving beyond the data centre with a cloud-based collaboration solution the vendor hopes will make it easier for workgroups and teams to work together on projects.

Cisco took the wraps off Project Squared on Monday at its Collaboration Summit conference, held here. Comprising unified communications, customer collaboration, conferencing and collaboration endpoints, the collaboration portfolio is a $4 billion business for Cisco. Project Squared is designed to integrate with solutions across Cisco’s collaboration portfolio, but isn’t reliant on them and can be used on its own.

Built on Cisco’s Collaboration Cloud, Project Squared is a business collaboration app that combines chat, audio, video, multi-party meetings and content sharing in one application. It has a heavy mobile focus with apps available on iOS and Android, as well as a desktop-based browser version.

According to the vendor, Squared is designed to answer the demands of workers to stay connected across devices and share ideas with project team members in real time without violating enterprise security policies.

“We created Project Squared and the Cisco Collaboration Cloud platform to deliver on our dream to transform the collaboration experience, making it easy to stay constantly connected to the people, projects and ideas that matter most,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s collaboration technology group, in a statement. “We have lots of ideas on how to continue to enhance the Project Squared experience, and we’re on a mission to keep integrating with important business tools so that [you] can do your best work.”

Integration is a key focus for Squared, which integrates with business tools such as calendars, Active Directory, WebEx and Box. It’s also a key part of Cisco’s collaboration strategy – making sure its cloud applications integrate with the business applications companies are already using, even those from other vendors.

“Unless there’s an answer for how it all works together, cloud applications are just toys,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, vice-president and chief technology officer of Cisco’s collaboration technology group. “And toys do not a business make.”

Cisco is betting on integration as the key differentiator for Squared from competitors like Slack, he added.

“Slack is an island and it works for those using it but it doesn’t plug into Unified Communications of exchange. “We’re betting heavily on the integration of cloud with existing solutions. Security is also a big differentiator with end to end content security – I won’t name names, but we’re not in the business of selling ads and we don’t want to see your content ever.”

Squared is built around the concept of Rooms, basically a conversation thread where team members can be added, files shared and messages sent. Different rooms can be created for different projects. With a click, WebEx video chats can be launched with room members and files still shared will the video chat continues.

Cisco has emphasized what Squared is not. While Cisco is embracing consumer-focused design practices, it’s built for enterprise users.

“It’s not being marketed and sold as a consumer product, but people are coming to work with consumer sensibilities and we need to design with that in mind,” said Rosenberg.

It’s also not a social network application for the enterprise – while vendors like Yammer and Jive want to be the Facebook for the enterprise, that’s not Cisco’s goal with Squared.

“That has its place, but it’s not great for teams getting together to collaborate on projects and be more productive together,” said Rosenberg. “There’s no hard lines, and Square has some social aspects, but the focus is on team collaboration. It will integrate with other products like Jive.”

A screen shot of Project Squared accessed through a laptop browser.
A screen shot of Project Squared accessed through a laptop browser.

The missing piece right now for Project Squared is monetization. Right now, it’s available for free. Obviously that will change at some point, but right now Cisco says it wants to see how real customers use and consume the product in the wild.

“We need to learn from real users and real customers so we can get the commercial terms right,” said Rosenberg. “If you can demonstrate great value to users in IT there’s plenty of opportunities to monetize.”



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