Cisco Live! was a rather uneventful conference in terms of product announcements.
The networking giant rolled out a few virtualization-based software updates, some new CCNA certifications and a social networking site nothing really earth shattering.
But in place of a blockbuster new product, Cisco gave the business world an interesting glimpse into its crystal ball and how the company says you’ll be communicating in the very near future. Both keynote speeches — the first by CEO John Chambers, and the second by CTO Padmasree Warrior — focused on the idea of visual and social networking-based tools (such as Facebook, Twitter and Cisco’s TelePresence) as the communication tools of choice over the next five years.
During a live demonstration to kick off the conference, Chambers and Cisco demo guy Jim Grubb showed how video calls can be seamlessly transferred from the WebEx Connect’s online platform to an Apple iPhone. Later in the week, Warrior showed conference goers how the iPhone (ironic given that the hugely popular Apple device probably gave her many nightmares during her tumultuous time at Motorola) and Twitter can be used to drive instant corporate brainstorming sessions and boost productivity. These were just two of the many examples pushed by company executives during the event.
“Five years from now, Cisco Live! will be largely virtual itself,” Chambers said at one point. “It’ll be amazing once these technologies take off. We’ll use it in every technology system in the enterprise.”
Now the fact that these collaboration tools are thriving in the consumer world is undisputed. But the idea that they are effective in a structured environment like a major enterprise is still to be debated. We tend to support social networking as a business tool. All of our editors and writers use FaceBook, and while we haven’t installed Cisco’s TelePresence or HP’s Halo video collaboration system yet (Note: vendors refuse to call it video conferencing for some reason), we could certainly see it happening eventually.
For us, there are two problems with Cisco’s plan. Firstly, the company stressed the need for structure when rolling out these tools, but they didn’t really explain how enterprises can do that. Are we going to see organizations mandate that their employees use Twitter for at least two hours a day? And what about for employees overusing these networking tools?
The other problem is a cultural one. Many workers — especially older ones that haven’t latched on to visual and social networking technologies — might provide resistance for a little while longer.
And we still haven’t gotten to what really worries us about Cisco and that’s the fact that they are still pushing Second Life as a viable enterprise communication tool. During this year’s conference, a cartoon Chambers walked around the virtual world praising its usefulness.
During a roundtable discussion with Chambers, we told him that Second Life was a waste of time for Cisco. Another journalist proposed to Chambers the idea of a 3-D TelePresence system instead. That seemed to spark his interest. We certainly hope the Cisco CEO changes his mind and retires from the virtual world for good.
The bottom line is, we agree with Cisco that visual networking and communication is the wave of the future. It will reduce travel time, save on greenhouse gases and create a more efficient work environment. But until these tools are brought into the enterprise, in a structured way, and to a willing workforce, we won’t be paying too much attention.