Quad: The Death of E-mail and Cisco’s Social Enterprise Ambitions

Quad moves to the cloud, has native Cius tablet support and offers better interoperability

Last week I took a train into the city from TMC’s Connecticut HQ to spend time with the Cisco Quad collaboration team – using Cisco telepresence technology and it was a fascinating look into the company’s foray into a post-email, collaborative enterprise world. First things first, I wrote about Quad and spoke with Murali Sitaram VP/GM of Cisco’s Enterprise Platforms unit last September and since then Quad has not been talked about much in the media and has limited buzz in the market. Moreover, Cisco is repositioning itself – lightening up on consumer products meaning much of the company’s messaging has been in other areas of the market including launching consumer telepresence product UMI – something which should never should have gotten the green light.

So I was skeptical at this point and went into the meeting trying to figure out if Quad has a future. Bottom line is Quad is enterprise Facebook with real-time collaboration built in and the idea is it allows easy searching of repositories of information – meaning the knowledge a corporation gains transcends the brains of the few people involved in information creation and it can be intelligently woven into training programs or called upon to more easily answer questions at a later date.

Imagine you are an auto manufacturer working on a green car initiative which flops. A few years later, a new manager reintroduces the idea – you can now go back and analyze the WebEx conference calls, telepresence and other video, presentations and knowledge bases associated with building a green car the first time around. You should be able to learn from your mistakes more easily because there is a record of what went wrong.

More importantly, if we live in a world where Congressmen are comfortable enough sharing photos of their private parts on Twitter, certainly it is time for the typical enterprise worker to start utilizing enterprise social networks as well to become more productive. Although one would hope the worker will deploy a bit more discretion before hitting send.

Quad goes cloudborne and targets smaller enterprises

The meeting didn’t blow me away but it is definitely worth sharing what I learned as Quad could become very important if e-mail does become less utilized and social networking does become the defacto standard for communications within organizations.

Probably the biggest news is Quad now will support enterprises as small as 1,000 users (down from 3,500) and be supported by cloud-based vendors allowing an organization to use Quad in a SaaS configuration. Moreover, the new 2.5 release will allow integration of activity streams and watch list functionality to enable users to better define and filter the content they consume.

Quad: See us on the Cius

I have yet to test the Cisco Cius tablet (ironically Cisco just invited me to a Cius event next week as I write this) but Quad will work on it natively which could make people who buy these tablets happier that they integrate natively with Cisco collaboration tools. Then again, Quad will work on a variety of mobile devices including iOS so this may not be such an important point. We will have to wait and see how it works.

Extending the Quad across campuses

Cisco has extended interoperability within Quad allowing it to work with enterprise IM clients Microsoft OCS 2007, IBM Sametime, and Cisco Jabber. This means a Quad user will be able to initiate and conduct an IM conversation with users of these other collaboration systems. It’s worth pointing out Quad also works with EMC Documentum and Microsoft SharePoint 2007.

Microblogging and template support

There is now support for hashtags, multimedia and other file attachments and of course messages beyond 140 characters. There is also template support allowing an admin to assign them to a community or a team.

Who are the hosting partners?

Depending on your geographic area, you can work with Capgemini, ACS a Xerox company or Infosys.

Suggestions and recommendations – enables semantic components to shine

One area of interest to me is the suggestion and recommendation functionality which comes in handy when using consumer social networks and even LinkedIn. Cisco’s solution works in a similar fashion by doing things like suggesting connections of other people within your company who have similar expertise. This could come in handy not only in a company like Google where people spend so much time working on secondary projects but since suppliers and partners could be on Quad together. It allows you to gain better visibility into your counterpart(s) with your partner or customer company.

Quad to become more visible

I asked Murali about why Quad hasn’t been visible with regards to marketing and PR and he told me it will be more visible going forward as it knits all the Cisco products and services together. I got to thinking though – this was also the case a year ago yet I’ve spent months looking at millions of dollars worth of TV ads for enterprise and consumer telepresence – much of it turned out to be wasted. And I am left still wondering – if Quad is as good as Cisco says it is then why aren’t we seeing it more? Generally when a disconnect like this exists between a vendor’s actions and words, we learn later of an underlying conflict. Perhaps I am wrong but I remain skeptically optimistic we will see Cisco start to promote Quad and more importantly we will start to see my fellow journalists start to write more enthusiastic pieces regarding its growth and future potential.

Quad SMB & Fremium?

I also asked about whether Quad needs to go SMB and have a free model to get smaller companies excited and hooked. Sitaram mentioned he didn’t think this made sense at the moment and utilized Yammer as an example of a company who does this but isn’t very financially successful as a result. I was thinking more Salesforce.com Chatter but I didn’t get a chance to ask about it.

Final thoughts

I am an advocate of using technology to boost productivity and make companies more productive and the research tells us the future will be one where email is less important and enterprise social is more important. And for Cisco the move from hardware to software makes sense as it is potentially more profitable (unless you’re Apple) and if you own the social collaboration platform you have a greater chance of selling the components which work with it. Routers, IP telephony systems, telepresence, videoconferencing are just a few of these and going forward, Cisco will be able to offer more software solutions which will have higher adoption rates because they work seamlessly with their collaboration solutions. IF this strategy is successful, over time, Cisco will become a threat to Microsoft and potentially Google, Oracle, SAP and others.

But of course this is the best-case scenario – Cisco isn’t batting that well lately and there are challenges the company faces as it decides which businesses to keep and which ones to get rid of. Moreover, Cisco is not known as a software company and quite frankly, Chatter is a lot easier to start using and deploying as it is in the cloud and free. Sure it doesn’t have the built-in IP communications and video bells and whistles but a Salesforce.com partnership with Polycom or Avaya could easily rectify this situation.

Another challenge Quad faces is Facebook or LinkedIn deciding they want to own enterprise collaboration and rolling out a product which competes head-on. Then there is Skype. Now that Microsoft owns them and the Internet telephony software is integrating more closely with Facebook, perhaps the stage is being set for a SharePoint/Lync/Facebook/Skype combo which will one-up solutions like Quad, Chatter, Twitter and others.

It is worth mentioning another challenge with enterprise social solutions in general. With infinite repositories of corporate intelligence you face potential legal issues where discovery could create volumes of information which could be used against you.

The one constant is change – and I am reminded by Warren Buffet’s famous statement which I am paraphrasing – where he said he doesn’t understand technology. What he meant is he could look at a market leader like Coke and know 20 years from now they will still be the market leader. In tech, he said, this is much tougher to do. And boy is he right. The analysts tell us the next generation of worker will demand social tools and in order to attract the best talent you will have to have a social enterprise. The question is how does the enterprise make a social enterprise decision today which will be the right one in the long run? For Cisco’s part, they are saying the right things – but for my readers, I would wait to see Quad become a more common story and gain more momentum before plunging in with both feet.

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