Collaboration Control Panels: An Operational Perspective

by Dan Stephens and Keith Ridgway
01/10/14 at 03:29 am

Collaboration is about results, the business value generated from being able to communicate efficiently and effectively with co-workers, business partners and customers.  Collaboration tools should enable and simplify that communication without cultural disruption.  Cloud enabled application deployments are happening faster than anticipated, BYOD is driving more than phone choices; user experience is of paramount importance.    Cisco Jabber and Microsoft Lync are two such tools that I refer to as Collaboration Control Panels because they are helping to coordinate communication methods effective to your business processes - getting information to people at the right time to reduce mean time to decision.

Both products function essentially the same way.  First, add a contact if they are outside of your directory or simply look them up if they are in your organization.  What is your contact’s presence status?  Online, Do Not Disturb, Presenting, In a meeting, Away or any custom status they choose to create.  Once the status is determined, the user can then determine to ignore it or use it.  Dan Stephens is available. I can chat, call, email, conference, desktop share, P2P video call or group him with other users that can be contacted as a group. It’s all about the freedom to choose how and when to communicate. Look at the adoption rate of these collaboration tools by Millennials.  Again both vendors provide similar results. 

There are multiple solutions available such as SameTime, Lync, Jabber, Skype, Facetime, Google Talk, Yahoo Messenger, etc. Why would you choose one or the other?  If it isn’t a religious conversation for you then we can start with how operational staff is comprised today?  If you have IBM and Notes then SameTime might be a better option than either Cisco or Microsoft.  If you have non-Cisco networking and Microsoft Servers then Lync is a natural fit.  If you have Cisco networking and phone systems then Cisco Jabber is the way to go.  Where Microsoft and Cisco diverge is on the support models and the eco-system partners.  Other considerations include the ability to support clients such as PC, Mac, Tablet, smartphone, virtual desktops.  A customer may want to have a solution supporting only a premise based solution…others may want Cloud based solutions.  Most customers want platform independence and browser independence.

Microsoft likes to say that they can work with anything and that they only handle the software.  They discuss the importance of integration with Microsoft Office.  Let’s translate what that means to a Unified Collaboration system.  The network, it’s configuration and quality can be any vendor you want (but it’s not our fault if you have latency, jitter or other bandwidth issues), the servers can be any vendor you want that supports Windows Server (but it’s not our fault if they buckle under load or are not configured properly), we can provide a SIP trunk for telco communications or you can tie into a box that will transcode our proprietary codecs into standards based signaling.  If you are diligent you can build an eco system that will support interconnecting your voice to the outside world, add on support for contact centers, like helpdesks, provide good quality networking etc.  However, what happens when a problem occurs?  What happens when you can’t tell if it’s a Lync issue or a network issue?  Well, it’s an eco-system so your operations staff will have to work with all the eco partners involved and coordinate multiple parties on each trouble shooting call.  Microsoft will tell you that this is a good thing because it drives independent innovation.  I will not argue with that but they also use that argument as to why Windows over Apple and for anyone on a MAC the stability of the hardware and OS being owned by the same development team has its benefits.

How does Cisco differ?  Cisco started as a route switch company and it is still the bulk of their sales.  They understand bits and bites and how to get data from point A to point B preserving quality, low latency, and low jitter by applying Quality of Service mechanisms.  So they are the leader in the Layer 2 and Layer 3 markets.  Cisco also has been very active in the standards bodies.  Cisco has aggressively attacked the server market and is currently 3rd behind HP and IBM.  They have been in the IP voice market for over 12 years and they certify what is required for their apps to run successfully on all server platforms especially the Unified Compute platform.  Cisco is quickly becoming the dominant player in Contact Center space.  Cisco WebEx is the dominant hosted conferencing provider, and with the acquisition of Tandberg in 2009 Cisco owns a 40% share of the video market. In the area of Contact Center, Cisco should overtake Avaya for #1 contact center market share in North America this year (2013).  Consistent with Synergy, Gartner ranked Cisco #2 in contact center worldwide in CY2012, as measured in seats.  The final touch was to tie it all together with Jabber a standards based XMPP chat / IM client.  Our control panel, that ties all of these other products together on PC, MAC, iPhone, iPad and Android devices.  But the difference is in the support model, instead of an ecosystem for basic functions you call one organization and they move you into the departments within Cisco to get your problems fixed.  Now before anyone says, “wait a minute” Cisco has eco-system too… for faxing, recording and the like, yes I know, but those items are additive for BOTH vendors and I was referring to basic service.

In conclusion, I have avoided saying one is a better product than the other because both have plus’ and minus’ however I have clearly advocated for Cisco from a support perspective.  At the end of the day it’s more than Jabber/Lync.  The emergence of new technologies is changing how people work; Mobile, Video and Cloud services enable productivity enhancements and process improvements.  Look for the leader in enabling mobile, video and cloud collaboration.  Pick a vendor who provides the best UC experience across PC, Mac, Tablet and Smartphone.  If you want it to be operationally friendly I would recommend Jabber and the Cisco Collaboration suite. If you are willing to make it a project and accept the results then Lync is an option but at that point you might want to choose Kamailio an open source option…it’s cheaper if you like projects.

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