Chris Kranky

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Cisco Spark Announcement: The so what

I try to make some sense from all the noise.

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

Cisco held a 3-day summit here in San Francisco to announce new enhancements to Spark, a Slack-like team communications offering. I wasn’t invited nor did I attend.

I did, however, watch the live cast, talk with people who did attend and went thru every bit of publicity material, news and blog articles I could find on these announcements. Despite all the hoopla, splashy music and light shows as well as various executives bouncing around on the stage, Cisco really didn’t say very much at all.

In fact, the more they talked, the more unanswered questions I had. But before I go there, let me tell what I did learn. Cisco is hammering that they’re serious about Spark. Cisco said that Spark is a free to start, pay to grow, cloud service for team communications with a focus on enterprise. While Spark is cloud, it’s designed to interact as a hybrid with your other Cisco components and compliment them. Spark will/does have an open API and will encourage 3rd party integrations of all types without presenting a lot of hurdles. Cisco will not compete with their channel.

[ecko_wide]The content was pretty thin for 3 days of noise and drinks at the bar. However, I fully understand why Cisco has done this, so no, I’m not throwing rocks at them. Let me explain.[/ecko_wide]

Microsoft, a few weeks ago, announced their new E5 pricing for Office 365, to say trying to understand E5 is confusing is an understatement. I follow this industry and I’ve yet to 100% figure it out the details. Nonetheless, Battleship Microsoft has announced they’re going on a mission to upset office communications (again) and is turning on all boilers. With $100 billion in the bank, they can create quite a wake as they leave port. No one is safe and Microsoft comes armed with good enterprise relationships, a massive channel and with weaponry that Cisco simply doesn’t have.

Slack, I hear tell, has a press event scheduled for this coming week. I anticipate they will announce various enhancements to Slack and the addition of voice calling (I don’t believe video will be in this next announcement). Cisco made no direct mention of Slack, but a mere glance tells you Spark shares many attributes with Slack (see update at end).

With all this noise, Cisco needed to, at least, be on the board that they’re playing in this space and the summit successfully accomplished that. Enterprises move slowly and sales channels get scared of anything new. Thus, it is important that Cisco not suddenly surprise anyone in their revenue food chain. Nice, easy and deliberate.

One interested tidbit that did fly by was that each Spark user would have their own unique SIP URI with no further details. As the PSTN ages, bypassing it entirely becomes acceptable. The notion of wider on-net IP calling is now quite plausible. Unlike Microsoft’s closed Skype loop, Cisco was adamant Spark would use open standards and not attempt to create barriers to 3rd parties. I give ++ points for this.

Let’s make some predictions here.

[ecko_icon alias=”fa-arrow-up”] Cisco will acquire Mozilla – if the battle ahead is with Google and Microsoft, Cisco likely will need their own browser. Spark today doesn’t appear to like to work with Chrome or Internet Explorer/Edge. While mobile may be first, plenty of people sit in Enterprise cubicles whiling the day away. Without a browser, Cisco will constantly be bumping edges with people who would just assume they vaporize off the planet. ¬†Telling is the heavy tilt Spark on using Firefox.


[ecko_icon alias=”fa-arrow-up”] Cisco could acquire Dropbox – I’m not sure people are willing to pay much for glorified instant messaging (note: this isn’t just a problem for Cisco, it’s a challenge for the entire space), storage though will be important and Dropbox is running out of space to play on the map against OneDrive, GDrive. While Dropbox is mostly a consumer play, it would fit nicely into the Spark integration and people would be willing to pay for it.

[ecko_icon alias=”fa-arrows-h”] Cisco continues to shop for office productivity tools – Cisco doesn’t have email or an Office suite and it’s a bit late in the game to start, however, Spark lacks any long-form creation tool (Slack has a Post utility). This is a potato chip problem in that once you start where do you stop. Plus there isn’t a spreadsheet full of potential names to acquire in this space. I would have to do some deeper digging to see what made sense here. I’m not yet sold that email will be replaced by these new fangled messaging tools though and likely we will see yet another entrant who might step up the entire game. Speaking of which ..

[ecko_icon alias=”fa-arrow-up”] Google may be asleep, but they’re not dead. Google Chat is pretty basic and clearly not in realm of Slack or Spark, Google Apps is starting to look a tad under powered against Office 365 and while that was OK initially, it’s aged a bit and Hangouts, too is in need of a makeover. Google also doesn’t have anywhere near the channel power that Cisco has. Google, though, will rumble to life and I’ll bet a chocolate donut that they will take their own unique view of the problem and the needed solution.

Cisco bought some time with this summit. I anticipate by end of  Q1 2016, they need to show up with more answers. For the moment, Spark is interesting and worthy of being watched. The devil though will be in the detail.

UPDATE 12/15 @ 7.32 p.m. – The news from Slack is that they’re investing $80m of other people’s money (the best money you can ever hope for) into company’s building on the Slack API.