Cisco C-Scape 2007 � Parting Thoughts

I mentioned in passing in my earlier post that compared to last year, Cisco has certainly come a long way in its focus on video and network-centric solutions. Lots of talk last year about unified communications and SMB � not so much now. Telepresence is front and center, which is not a bad thing. And why not? I don�t know how much traction Halo or Tandberg or Polycom are getting, but Cisco wasn�t shy telling you how many deployments they have in less than a year�s time. If the numbers are to be believed, it�s pretty hard not to conclude that Cisco has bet right with Telepresence.

There really are 2 major story lines related to TP. The first is telepresence itself and the second is how this fits into the broader constellation of video-based solutions that Cisco seems to be betting its future on. Many presentations and sessions ended with the reassuring messaging that Cisco is �uniquely positioned� to deliver video and bring customers into the Web 2.0 world. Well, if you say so, then it must be true. There was a lot of Kool Aid served at C-Scape, but on this count they just may be right. To the extent you believe that - it�s too early for me to tell - Cisco is poised to become a force in the video a lot faster than you might think.

So, first to TP � Telepresence. The big message there is that if you just think of this as high end videoconferencing, then you have very 1.0 view of things. Absolutely, that�s what it does, but from day 1 Cisco has not called this videoconferencing, and has staked out higher ground trying to get the world to see this as an entirely new category. The Cisco view is that this a tool for business transformation, that changes the way people communicate, and more importantly, the way we do business. They provided pretty good examples of this, particularly in health care, and we�re not just talking about cutting down on travel. It�s about enabling new processes and accelerating workflow. I�m just an indie, so I can�t really envisage this in my world, but can definitely see where this really can happen.

If you want to see the wow factor of where they�re coming from, check out this much-watched video off of YouTube. It runs about 4 minutes, and was mentioned often at the event, and gives the term virtual reality new meaning. In this session, John Chambers is speaking live in Bangalore, and Marthin De Beer appears hologram-like on the same stage as if he was right there with him. This isn�t from a Hollywood special effects magician � it can happen at your next board meeting. An interesting example they provided was how an Arab Emirates country wants to use this as a way to virtually bring Western celebrities into their local events. Well, that makes sense � a lot of rich and famous people will not � or cannot � travel to this part of the world, so TP is the next best thing. I get that.

Also, if you want to see a more extensive video from which this demo was done, there's an official version running on Cisco's website. It runs about 11 minutes, and has John Chambers telling the TP story in more detail.

I should also add that as good as the TP story is, there was no mention made of some interesting news from late last week. Cisco announced they�ll be opening up TP to interoperate with other standards-based videoconferencing systems. I�m all for that, and it positions Telepresence as more of a 2.0 solution, making it even more interesting. Not sure why they didn�t play this angle up at C-Scape.

Lots more to talk about here, but you get the idea. Anyhow, the second idea is the bigger picture of video. This is Dan Scheinman�s world, and Cisco demonstrated on a few levels how committed they are to video. They see it as the killer app of the Internet, and they just might be right. And of course, to do video right, you must have the right network, and who knows networks better than Cisco, right? Networks are not my forte, so I really can�t challenge on this front. What I do know is that 2008 will see the launch of EOS � their Entertainment Operating System � which puts all the pieces to together, including search capabilities that are a big part of their secret sauce.

I agree with Dan�s premise that there�s simply too much content out there, and people generally don�t know what they�re looking for most of the time, and when they do, they really don�t know how to find it. So, a big part of what will make video a big deal is having search tools that don�t just help you find things, but that help you discover things. It�s a subtle difference, but a big one in my books, and again, I get that. If EOS lives up to its promise, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo will have some catching up to do.

Missed opportunities? One comes to mind for me. One of the quiet stories that I think is cool is their focus on digital signage. I see lots of interesting applications, and once Cisco Field is built you can bet it will be a living test lab and showcase for this. Anyhow, given the size of the main hall for the big presentations, there were large video screens flanking the stage so everyone could see what was going on. At the back and the edges of center stage, however, were several smaller display screens draped in semi-random fashion to give the feeling of a more intimate, home-theater type setting. I�d guess they were each approximately the size of a flat screen TV you might have in your home.

Ok � I get it � video is the big message, so sure, the more video displays the better. Unfortunately, for the most part, these display screens only had static images - usually the conference logo. Ugh - not very exciting and, to me, a missed opportunity. Not only could those screens have been used to enhance the overall video message with streaming media, but even more so, they could have been a great vehicle to demonstrate their digital signage technology. It�s pretty neat stuff, and like TP, you really need to see it to get the idea.

Of course, you could argue that having too many screens showing streaming video/media � using both big and small screens - would be too distracting from what�s going on center stage. That may be true, but hey, we�re all smart, media savvy analysts. I�d say a little Hollywood razzle dazzle � even at just a few choice break points throughout the day � would have made a great impression to show off not just the power of both video and digital signage, but also to make a statement about how much of media company Cisco is becoming.

I can�t help but mention at this point that doing something like that � and it couldn�t have been that hard to do � would have been far more effective than the morally ambiguous Telepresence commercial they ran to close out the morning session. If you saw this, you�d know what I mean, and after a morning full of interesting and engaging presentations, it�s hard to see what they were thinking here. On a brain-dead level, the commercial was very sentimental and touchy-feely about an everyday American family keeping in touch with their son who is in some far-away place. That�s an easy message to send about the power of Telepresence. But it sure was hard to tell whether their son � who was holed up in some form of a tented base camp in the middle of nowhere � was doing noble Peace Corps type of work � or was in the military doing other types of work.

Maybe it�s just me, but I found this commercial confusing and a bit suspicious rather than uplifting and singing the praises of TP. I didn�t hear anyone else reading it this way, so I guess it�s just me. So either it was just way too subtle for everyone, or I spend too much time reading meaning into things where there�s nothing really there. The latter is probably closer to the truth, although I spent a lot of time thinking and writing about this stuff as a Psychology undergrad enroute to my Marketing MBA. Or maybe I should switch fields and go into advertising....

Much more to talk about, but that�s about all that will make it to my blog. To sum up, instead of hearing talk about VoIP, IP telephony, unified communications, SMB, the language this time around was about collaboration, Web 2.0, blogging, social networks, innovation, content, community, personalization and the experience. If it was just words like these, you�d be right to be sceptical. But they sure seem to be walking the talk, and even though their Web 2.0 Kool Aid was pretty strong - if you were there you�d know what I�m referring to � I do share their vision and can see how the pieces fit.

John Chambers loves to talk about never losing a battle where they�ve had a head start and how they�ve had a good track record capitalizing on market transitions. It�s also pretty clear that innovation is a major mantra at Cisco, and they�re living it as an organization, signs of which became increasingly apparent the more time I spent talking with them during the event.

Well, video sure is one of these �market transitions�, and they seem to be right on target for what�s coming in 2008. In short, his vision is to transform Cisco from a plumbing play to a platform play, and if they do, their branding message �welcome to the human network� will ring true, and give them the one thing they don�t have � cachet in the consumer market. Apple has it, Microsoft has it, and Cisco�s dying to have it. If I�m a betting man, I say they�ll get it in 2008.

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