Cisco, Ifyphone, Jaduka - 3 News Items, 3 Different Innovation Stories

The last couple of days have been interesting on the news front, and I'm highlighting 3 items that are all coming out around the same time. I'm citing them all here to show the diversity of things that are going on, and that innovation is alive and well. Of course, innovation can be very subjective, but there's no doubt that companies of all sizes are trying to differentiate along this spectrum.

The following three examples are completely unrelated aside from the fact that they're news items right now. Each tells a different story, but they're all after the same thing - trying to bring something new to the market that adds value for their customers. To me, this is a much healthier sign of life than the steady stream of new product releases or line extensions that are of more benefit to the sellers than the buyers.

1. Cisco - "Everything as a Service", and enhanced security

Last week, Cisco did a lot of media and analyst briefings for these two items, which were under embargo until this morning. This seems like a long time for an embargo, but maybe I just got briefed early in the pack, and they needed to speak to a lot of people last week. Anyhow, these two items are quite different, and are fairly complex, especially the first one.

On the first front, Cisco is boldly moving further into cloud computing territory, and this announcement is meant to showcase what's possible when WebEx is paired up with extensive collaboration features. Seems like WebEx on steroids, and I suspect it needs to be ramped up like this to show why this acquisition was money well spent. By calling it "everything as a service", this news pushes Cisco well beyond its hardware roots into the realm of applications. Cisco is not shy saying this is a big growth story, and that they are determined to get their share of it.

I've been on this theme since their last analyst conference, and I'm hardly alone in noting how big of a leap this can be. Of course, Cisco is very good at this sort of thing - arguably better than Microsoft - and WebEx gives them the platform they need to become a serious SaaS player. Fair enough, but this news can also sound a bit like a scorched earth policy where Cisco will do what it takes become a leader in this amorphous collaboration space, and that's where I find it all a bit hard to follow.

It's clear that they have solid technology here, and their focus on the cloud and collaboration is right on. What isn't clear - at least to me - just what the vision is for the customer. No doubt it's great to have all this capability, but if you are a soup-to-nuts Cisco shop, it doesn't look like there's much room anywhere for anybody else. As with other markets Cisco has entered as a newcomer, they will invariably bump up against others who would normally be strategic partners.

Sure, that's what competition is all about, but it's hard for me to tell if Cisco's vision is to wholly own the customer, or work in concert with everyone else and keep the best-of-breed model alive. Even within their own world, I'm not quite sure how this vision works. For example, it's easy to see how collaboration and Unified Communications are related. Cisco has an awful lot invested in UC as well as telepresence, and I can't really tell how much this WebEx solution is complementary or competitive to each.

In short, there's good news here, especially for WebEx fans and enterprises looking to leverage the cloud for more powerful collaboration tools. However, the overall vision strikes me as being very broad - maybe too broad - so it's a bit hard to say what it potentially means for the competitive landscape. Will have to wait a bit to see how this plays out with everyone else.

The second Cisco story is about a more extensive suite of security features. John Chambers is speaking about this today at the RSA conference, so I'm sure you'll be hearing about it from a few different sources. This space is not my forte, so I don't have much insight to add, but it is a logical extension to the first news item in this post. People will only collaborate to the extent they trust the environment they're working in, and that's what today's security announcement is about.

I really can't say how much of this is innovation versus line extension, but one security aspect that sounds intriguing is IPS 7.0 - Intrusion Protection System. During the briefing, they focused on their sensor software, and how extensively it protects the network from external threats. It seemed pretty comprehensive to me, but I'm no security expert, so I'll leave it at that.

Stepping back, all I can say is that by pairing the WebEx news with this security news, Cisco is sending a strong message to reinforce what I suspect will become their new mantra - "Collaborate with Confidence". I think you'll be hearing that phrase a lot over the next few days and beyond.

2. Ifbyphone gives carrier more tools/new tools/better tools

Speaking of the cloud, Ifbyphone is a pretty cool company that gets it, and is definitely driven by innovation. I briefed with CEO Irv Shapiro yesterday about yet another interesting offering they've come up with to make Voice 2.0 real for service providers. Their latest innovation doesn't have a name, so it's not so simple to describe. Basically, they're offering Voice 2.0 services to carriers in a very easy to do way. Any operator with a softswitch platform can partner with them to use as many features as they like. It's a classic utility model, which allows operators to maybe just try one application or ramp up for a busy season to meet spikes in demand.

I see this as a great way to experiment with new applications or trying to bring new value to a specific segment of a carrier's customers. This will be especially appealing to Tier 3s - CLECs, RLECs, IOCs, etc. - who are new to cloud computing, but have the SS platform in place to offer new services. While SS vendors like MetaSwitch and BroadSoft already offer a wide range of applications, Ifbyphone offers more flexibility for smaller operators, lower cost, as well as distinct Voice 2.0 features developed specifically for this market. Irv also notes this can also be done on a white label basis, and combined with their SIP Trunking offering, carriers can have a very competitive SMB offering with an end-to-end IP experience.

As with Cisco, it's too early to say whether this complements or competes with what the SS vendors are doing. However, Ifbyphone continues to remain on the right side of the innovation curve, and I've seen enough here to know they're on to something good. In terms of what's new, I think the innovation here is more about business models than technology, and I have no problem with that. Service providers need all the help they can get, and this being early days for Voice 2.0, the market needs companies like Ifbyphone to show the way in putting all these pieces together - cloud services, SIP Trunking, mashups, voice applications, etc.

To learn more about how they're doing this, you should spend some time on their website, which features Irv's personal blog (check out his post about where Google Voice falls short for SMBs), the company blog, as well as a White Paper they just released on what I've been writing about here.

3. Jaduka Exchange

Last but definitely not least, Jaduka just launched their thought leadership portal, Exchange. Good name, good concept. Collaboration and innovation go hand-in-hand, and this portal is a great one-stop-shop to get Jaduka's latest thought leadership - not just from their team, but posts from across the industry and individual bloggers, and relevant content such as articles, white papers, etc.

There are lots of portals out there, but consider the source. Jaduka is a good news story waiting to happen, especially now that Thomas Howe has joined as their CEO. None of this will be news to my regular readers, but for everyone else, it's not too late to get on this bandwagon. Jaduka's world is about many of today's hot topics - mashups, CEBP, collaboration, Web services - and the broader 2.0 convergence opportunity between voice and the Internet. Lots of opportunity and innovation going on here, and given how little most of us understand this world, Jaduka Exchange is the right idea at the right time.