Cisco TelePresence Turns Five

I put up a short tweet about this yesterday (and if you're not following me there, well, you don't know what you're missing - sign up... @arnoldjon)- but amidst all the other things keeping me busy right now, I realized it needs more attention. Just wanted to add a few thoughts here.

So, the first question to ask now that Cisco has reached the five year milestone with telepresence is the same one I would have asked back in 2006. Aside from the fact that back then nobody really knew what to call it, I'll simply ask - is it telepresence or TelePresence? I'm still 50/50 on this one, and as a rule of thumb, when I'm talking about Cisco, it's "T", but for the category as a whole, it's "t".

Branding is just as important in tech as any other business, and if you toe the Cisco line, you will believe they invented everything around this space and by rights, then, it's TelePresence, period. Of course, they're not the only game in town, and weren't even first to market, but nobody does tech branding for business better than Cisco. The consumer market is another story, but let's not go there for now.

Whether or not Cisco is the Kleenex of telepresence - much like I used to say that Vonage was the Kleenex of VoIP - you really need to give some props here. I think they've earned it, and when John Chambers talks about making big bets and capitalizing on market transitions, I think he got it right with Telepresence. There, I said it - with a capital T.

I don't really think it matters that Cisco's lead offering is hugely expensive - they've been the frontrunners in immersive TP from Day 1, and now that Tandberg is in the fold, I think they'll stay there. It's a bit like complaining that the biggest stars in pro sports are overpaid. In absolute terms, that's absolutely true. Only whiny sportswriters care about that - it's the relative basis that really matters. So long as those athletes live up to expectations (and that's a big IF - hello John Lackey and Carl Crawford - I digress...), and big market teams like my Red Sox are willing to pay the freight, all is in balance. There are buyers and sellers at all price levels, and the market ultimately defines value. Cisco Telepresence may be out of reach for SMBs, but their book of business with the enterprise crowd is doing just fine, thank you.

That leads me to yesterday's announcement, which talks about some updates to their offering and how Cisco TelePresence can now reach a broader market. I'll save the details for another time, but the main thing is that Cisco is evolving the product as market conditions require. Again, this brings me back to why this five year milestone is worth reflecting on. We didn't have tablets or Android then, and the smartphone market was basically RIM and Nokia. You don't need me to tell you what's come along since, and that video has now become pretty mainstream for everybody.

As a result, Cisco needs to evolve its TP portfolio to cater to these new - and emerging opportunities, some of which didn't exist 2-3 years ago. Of course, Cisco would love to own every segment of the TP and collaboration market, but that's not going to happen, esp with all the free/OTT offerings out there that I've been writing about here and elsewhere recently.

Regardless, Cisco has done a lot of things right with TelePresence, and these new twists are just ensuring they'll have a place across all market tiers. More than that, Cisco wants be to remain at the innovation forefront with this technology, because if they don't, those fearsome interlopers - Apple and Google - will take their spot. I'm not saying that Cisco has all the great innovations here, but when it comes to delivering a value proposition that businesses are willing to pay for, they know what they're doing. This ground is going to be harder to defend as these other players continue to make inroads, but if anyone can to do it, it's Cisco.

Finally, for those of you sticking with me here to the end, you get a prize. If you want to step in the wayback machine to see what TP looked like at the beginning, here's a video clip I took of my first live demo at Cisco's Canadian HQ here in Toronto, back in December 2006. This clip is on my YouTube channel, which you're welcome to explore. I'm not posting video there these days - I don't know why - but wanted to share this as a sidebar to Cisco's fifth anniversary for TP. I was there at the beginning, and to show you how much interest there is out there around TP, this clip has by far received more views - over 100,000 - than anything else I've ever posted, and - as you'll see on the site, to this day, I'm STILL getting comments about that clip. How's that for the long tail of the Internet? If I could just find a way to make this pay...