Cisco goes after Microsoft Lync on breadth of collaboration

Rowan Trollope, Cisco’s Senior Vice President and General Manager Collaboration Technology Group, thought the night before Microsoft’s first Lync User Conference was a good time to alert us to the supposed narrowness of Microsoft Lync. However, Trollope starts by saying something that I agree with, before spinning off into Lync’s alledged weaknesses:

Rowan Trollope, What Really Matters In Collaboration

On the eve of Microsoft’s first Lync User Conference, I think it’s a great time to start a frank and direct conversation about what’s changed in collaboration and, because of those changes, what’s really important for IT decision makers to consider as they evaluate collaboration vendors and solutions. This conversation, which I’m confident will spark a lively and healthy debate, will last for weeks and will include input from a variety of Cisco Collaboration leaders.

So, to start, what has changed in collaboration? At the macro level, I would argue that collaboration has evolved from a tolerated office tool into the single most important technology investment that an organization can make. Why? Because the next breakthrough levels of performance and productivity needed in business won’t come from a better-looking web portal or a bigger Inbox — they’ll come from the ability to tap into the collective knowledge and creativity of our people.

Absolutely! Although I wouldn’t continue to use the somewhat dated ‘collaboration’ term. The idea of collaboration has progressed fairly dramatically since the mid ’90s when people started to use the term. And as with the rise of the Web, the largest impact of modern ‘collaboration’ tools comes from the social dimension, not the pre-social concepts of tasks and shared documents. It’s really social tools that he’s talking about: the technology side of social business.

But at that point, Trollope decides to leave the key question aside — how to get that next tranche of productivity, that McKinsey and others report that companies are looking to get from the adoption of social business? — and instead presses on with an analysis of Microsoft and Lync that suggests he has the answer to the question all worked out. Or maybe that customers have it all worked out:

Rowan Trollope, What Really Matters In Collaboration

Customers tell us time and again that a modern collaboration platform needs to deliver more than the basics like IM, conferencing and VoIP.  It needs to offer flexibility and choice in support of trends such as BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), high-quality video, and cloud-based deployments (private, public, hybrid, and hosted). The modern collaboration platform needs to be usable not just by office workers but by anyone, from physicians to customer care agents, executives, mobile and desk-less workers. And it needs to be as complete of a solution as possible — including the underlying infrastructure, a wide choice of compatible endpoints, and world-class support and maintenance — to maximize business and IT value.

Which brings me back to Microsoft and Lync. We believe that a solution that’s primarily been developed for a desktop PC user experience is less able to meet these wider post-PC requirements than one that has been designed and optimized for them from the outset.

I will leave Cisco’s feature-oriented jeremiad against Microsoft to one side, and return to the question he raised as a red herring: How will business get that next tranche of productivity, the added 20% that McKinsey and others report that companies are looking to get from  the adoption of social business?

My deepest beliefs lead to this hunch: The next stage of productivity gains won’t come by speeding up what we are already doing, or by using faster, smarter, and smaller devices. The point of leverage will come in two areas: doing some things differently, and not doing some things at all. Here’s a representation of that hunch:

productivity hunch


[I hope to explore this thinking in a report later this quarter. Stay tuned.]

Returning for a moment to Cisco: yes, they are a product company, and they want to sell products. And, of course, we need software and hardware to accomplish this enormous productivity boost. By the determination of which bit of shiny hardware is best, or which fragment of software is more critical to that boost has to be based on some very fundamental insights at the highest social level, not a hundred features on a checklist. So I am not upset with Cisco’s full-on attack against Microsoft because it’s impolite, or sleazy. I am concerned however that in the middle of this bar fight companies might start to think that this is an argument worth listening to. But it isn’t.

The important takeaway is that we are only broadening the discussion and our chance to learn by focusing on the largest questions, not by trumpeting one-sided and self-serving answers on hypothetical buyers. It’s bad marketing, and bad discourse.