Enterprise 2.0: Will Cisco/WebEx Win?

After putting together this post, Why in the world would Cisco buy WebEx?, I’ve been continuing to track publicly delivered information — and thinking-through that info — that confirms my premise Cisco bought them as a platform play in the unified communications space.

If you’re in the Web 2.0 space focused on delivering great value with hosted Web applications, then you’re into being nimble, fast and focused which is why Web 2.0 as an umbrella term is so damn exciting. Unfortunately enterprise I.T. has never been known by any of those adjectives and “exciting” is a term not often used with big, costly, organization-wide software implementations.

In the Web 2.0 space many developers find themselves leveraging API’s from companies delivering their functionality as a Web service so it can be consumed inside applications and thinking about Web application hybrids or “mashups” (peek at ProgrammableWeb to see hundreds of these mashups).  In the dozens of conversations I’m in every month with Web 2.0 companies, rarely do the concepts service oriented architecture, web services, software as a service (SaaS) or composite applications ever come up. But these latter ones have been around a long time in the enterprise, monolithic application, portal, mainframe space and enterprise-class independent software vendors (ISV’s) and I.T. leadership are keenly tracking all the innovation in the Web 2.0 arena. Their interest lies in continuing their quest to find better and more efficient ways to leverage information technology and deliver ever higher value. You’ll be hearing a lot about Enterprise 2.0 going forward as ISV’s and CIO’s embrace the Web 2.0 concepts that have been proven to work as they seek that ever greater value.

As the world increasingly connects and knowledge work is scattered around the globe in loosely coupled groups of organizations and people, enabling effective collaboration is mission-critical for most companies. Not only for work to get done or innovation to occur, but to manage the increasingly important imperatives of energy conservation (i.e., less travel), risk mitigation for the potential negative impact from terrorism, natural disasters or viral pandemics, and to cater to the changing expectations of their participative work force.

WebEx Connect is WebEx’ attempt to move beyond simple screen sharing. As business process is increasingly driven down into the middleware and infrastructure layers — with high level tools for business people to lay out a process and assemble information technology to drive it — having a scalable and extensible platform that ISV’s, enterprise I.T. or Web 2.0-centric developers can simply leverage and use on a global basis makes a ton of sense.

(UPDATE: Graeme Thickins of Tech~Surf~Blog just alerted me to this article about John Chambers, Cisco CEO, encouraging channel partners to embrace Web 2.0).

Is WebEx Connect that platform?  Most importantly, will Cisco/WebEx win the battle for the hearts-n-minds of ISV’s and the enterprise to make it THE unified communications platform?

My gut says they would’ve had little chance on their own, but a willing platform position may become possible with Cisco shoehorning WebEx into the infrastructure layer. There is already A LOT of competition for WebEx Connect-type functionality from IBM, HP, Microsoft, BEA, Vignette and many others so this ain’t gonna be easy:

  • The WebEx Connect “client” is essentially a dashboard for the layout of business process and the assembling and delivery of composite applications. Many other portal-centric solutions exists from companies (like those mentioned above) all of whom enjoy *significantly* more experience, tools and customer expertise with all the required layers of integration necessary to make a dashboard useful and an enterprise connected.
  • The WebEx Connect grid is intriguing but this integration grid isn’t even owned by WebEx/Cisco…it’s a partnership: “The WebEx Connect grid is the power behind the WebEx Connect workspace. Through a partnership with Cordys, a provider of industry-leading SOA technology, the grid will provide a set of workflow, development and integration services that make it possible for any third party to create new composite solutions.  WebEx Connect partners and ISVs can use the platform to make their applications available over the WebEx Connect grid and easily integrate with WebEx collaborative applications. Customers can use the connectors to build links between their critical on-demand and on-premise applications such as CRM and ERP.  The WebEx Connect grid does not discriminate between “on-demand” and “on-premise” applications; it offers “distributed innovation” by allowing users to select from hundreds of applications that deliver the capabilities they need to succeed.” If you listen closely, you can hear the uproarious laughter and biting comments about Cisco/WebEx chances from hardware and software vendors like IBM, HP, Microsoft, BEA, Vignette and many others.
  • The MediaTone network is intriguing due to the distributed, global nature of their platform. This is WebEx’ #1 competitive advantage and alone is worth the price Cisco paid…but wouldn’t have been enough on it’s own or terribly strategic like Connect could become.

Lots of challenges exist. Can Cisco evangelize, engage and drive the ecosystem of strategists and developers and drive adoption of this platform? THAT is the operative question since they’ve little experience in this area. It remains to be seen but one thing is certain: this is the right strategic move for Cisco and we all will be the beneficiaries of vendors driving toward global, scalable, and extensible platforms to efficiently help us in an increasingly connected world.

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  1. anothr user on April 7, 2007 at 9:18 am

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