Cisco targets ad hoc meeting opportunities with new ‘huddle space’ collaboration offering

Sri Srinivasan, vice president and general manager of Webex Teams, Meetings and devices, showing off Webex Share

Sri Srinivasan, vice president and general manager of Webex Teams, Meetings and devices, showing off Webex Share

LAS VEGAS — Cisco will seek to tackle the growing market for “huddle spaces” — informal or ad hoc collaborations that aren’t necessarily confined to the boardroom in more open modern offices, and will also bring its room-based solutions downmarket with a new hardware offering for a smaller, five-person room.

Announced at its annual Partner Summit here this week, Webex Share is a device that attaches via HDMI to any screen a customer may have, and brings with it many of the whiteboarding and screen-sharing abilities familiar to users of collaboration tools such as Webex Teams. Webex Share is very much the “Chromecast” approach to bringing collaboration to places where teams gather to work together, enabling new experience and functionality via a simple dongle.

Cisco Webex Share

Cisco Webex Share

Sri Srinivasan, vice president and general manager of Webex Teams, Meetings and devices, said the Share will come in with a price point below $500 U.S., making it an attractive way to get more value from displays companies already have.

Srinivasan said there are more than 25 million such “huddle spaces” already out there in companies worldwide, and the number of such ad hoc meeting points is growing at about 20 per cent per year. But it’s a market that’s not largely connected — he noted that nearly half of those spaces have no formal technology enablement.

“And those than do have it, have way too many wires and are way too difficult to manage,” he added. “It makes it  very difficult proposition for an enterprise to scale it out. They want to bring value to their employees, but they’re getting a pretty poor experience and they’re often not able to do what they set out to do.”

The Webex Room Mini Kit is for more formalized collaboration, but shares the “attach to any existing screen” mentality of the Share, essentially a set-top box for enabling a smaller room-based collaboration experience. It’s targeted at teams of up to five people in a single location that need to interact with remote teams of a similar size of larger, using Cisco’s room-based collaboration offerings. 

Jay Weisblatt, lead for the collaboration partner team in Cisco’s Global Partner Organization, said that the “huddle space market has been pretty elusive for everyone” to date, but with the combination of hardware built for the market and partner experience and expertise, Cisco is bullish on its ability to capture the market.

“It’s really cracking open an entirely new market, and a market where nobody else is even close to a simple, comprehensive platform,” Weisblatt said.

For partners who have already invested in a video collaboration practice, Weisblatt called the new offerings “an easy add-on” to enable collaboration in new and novel places customers may not have considered in the past, while the modular and simple nature of the solutions makes them “an easy way to com in.” Cisco’s collaboration offerings “used to have a pretty high bar” in terms of specializations to do design and deployment, but that’s evolving as the solutions get simpler and target smaller customer or groups within customers, he said.

As with most solutions, Weisblatt said it’s not a matter of selling a specific product, but partners recognizing opportunities or pain points within their customers.

In many cases, he said, the simple to sell and deploy new solutions may be the all important “foot in the door” to open up a new customer to broader collaboration suite possibilities.

“Any partner can come in with the,, and then go look at what they need in the boardroom, in terms of training and support,” he said. “It cascades from there, and can ultimately even lead to an endpoint on every desk.”

Amy Chang, senior vice president of collaboration at Cisco

Amy Chang, senior vice president of collaboration at Cisco

Cisco also announced plans to integrate its Webex Teams collaboration software with the cloud calling capabilities it acquired when it purchased Broadsoft earlier this year, and formalized plans for the cloud-based Teams with its Jabber on-prem collab tool, part of what new Cisco collaboration chief Amy Chang called a strategy of “building bridges, not islands.” In the past, Cisco’s collaboration tools have, oddly enough, not collaborated terribly well together, but Chang said that will change with a new and unified portfolio approach.

“Thing like Webex and Jabber should work together, and they will work together,” Chang said.

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Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at ChannelBuzz.ca. He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997. 

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