Cisco's Quad takes social networking to the enterprise

Quad's collaboration platform mixes Web 2.0 tools with business apps for the cubicle

Cisco Systems is looking to take popular social networking tools and tricks and meld them into a platform that's focused on business.

It's a social way of dealing with everyday business, according to Murali Sitaram, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Enterprise Collaboration Platform. Sitaram is overseeing the development of Cisco Quad, a Web-based collaboration platform for the enterprise that's designed to pull together Facebook-like update posts, instant messaging, document sharing, video communication, microblogging and communities.

"We've borrowed from the Web 2.0 world," Sitaram said, noting that Cisco has been working on Quad for about three years. "It's a manifestation of social capabilities."

Social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter have been hot commodities in the online world, where people are eager to share pictures of their kids and updates about their vacations and weekend parties. Enterprises, however, have been slow to see Web 2.0 tools as as resource that could help companies improve their businesses, and not just a way for employees to waste time.

As Cisco tries to get a leg up in the fairly new enterprise collaboration space, it'll have some competition from the likes of Microsoft's Sharepoint business collaboration platform and Google's upcoming collaboration and communications tool, Wave.

Cisco Quad went into an initial beta test last fall.

"The Cisco approach to bringing social networking into the enterprise is interesting and different in that it's more than just having an internal Facebook-like mechanism," said Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group. "Cisco is talking about integrating enterprise applications into the mix to give social networking more business functionality. This could be an attractive selling point to customers."

Quad could be coming out just as businesses get their heads around enterprise 2.0 applications -- that is, using social networking tools for the enterprise, Olds said.

"Companies are fascinated with the potential benefits associated with social networking," he said. "They want to get their employees engaged on a deeper level and interacting with a wider range of others. Social networking can certainly do this, but most companies are worried about it being too social and not enough business. ... This is along the lines of something Google is pitching with their Wave platform, but, to me at least, Wave seems to be quite a bit more social than business. Cisco's product, on the other hand, looks to be geared to support business tasks and make it easier for employees to do their jobs."

Cisco Quad is set up to meld various tools into one platform. For instance, Quad is designed to let users microblog inside the platform, with posts going out to colleagues who follow them. However, Sitaram pointed out that with a click, the in-house microblogs also can be posted on Twitter, the site that popularized microblogging.

And for companies that don't want employees posting updates about certain topics outside of company "confines," they can set up rules in Quad that will limit users' ability to make outside posts about certain topics or even on certain days, Sitaram added.

Quad also includes a calendaring application, along with integration of voice-mail messages, a Facebook-like feed of updates from colleagues that users have "befriended," workgroup communities, and a place where documents can be stored and made available for collaborative work. The platform also includes live video, recorded video storage, instant messaging and e-mail.

So colleagues can see Sitaram's updated Facebook-like postings, microbloggings and shared documents, and the communities of employees with whom he is working, to get a better sense of who he is and his role within the company. "You have a sense of who I am," Sitaram said. "You have a sense of my blogs, what I've been doing and even my reporting structure. You have a sense here of me."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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