Cisco readying collaboration software platform

Cisco Systems is developing a collaboration software platform that will allow enterprises to combine social networking, presence, content and transactional applications in a single interface.

The Enterprise Collaboration Platform is scheduled to be announced in early November and should be available in a beta-test form around that time, according to Sheila Jordan, vice president of IT at Cisco. The company is already using elements of it internally. The product will work with software from other major vendors, such as Microsoft's Exchange and popular CRM (customer relationship management) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) packages, though only the top three or four in each category, she said.

Cisco has been building toward such a package for a few years, emphasizing the importance of rich communication for organizational productivity. But the package the company showed off on Tuesday, during a Cisco Telepresence live video session with reporters, looked to be an aggressive grab for computer-screen real estate and user mindshare.

Cisco envisions the home screen for the platform as the first thing employees see when they start work in the morning and the place they go to find out what's happening in their company and their business tasks. The top of the screen might show a companywide video message from the CEO, columns on the sides could show the status of the employee's key contacts and links to their communities in the organization, and a lower part of the screen could be taken up by an interface to the major applications they use.

A company could lock in some elements, such as the CEO's video message, while allowing each employee to personalize the rest of the page, Jordan said. The platform would interoperate with Cisco's WebEx PC-based collaboration platform and Telepresence high-definition videoconferencing system, as well as the e-mail and calendar applications that most enterprises use, she said. The platform will include a single sign-in for all the resources available through it, developed using CA's SiteMinder technology.

Cisco is still working out some aspects of the software, such as security, policies, and how to deal with each form of communication that would be produced by it. For example, the platform will treat instant messages like phone calls rather than like e-mail messages, which are considered business records. The company also is working out how much the software will cost and what sales channels will sell it.

The company plans to extend the software to mobile devices too, but that will come later, Jordan said.

Laurie Heltsley, director of strategic projects at consumer products company Procter & Gamble, said the upcoming platform is attractive because it combines many components that by themselves aren't very exciting.

"I think it's in the integration where the power is," said Heltsley, who participated in the Telepresence session on Tuesday. Procter & Gamble is on Cisco's Customer Collaboration Advisory Board, made up of seven companies, which gives feedback to Cisco on its collaboration strategy. Those companies should have a beta version of the enterprise collaboration platform in about 60 days, Cisco's Jordan said.

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