The term “collaboration” has become a top buzz word in recent years. It’s used to describe how the next generation workforce is using the latest conferencing, file sharing, audio and video calling and more to work more productively, regardless of geographic boundaries. The reality for many businesses, however—especially small to midsize businesses (SMBs)—is that collaboration is still a distant utopia hampered by disparate applications, interfaces and delivery models.
Cisco recently addressed these challenges head on with the release of Cisco Spark, an all-in-one cloud-based communications solution that brings enterprise-class telephony, messaging, and web and video conferencing together in a simple, secure and complete service. “Cisco HCS [hosted collaboration solution] was too complex and cost-prohibitive for SMBs,” says Gordon Scott, senior marketing development executive at Cisco. “WebEx had basic meeting capabilities, but it wasn’t a full-fledged collaboration solution. Cisco Spark fills a much-needed niche.”
Cisco Spark allows users to set up collaboration sessions right from their smartphones, simply by adding their name or email address. Users can work together in unlimited virtual rooms, which are easily accessible through a searchable, sortable list. And teams can enable other users to create and join virtual teams and add “open” rooms. Additionally, users can connect their mobile calendars to create Spark rooms for upcoming calendar entries, and they can join virtual meetings, including WebEx meetings, in a single tap.
“Cisco Spark represents a departure from Cisco on-premise and business-as-usual,” says Mike Brooks, collaboration channel account specialist at Cisco. “It’s strictly cloud-driven and gives Cisco firm footing in companies with 250 and fewer employees.” This is a huge win for this underserved market, which will no longer have to worry about licensing software and maintaining onsite infrastructure and staff to run their collaboration solutions. It’s an even bigger deal for Cisco service providers, who can now provide next-generation collaboration capabilities more easily, while leveraging their networks to deliver enterprise-class security and strict data sovereignty controls.
Artificial Intelligence Is Another Spark Differentiator
Cisco’s recent acquisition of unstructured search company Synata will also play an important role in Spark’s success. “Advances in deep learning and artificial intelligence are making it possible for computers to predict what you want almost before you know it yourself,” says Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group and IoT (Internet of Things). “That’s what we want for Cisco Spark. We want it to be like that good friend who can finish your sentences—super fast and almost uncannily accurate. Synata solves the tricky problem of how you search something you can’t see—like encrypted data in the cloud.”
Imagine IT departments being able to set up remote users’ workspaces with all their personalized applications, contact lists and more in seconds, just by sending a QR code to their smartphones. Imagine people being able to set up videoconferences or join virtual meetings, simply by asking questions in natural language (e.g., “Where can I find a meeting room with videoconferencing for 15 people tomorrow?”) and having an intelligent bot automatically fetch the answer for them.
To bring these kinds of innovative solutions to market more quickly, Cisco invested $150 million in the Cisco Spark for Developers ecosystem. Cisco partner and healthcare independent software vendor, Tagnos, is just one example of how Cisco Spark’s open APIs (application program interfaces) can be used for driving efficiencies, including shortening hospital patient wait times. All of this, and much more, is possible with Cisco Spark, limited only by partners’ imaginations.
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