How can Cisco Benefit from Collaborating with Versly?

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August 31, 2011, Monday Cisco Systems announced that it was buying Versly, the collaboration tools vendor, for an undisclosed amount. Versly hasn’t yet had a real product, but you can apply for a chance to be in its closed beta on their site. Versly’s ten employees will be integrated into Cisco Collaboration Software Group that also includes its WebEx, Jabber and Quad product lines. It will be offered as a separate service, but Cisco will eventually integrate its features into these three existing services designed for enterprise customers, perhaps as early as 2012.

How can Cisco Benefit from Buying Versly

Cisco may believe that broadband-based collaboration is a transformational way for companies and individuals. The San Jose, Calif.-based routing giant made collaboration a big area of focus when it bought WebEx and a slew of other companies. However, its collaboration plans have fallen short of its target.

Many of Cisco’s competitors — for instance, Google and Salesforce — are pretty far along in their efforts, and Cisco needs to catch up. It seems Cisco is looking to jump-start its efforts, and for that, it needs a team with deep understanding of collaboration and software-as-a-service business model.

Is this a good acquisition for Cisco on a number of fronts? Make no mistake–the acquisition was as much about talent as it is about the product itself. During the latest analyst roundtable with CEO Chambers, he specifically pointed out that the company wanted to bring in more high level application talent; Versly is loaded with it. Versly has talent from BEA, Weblogic, Sun and others including one of the original Java team members. No offense to Cisco, but the company isn’t exactly brimming with application talent, so the Versly team will be a welcome addition into Cisco. Maybe this is not the only acquisition Cisco will be making in the application space, but it’s a good start.

Cisco decided to refocus its five main areas (Cisco router, network switches, collaboration, cloud computing, network architectures). So application based collaboration? How does that fit into Cisco? In fact, collaboration has the largest overlay sales force of all product areas at Cisco, so Versly certainly puts another arrow in the collaboration quiver. It also strengthens Cisco Quad and WebEx platforms.

Buying Versly is a good direction for Cisco too as it broadens their reach in collaboration. Historically when Cisco has referred to collaboration, they’ve talked about being “people centric,” which is the right approach, but focused it primarily on the communication tools people use. Versly allows workers to collaborate within the Office suite instead of having to flip back and forth between the applications, a chat window, over to a document management system, etc

Versly is more than just the embedding of presence and e-mail into documents though. It allows workers to share documents, organize them, merge modified documents and archive them. Workers can do this without having to switch out of the document into another program.

Now extend this to Quad where Cisco will have the ability to send automatic notifications when a document has been updated, and the user no longer needs to keep checking it or IMing/e-mailing the other workers to find out if the updates have been completed. This should help extract much of the human latency in document-based collaboration, another fundamental tenet of UC &C.

In summary, when you add up the talent Cisco acquired combined with the ability to move up the stack in the UC &C market, and the low risk involved, for Cisco, the acquisition was well worth it.

What others talk about Cisco buying Versly

Cisco replaced their entire conferencing platform with Webex, with MeetingPlace for on-prem audio (which is tied to IPT). You can also start Webex meetings from IP telephones. Webex Connect, also controls your desktop or soft phone, which is also linked to IPT. Webex is also sold as a bundle with IPT? Maybe you should rethink your statement?    —Skeptic

This will help strengthen Cisco’s Quad initiative, which is Cisco’s enterprise collaboration platform. Quad is Cisco’s response to the likes of Jive and Salesforce’s continued expansion into this space. From what I have heard, Cisco is scared to death that they are losing presence in the enterprise with many businesses pulling out Cisco’s telephonic and video offerings and opting for cheaper VOIP and video offerings. You will see Cisco make a continued push in the collaboration space to increase their relevance, as well as try and maintain (and extend) their existing presence.    —Alan Tikwart

I would rate this acquisition as an F. It has nothing to do with Versly. Cisco is barely executing on its core business and adding more layers of complexity will not help. What Cisco needs is to focus, cut the fat (they have become VERY FAT) and out execute. Besides this purchase is not going to give them any advantage – the space is fortified with legacy players.  —Daya Baran

I think the key line is the one that says “cisco needs more than this team”. As others have already mentioned, the quad platform is more marketing than reality. A more generalized observation is that to deploy collaborative software would require teams to embody collaboration — that desire to cross silos and work for the win in the marketplace. Companies that market to a vision but culturally lack that embodiment of what they say they care about….ultimately shows up in the product, company, and marketplace.          —Nilofer Merchant

This response feels right. Collaboration is pretty broad and this acquisition seems complementary with a focus on the Office applications. With WebEx having some level of Office application integration (sharing Office native files, Outlook), it might even help on that front. Web can also do the desktop video thing (e.g., looking at each other while discussing the documents) so maybe it’s not too much of a stretch to connect some additional dots.    —Art Ignacio




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