ORLANDO – Cisco’s collaboration business has been a confusing beast, the company acknowledged at its flagship event, Cisco Live. That’s understandable, since it was pieced together over time, with acquisitions and internal development both contributing, and thus branding was all over the place. Market-leading Cisco WebEx (an acquisition), for example, primarily offers online and phone/video meeting and conferencing functionality (it competes with products like GoToMeeting and Skype for Business), while Cisco Spark (competing with Slack, or Microsoft Teams), conceived in-house, primarily offers chat and messaging.
To alleviate the confusion, Cisco announced at its recent Collaboration Summit that it is rebranding all of its collaboration products under the banner Cisco Webex (just to keep us on our toes, the second e is now lowercase), and is merging the Spark functionality, now dubbed Webex Teams, into the new platform. Last week, at Cisco Live, it elaborated on its plans for the platform, and showed off the new Teams application which allows launching or joining Webex Meetings (the new name for the conferencing service formerly just known as WebEx) from within Teams. Soon, Rosenberg said, Cisco will be adding workflows, as well as integrations with other software such as Microsoft Dynamics 365.
“What we heard from partners is that the Spark thing and the WebEx thing were confusing,” said Jonathan Rosenberg, vice president and CTO for Collaboration. “We wanted to send a clear message with the rebranding.” Taking advantage of the familiar WebEx name for hardware as well as software further unifies the offerings. Thus the former Spark Board, offering digital whiteboarding as well as video conferencing and content sharing in offices and meeting rooms, is now the Webex Board, and the meeting room telepresence systems are now Webex Room Series devices.
The change makes sense to Alan Lepofsky, vice president & principal analyst, Constellation Research. “The industry is in the midst of a massive coming together of the Enterprise group messaging and unified communication markets,” he said. “Cisco bringing all of their functionality under a single Webex banner makes sense instead of trying to explain WebEx for meetings and Spark for communication and collaboration.”
However, Rosenberg pointed out, it’s not a closed system; customers who use other collaboration applications such as Slack, or Workplace by Facebook, or Microsoft Teams, will still be able to join Webex meetings from those applications as well as from Webex Teams, and APIs allow other vendors to integrate Teams with their products.
“The unified branding implies a promise,” noted Adam Preset, senior director at Gartner covering digital workplace. “It’s an umbrella for the products that are related, as opposed to just the label of the company name, Cisco. If the messaging, meetings, calling, and endpoints all start with Webex, then customers will assume that those elements must work together well. Customers may have been uncertain about the path forward with Cisco collaboration products with different brands and less complete interoperability. Now that the products work better together, and the branding is unified, the path is clearer.”
The new versions of Webex Meetings and Webex Teams are rolling out now to existing users.