In the technology industry, we have a recurring nasty problem called interoperability that can be exceedingly hard to correct. You can see this problem currently in IoT efforts where products from company A be that adhere to one standard won’t work with products from company B that adhere to another.
One place you’d figure wouldn’t have that problem was telecommunications because it has been a long time since a phone from one company couldn’t work with a phone from another. But in conferencing, that is exactly what you have. Conferencing products typically only work with products from the same firm.
For instance, if you like FaceTime from Apple, you’d better have an Apple product because if someone using FaceTime wants to call you using that service they can’t if you are on a Windows or Android. (By the way, if you look for FaceTime on Android, you’ll see a lot of scam apps but nothing that actually does FaceTime).
Skype is one of the few products that works across systems. But it generally won’t work—or won’t work well—when connected to a proprietary conferencing system like Cisco’s.
Cisco stepped up to address this problem with its new Meeting Server, out of its Acano acquisition. Rowan Trollope, senior VP and GM over the group, appears to be driving an effort to fix this problem.
One of the interesting stories I have is how Microsoft got religion when it comes to interoperability. A few years back, the European Union, largely pushed by firms like Google, Oracle and Sun, took exception to Microsoft’s interoperability issues. This resulted in some impressive fines that forced Microsoft to pivot. Not only did it pivot, it pivoted with a vengeance, moving from fighting interoperability to making it a competitive advantage.
This was kind of like choosing an obscure weapon in a duel with an expert swordsman only to find he learned the new weapon and ended up still beating you with it. Sun eventually went under, and Microsoft now largely leads with interoperability, which actually increased migrations to its platforms rather than away from them.
This, unfortunately, is a lesson many others have failed to learn. The technology industry is largely defined by impressive tools which are often crippled because they only work with products from the firm that created them.
No place is this more pronounced than in communications. This seems really strange for me because you’d think that communications companies would naturally understand that communications products that can’t talk between vendors are pretty worthless. But it took a long while to get things like texting to work between vendors and instant messaging largely died out because the firms refused to cooperate.
Cisco is arguably the hardware leader in enterprise collaboration, but Microsoft, with its acquisition of Skype, now has the most common cross-platform video collaboration tool. Microsoft also has some of the most innovative conference room solutions with its Surface Hub, while Cisco’s solutions, although more conventional, are also far more common. If the two platforms could connect seamlessly, it would further both firms' efforts and likely collectively hurt the solutions that didn’t interoperate.
That is the evident purpose of Cisco’s collaboration server—to make it so these two systems can interoperate and allow customers to get broader utility from their respective collaboration solutions regardless of whether they are from Cisco or use Skype.
I’ve had a lot of personal frustration when it comes to communications products that won’t communicate because they won’t interoperate. This is only a small part of my overall frustration with video conferencing products, which have a whole list of critical problems the vendors often seem to ignore. (Like the executives who sell them still prefer to travel over using the things, and we just seem to ignore the reasons why employees don’t use them).
However, with this communications server, Cisco is stepping up to the big problem of interoperability, at least with respect to Microsoft and its partners, with the end result being a far more capable solution and undoubtedly happier customers. This is a big step in the right direction, and I only hope, this time, the rest of the industry sees it as a best practice and starts to take interoperability far more seriously than they now do.
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