A Brief History of the Cisco IT Collaboration Journey


Published: August 2019

Making Real-Time Enterprise Collaboration a Reality

Collaboration solutions have transformed Cisco’s business. Cisco IT deploys and supports our solutions—from Cisco Webex Teams to Cisco Meeting Server to Cisco IP Phones—to help Cisco improve business processes, speed decision-making, and boost workforce productivity. Cisco collaboration solutions allow employees around the world to engage with each other on any device. They simplify communication, accelerate team collaboration, and inspire innovation.

Many tools for collaboration, like video conferencing through Cisco Webex Meetings and Webex Teams, are used daily by employees not only at Cisco, but also in many other organizations and by remote workers around the globe. It’s easy to take for granted the ease of modern collaboration using Cisco solutions, but getting to this point has been a long journey for Cisco IT. "Over the past two decades, Cisco IT has been focused on making real-time enterprise collaboration a reality—and laying the groundwork for the future of collaboration as well," said Tony DeGruy, IT Manager at Cisco. "Each advancement brings us closer to the vision Cisco is trying to achieve: the point where collaboration technology can adapt intelligently to users."

From consolidation to experience

The Cisco IT collaboration journey began early in the new century, in 2001. The Cisco IT team started to focus on IT consolidation, including converging voice, video, and data networks and developing a globalized IT architecture (see Figure 1). Since that time, each step along the collaboration journey has been designed to harness the power of mobile and the cloud to support real-time collaboration across devices and geographies and deliver an increasingly intuitive and effortless user experience.

Figure 1. Overview of the Cisco IT Collaboration Journey from 2001 to Present

Following is a closer look at some of these critical steps, and when they unfolded, as outlined in Figure 1:

  • 2005: Mobility is a key component of the collaboration experience. By 2005, Cisco IT’s work to converge and scale networks and other technology led to the development of the Cisco Unified Communications systemfor integrating voice, video, data, and mobility products and applications. Introduced that same year were Cisco Unified MeetingPlace, an on-premises virtual meeting solution (now end-of-life) to support enterprise collaboration mobility, and Cisco Jabber, an all-in-one communication tool that some Cisco users in select locations still utilize.
  • 2009: From 2005 to 2009, Cisco IT was working to extend the value of collaboration, from supporting mobility and “Bring Your Own Device” (BYOD) collaboration to providing video teleworker solutions and introducing Cisco TelePresence for real-time collaborative meetings (including a personal version of that system). Building the infrastructure to support web-based meetings reliably was also a focus: Cisco had acquired WebEx Communications, Inc., in 2007, and by 2009, Webex solutions for web conferencing and collaboration delivered as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) were rolling out to the market.
  • 2014-2015: As Cisco IT moved from extending the collaboration experience toward simplifying it, the team developed and introduced what would become the Cisco Collaboration Meeting Rooms (CMR) Hybrid solution, bringing together Webex Meetings and Cisco TelePresence. Meanwhile, the Cisco IT team started looking at ways to reduce the number of applications needed for collaboration and bring together voice, video, email, messaging, and SMS into one solution. In partnership with the Collaboration Technology Group Business Unit, the team unveiled Project Squared in 2014, an enterprise business collaboration solution built on the newly created Cisco Collaboration Cloud. The mobile-first tool, designed to work effortlessly across all platforms regardless of device, let users utilize audio and video, hold multiparty meetings, and share content in a single view.
  • 2016-2018: This period marked both an acceleration and deepening of real-time enterprise collaboration at Cisco, fueled by advancements in cloud computing. Key developments introduced during these years include:
    • - Migration to Cisco CMR Cloud: While the Cisco CMR Hybrid solution met a critical need at Cisco, managing the solution and on-premises resources was becoming increasingly challenging and costly because video collaboration use was growing so rapidly at the company. The user experience also needed improvement, because joining conferences required cumbersome codes, and video and audio quality often varied, depending on the endpoint a participant used for access. So, in 2016, Cisco IT committed to moving all 130,000+ employees to the new, scalable, and more cost-effective Cisco CMR Cloud solution. The migration took just three months to complete, ending in January 2017.
    • - Transformation of cloud calling and huddle spaces: Cisco IT released major innovations to cloud calling and team collaboration, including the Cisco BroadCloud Calling global platform for flexible cloud-calling solution deployments and an enhanced Webex Board whiteboarding solution for huddle spaces.
    • - Evolution of Project Squared to Cisco Spark: Another significant milestone in the Cisco IT collaboration journey was the release of Cisco Spark, an app-centric, cloud-based service that evolved from Project Squared. Cisco Spark provided a complete and secure collaboration suite for teams to create, meet, message, call, whiteboard, and share content and information in one continuous workstream before, during, and after meetings—regardless of where the team members were located.

Promoting a Culture of Collaboration at Cisco

Cisco Spark was short-lived, but only because Cisco IT recognized the opportunity to use the Webex platform to create a new ecosystem of services for continuous team collaboration: Cisco Webex Teams. That solution keeps people connected anytime, anywhere, and brings together messaging, file sharing, video meetings, whiteboarding, calling, and other tools into one app to support real-time communication and streamline teamwork. It also reduces the complexity of modern collaboration by eliminating the need for people to use different products and services to interact.

While the Cisco Webex Teams solution is designed to enhance team productivity, efficiency, creativity, and decision-making, it’s making another impact: helping Cisco to promote a culture of collaboration. "Cisco Webex Teams supports informal and real-time communication and creates a sense of belonging for employees like no other tool we’ve used before," said Arti Patel, Product Owner, at Cisco.

Cisco Webex Teams also prevents avoidable "communication disconnects," noted DeGruy. "While Cisco Jabber has long been a valuable tool for helping our employees communicate in real time during the workday, people would often miss important messages while they were offline," he said. "This was especially a problem for teams distributed across time zones. But these disconnects don’t happen in Webex Teams spaces. People can see the messages left in a space by their teammates and respond to them at any time."

The Cisco Webex Teams solution also helps to build trust and rapport among employees. "The solution makes it even easier for people to engage in face-to-face communication through video," Patel explained. "They can start calls instantly, launch high-quality video meetings with screen-sharing at the touch of a button, and easily stay connected after meetings."

DeGruy and Patel said the capabilities that Cisco Webex Teams supports are especially important to millennial and Generation Z workers who expect to have continuous and effortless communication with their teammates across any device. And providing that experience is important to Cisco, as an employer, in terms of talent recruiting and retention. Millennial and Generation Z workers are a rapidly growing population in the company’s global workforce.

The Future: More Workstream Optimization Through Integrations

Since the introduction of Cisco Webex Teams in 2018, Cisco IT has been working to further improve the user experience by optimizing workstreams and adding new capabilities. Integrations are a major focus, as they help to create an even more immersive and seamless collaboration experience for users.

Cisco Webex Teams already delivers prebuilt solutions with third-party applications from vendors such as Microsoft, Google Cloud, and Salesforce to deliver complete collaboration experiences. Other integrations can be set up using the Webex App Hub to connect work that is underway in Cisco Webex Teams with work that is happening in other tools such as ServiceNow, Trello, Asana, and Jira.

The Cisco IT collaboration journey is ongoing. But the substantial progress the team has made to date in making real-time enterprise collaboration a reality at Cisco can be measured in many ways—from the increasing adoption of collaboration tools throughout the organization to the average number of monthly users of Webex Teams to the average number of video calls and meetings made through Cisco Webex each month (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Collaboration at Cisco—by the Numbers (as of June 2019)

For More Information

Visit our website to learn more about Cisco Business Collaboration Solutions.

Go to our Cisco Webex Teams product page or read the solution overview for more information.