Infrastructure & operations executives have shown a tremendous interest in looking for opportunities to take advantage of the cloud to provision email and collaboration services to their employees – in fact in a recent Forrester survey, nearly half of IT execs report that they either are interested in or plan on making a move to the cloud for email. Why? It can be more cost effective, increase your flexibility, and help control the historical business and technical challenges of deploying these tools yourself.  

To date, we’ve talked about four core players in the market : Cisco, Google, IBM, and Microsoft. According to a recent blog post, Cisco has chosen to no longer invest in Cisco Mail. Cisco Mail was formerly known as WebEx Mail – and before that, the email platform was the property of PostPath, which Cisco acquired in 2008 with the intention of providing a more complete collaboration stack alongside its successful WebEx services and voice.  I've gathered feedback and worked with my colleagues Ted Schadler, TJ Keitt, and Art Schoeller to synthesize and discuss what this means to Infrastructure & Operations pros and coordinating with their Content & Collaboration colleagues.

 So what happened and what does it mean for I&O professionals? Here’s our take:

  • Cisco underestimated the barriers to entering this market. Cisco ran into the ring where there was a Battle Royale being fought between IBM, Google, and the heavyweight Microsoft. My colleague Ted Schadler and I have spent a lot of time over the last few years focusing on what the impact of the cloud on email and collaboration means for C&C pros charged with creating the information workplace vision, and the I&O pros responsible for running it – and we knew they were in for a tough fight. Cisco’s initial focus was on the SME market where Microsoft has enjoyed significant success and Google was another popular choice. Many customers have existing vendor relationships where there were technical dependencies among collaboration products and pricing incentives to bundle products together – and this made it an extraordinarily steep hill to climb for a newer player in the market. Even having the capability to integrate with Microsoft Outlook to deliver an “Exchange-like” experience couldn’t help overcome that challenge.
  • This signals Cisco’s noncommittal strategy to non-conferencing technologies . . . For your C&C colleagues, this news raises questions about other parts of Cisco’s collaboration portfolio that are not related to web- and videoconferencing. When it purchased WebEx in 2007, Cisco bought a market leader in the space. Likewise, their development of Telepresence and acquisition of Tandberg has put them in prime position to compete in and lead the high-barrier-to-entry videoconferencing space. They have the pieces and the opportunity to do so, from the desktop all the way through to the high-end, hi-definition room-based systems – which, by the way, are connected by Cisco routers and switches. 
  • . . . And customers considering their collaboration tools should proceed with caution . . . Other collaboration tools, like team workspaces, social software platforms, and instant messaging apps, however, are completely different animals. These tools have not reached the commodity status of email, but they are well served by the big players in the collaboration space who have been duking this out for the better part of the 21st century. Cisco acquired Jabber and has been building Quad to compete in these areas, but has yet to deliver like they have for web- and videoconferencing. C&C and I&O pros charged with choosing and implementing these tools should naturally proceed carefully here.
  • . . . But I&O pros evaluating unified communications should not be worried. For I&O pros involved in evaluating their unified communications options, Cisco’s discontinuance of Cisco Mail raises other issues – but doesn’t throw any red flags on the field. Customers considering Cisco Unity Unified Messaging should in parallel explore the option of using Exchange (which was the original message store for Unity) as their message store, or other vendor products such as Avaya Modular Messaging, AVST CallXpress, or Microsoft’s Exchange UM.

 Bottom line: Spending $215M doesn't guarantee you success, but Cisco's anchor tenants of collaboration – WebEx and videoconferencing – will still be important products for Cisco, and you.

 So what’s your reaction? Were you a Cisco Mail customer? If so, I’d love to hear from you.