Cisco Spark adds flare

Cisco is best known for driving innovation in the enterprise sector. Now, it is running counter to convention and also championing SMBs, making strident manoeuvres in the channel with a full complement of sparkling collaboration and communication tools, according to Andy Brocklehurst, Head of Collaboration EMEAR.

There is now an overwhelming consensus, not just among Cisco's thinkers and tech innovators, but among channel opinion, in favour of joined up collaboration becoming the de facto mode of operation for SMBs. In reflecting this requirement, Brocklehurst says the launch of two value propositions signalled Cisco's big trump card moments in its SMB sector play - Cisco Spark and Business Edition 4000. Spark, a subscription-based collaboration platform brought out two years ago brings fully integrated team messaging, meetings and calling. BE4000 (unveiled in March this year) is a cost-effective cloud managed voice solution designed for SMEs. It's already putting confidence into resellers who have reevaluated their perception of the erstwhile corporate focused networking giant.

"Cisco Spark and BE4000 change the channel paradigm, offering resellers a collaborative solution that works seamlessly on all major devices and smartphones," said Brocklehurst. "Clients, they can be fully operational in less than two minutes. BE4000 can be installed in under one day and offers a subscription model. All hardware (phones, gateway) can be retained, enabling customers to migrate to the cloud at their preferred pace."

Brocklehurst cited a recent study of more than 300 mid-size to large enterprises in which many execs said current collaboration tools fall short on supporting the depth, pace and style of teamwork now required to meet business imperatives. But Cisco Spark goes beyond conventional collaboration. Built from the ground up and over three years in development its ability to strengthen the bonds of engagement between all people in an organisation has injected a buzz into those who use it, according to Brocklehurst.

"The Spark development strategy was supported and defined by three structural and conceptual pillars - Experience Centric, Cloud Connected and Value Extended," he explained.

Taking each category in turn, the Experience Centric component focused, in the main, on making the user experience as simple as possible. Cisco Spark works seamlessly with the vendor's video endpoints and the Cisco Spark Board (an all-in-one device for wireless projecting, video conferencing and white boarding).

"When you walk into a room the video unit knows you are there and even says ‘hello'." said Brocklehurst. "To start a meeting or call you simply press the big green button - no codes, no remote controls, no need to call IT for help. It's the same experience whether you are in an iOS, Microsoft or Android environment, regardless of device. It really could not be any easier."

The Cloud Connected pillar caters for all deployment models - on-premise, cloud or hybrid. "The new Cisco Spark Flex Plan agreements take the pain out of buying as all offers become subscription-based and the customer moves to the cloud at their pace," added Brocklehurst. "Cisco Spark itself resides in the cloud and the deployment takes just a couple of minutes, even for full HD video conferencing."

The third pillar, Value Extended, signifies how Spark extends the value for partners in two key areas - lifecycle and adoption services. Embedding into the customers' business process and workflow is another area where partners can generate additional value and revenue, as the complexity moves to the application layer and the value for the customer becomes about resolving their business issues and improving workflows.

"A completely open API platform makes it possible for partners to deliver the integration that customers need," said Brocklehurst. "Multiple integrations and bots can extend the benefits of Cisco Spark to infinite applications."

Working with Cisco has in the past been viewed as complex. The company was pigeon holed as enterprise orientated with perceived cost barriers in becoming a partner, while predicting margins and making money was not thought to be straightforward. All myths. Surely Cisco's $6.3 billion annual R&D investment in doing the opposite proves these notions to be utterly false.

"The idea that Cisco is too enterprise orientated does not hold water when you consider that our collaboration portfolio spans from two users to many thousands," stated Brocklehurst. "There are no barriers to becoming a partner as Cisco offers absolutely free online accreditation, while the BE4000 is a GUI-based install product, removing the complexity of command line installs previously associated with Cisco. And the move to the subscription and recurring model coupled with a Cisco Spark Flex Plan has made it far easier to quote and predict margins."

The roll out of Spark and BE4000 is Cisco's biggest SMB project and a rush could be on the cards, so the company has made it easy for partners to gain a winning hand, simply by downloading the Cisco Spark application from the App Store or its dedicated Spark website. "Use it for free, set up spaces and teams and start to share it with your customers," urged Brocklehurst. "Resellers can also approach distribution partners Comstor, Ingram Micro or Tech Data Azlan."