Cisco TelePresence: Radical Collaboration

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SAN FRANCISCO-Debra Chrapaty, a senior vice president at Cisco who is also the general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Software Group, has a confession.

"I am a radical," Chraptay said. "A radical collaborator."

Chrapaty lives in Carmel Valley, a place she chose to move when she left Microsoft and Seattle, since she wanted a place where she could work from home and have easy access to places to ride her bike.

"I love to ride, but it wouldn't be feasible for me to ride my bike to work 80 miles to Santa Clara," said Chraptay. "Because of collaboration and senior executive buy-in, I get a chance to live where I want to live and work for a company that is heavily involved in collaboration."

Chrapaty spoke Thursday at GigaOm's Net:Work 2010 conference in San Francisco on the future of work and collaboration, alongside Cisco's chief information officer, Rebecca Jacoby.

Jacoby talked about the holistic approach that IT departments need to take when it comes to video and data collaboration within an enterprise.

"IT needed to have a holistic approach, an overarching strategy, that accounts for the way people work," said Jacoby, "but still 'holds the line' for the basics of IT."

Jacoby talked about the use of internal tools, some of which have been turned into products that the company sells, others of which remain in-house only tools.

"A few years ago, Cisco's IT was somewhat reactive," said said, "watching people experiment with wikis, blogs, IM, and video chat, while at the same time we were focused on rolling out TelePresence internally."

That changed as collaboration tools began to bubble to the surface.

"Experimenters began to come forward to engage us so that they could scale their communities," Jacoby said. "They were demanding we get on top of it and scale the collaboration solutions, so we've ended up using our internal communication platform to affect business processes across the entire company, from simple one-on-one TelePresence meetings with a customer, to our global sales meetings."

Cisco's TelePresence video collaboration was fortified by the company's acquisition of TANDBERG, and includes a range of solutions from individual office deployments to large meeting room installations.

Jacoby says Cisco hasn't had a problem getting its own employees interested in collaboration.

"Our big issue is picking the right tools," she said. "For this, we do pilot events, with the first event at 3,000 people-we have no problem getting participants-and our second test at 15,000 participants.

"People find good reasons to use social media and social networking, such as Facebook, in their personal life," she continued. "Now we're trying to figure out how to apply these technologies in the enterprise, because it doesn't make sense to apply Facebook directly in to the enterprise.  So the challenge is to make the enterprise versions applicable to business but still approachable and useable for the general worker, in the way that they've become accustomed to in their personal life."

Back to Chrapaty's presentation, the topic shifts to how she uses the company's internal tools as a self-confessed radical collaborator.

"I'm on a Collaboration Board within the company's council structure and my closest colleague, another SVP in Ireland," said Chrapaty. "We do our collaboration by TelePresence-I happen to have a Telepresence unit in my home, so I am able to do these session from home-and it's very productive."

"If I need to interview candidates," she continued, "I can do so via WebEx, and I can access their resumes on Quad-our internal social / collaborative tool-while I'm doing the interview."

Chrapaty said that streaming video is equally as important as the real-time collaboration of videoconferencing.

"I can also create an on-demand video file to share with my team thoughts on a particular topic," said Chrapaty, "using our internal 'show and share' tool to handle what we call asynchronous videos."

"A collaborative network infrastructure can carry a host of multimedia services," concluded Chrapaty, "as long as it has quality of service for delivery."

Closing out, shifting back to the focus from the CIO's perspective, Jacoby said there's real value in collaboration, even when there may not be a champion to drive the solution internally.

"I often get asked at conferences how to roll out these things without top-down support," said Jacoby. "I remind them that, even with an aggressive CEO that stands behind us, drives the message forward, and gives us good ground cover, it's still possible that some departments may not want to roll out these technologies."

"On the other hand," Jacoby continued, "you may have some departments-like marketing-that want to lead on these new technologies, and their concrete example can then sell the solution to other departments."

"We've see real value, with virtual events providing 10 times the reach at 1/3 the cost versus in-person events," said Jacoby. "Even in IT we see savings; for our product support desk and our support engineers-from the basics of storing a chat and making it available to the high-end products of TelePresence-we see that we've had a billion in savings, with a quarter of that in concrete travel costs."

Cisco shares a breakdown of some of those numbers, including:

  • $601 million saved on remote collaboration
  • $15 million saved on sales and marketing calls
  • $125 million for our virtual expert program

Jacoby said it's also about the intangibles.

"I travel much less than my predecessor, but am able to see more customers," said Jacoby. "This lets me see my family more."

For Chrapaty, who says she chose Cisco over another company, since they let her live a flexible lifestyle, the intangibles extend across workers in multiple industries.

"In a recent survey, 66% of people surveyed said they would take a cut in pay for more flexibility in the way they work," said Chrapaty.

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