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Cisco Collaboration Now Includes Hardware As A Service, Tighter Integration With Microsoft Teams

"Now, you can walk into a customer, head held high, and sell Cisco collaboration alongside Microsoft. This is a big bet for our two companies for the sake of our end users," a Cisco collaboration exec said during a keynote at the 2019 Partner Summit.

Cisco's collaboration team is making good on its promise to be a bridge, not an island. The tech giant unveiled a deeper integration with Microsoft, two new WebEx devices, and a new channel-focused hardware-as-a-service sales option for its phones, desk and room-based video systems.  

Cisco is building on the unified client it announced in June when the tech giant said it was bringing together its on-premises and cloud-based collaboration portfolio. Cisco Wednesday at its 2019 Cisco Partner Summit introduced the Single Platform Advantage, an approach that the company is taking to deliver all collaboration workloads, including calling, messaging, meeting, devices and contact center, from a single platform -- including mobile devices, the desktop or any another device

Cisco's collaboration portfolio today interoperates with a handful of third-party solutions from the likes of Salesforce, Office 365, GoToMeeting, Slack, and Google. Going forward, Cisco is building a tighter integration with Microsoft Teams, which will soon natively interoperate with Cisco WebEx rooms.  

[Related: Cisco Takes Aim At Cradlepoint, Enters New Market With Meraki Cellular Gateway]

"Now, you can walk into a customer, head held high, and sell Cisco collaboration alongside Microsoft. This is a big bet for our two companies for the sake of our end users," said Sri Srinivasan, senior vice president and general manager for Cisco's Team Collaboration Group.

Long View Systems, a Cisco Gold Partner and Microsoft partner, has many customers that are using both Cisco and Microsoft for their collaboration needs. 

"To see the integration with Cisco and Microsoft Teams means it's not an 'or' but an 'and,' which is a win for the customer because they are going to have a better experience and more value from their collective investment," said Kent MacDonald, senior vice president of strategic alliances for Long View Systems, Calgary, Alberta. "I'm very encouraged to see that collaboration."

Like Long View, Force 3, a Cisco Gold Partner and one of the tech giant's top federal partners, has many customers using both Cisco Meeting and Microsoft Teams for collaboration. The firm also has many customers that have legacy voice services in their IT environments, so Cisco's ability to interoperate with third-party systems is important, said Jason Parry, vice president of client solutions for Force 3, Crofton, Md.  

Amy Chang, senior vice president of Cisco’s collaboration business, revealed a hardware-as-a-service offering through Cisco's Collaboration Flex Plan that lets businesses buy the company's collaboration offerings through a subscription during her keynote at the conference, being held this week in Las Vegas.

"It's one single offer for customers," Chang said. "What that means for all of us is really transforming the workplace, which becomes a lot easier with phones that are $5 a month or Room Kit Minis that are $60 a month." 

Force 3's customers are very interested in flexible consumption models and paying monthly for IT. Cisco adding collaboration and unified communications (UC) hardware to Flex is a big win for partners, Parry said.  

"Cisco has best of breed software, but also hardware, and the new endpoints are a showcase of that," he said. "We are working with Cisco's hosted collaboration solution [HCS] for Defense. We are selling the customer subscription, but then they still had this capital buy for endpoints, and this directly helps solve this problem. If you're buying a subscription for something, you don't want to also still have a capital expense."

Nirav Sheth, vice president of worldwide sales and systems engineering for Cisco's Global Partner Organization, said that Cisco sells nearly 100 percent of its Collaboration Flex Plans through partners this week at Partner Summit.  

Cisco Wednesday also introduced two new additions to the WebEx portfolio, including Webex Desk Pro, a 7-inch, 4K touchscreen device with a USB-C connection. The web app-enabled Desk Pro can recognize users and greet them by name. Users can stand up or sit down, and the camera automatically follows them. It can also blur backgrounds or insert a virtual background and block out background noise. The Webex Desk Pro can also work with conferencing service -- not just Webex.  

Also new to the portfolio is Webex Room Panorama, an immersive telepresence offering designed for global teams that appears to cut the conference room in half so that remote attendees feel like they are sitting at the table, according to Cisco. The telepresence offering includes facial recognition with name and title labels and can generate action items and meeting summaries.  

On the contact center front, the "stickiest of all software," Chang said that very soon, partners will have a Cisco Cloud contact center offering that will be able to scale up to 30,000 agents. The innovation in the contact center space is coming from technology Cisco acquired from meeting and voice specialist Voicea in August.  

"We have more than 3.6 million agents on this platform now," she said to partners. "At $180 per agent, per month, that is some of the highest [average selling price] software you could possibly be selling."

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