Cisco arms the SMB

Last month Alex, our beloved leader, and I trotted along to meet Cisco‘s SMB director Bernadette Wightman. In between all sorts of interesting side-tracks, we learned a bit about the company’s …

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14th January 2008 at 2:52 pm

Last month Alex, our beloved leader, and I trotted along to meet Cisco‘s SMB director Bernadette Wightman. In between all sorts of interesting side-tracks, we learned a bit about the company’s offerings for small and medium businesses.

The sidetracks were essentially about TelePresence and corporate social responsibility. We went into a room with an oval table – chairs on one side and whacking great high definition screens on the other which were displaying the participants in a similar setup in another office. The aim: boardroom-style discussions without the need to travel (far) or pay for accommodation. The company is even experimenting with holographic projection of real people over long distances. John Chambers (Cisco’s big boss) was accompanied on stage in Bangalore recently by someone who was actually in the San José office at the time.

The CSR was about letting staff spend their time doing genuinely useful things in the community and developing and revealing their skills as part of doing good works. A nice tale, but for another time perhaps.

The real reason we were there was to find out what Cisco had in mind for small businesses. It has spent years developing high end communication systems and then trying to squish them down to meet the needs of smaller businesses. In the last year or so, the company has realised that small businesses need straightforward solutions that are more designed for their particular needs.

In essence, its products assume that people want to connect with others at, more or less, all times. It assumes that people don’t like impersonal messaging systems so tries to complete connections wherever possible. As a result of this thinking it has what it calls a Smart Business Communications System. It lets people connect to each other, singly or en masse, and to company information from the office, on the road and at home. In fact, the full spread is voice, data, video, security and wireless. Speaking of which, it also allows you to safely provide wireless internet access to your company’s visitors.

The idea is to give small and medium enterprises the same sort of working environment as their larger or more technical competitors. It talks about the stuff being ‘affordable’ but it’s not a case of going to the local PC World and coming back with a DIY kit. To quote from the blurb, “With the assistance of your IT partner, the system is easy to install and use.”

It might cost a few bob, but it all sounds rather tempting doesn’t it? Cisco makes much of the fact that it’s an ‘all in one’ solution. That means, presumably, that all the bits are supplied by Cisco. There’s comfort in that, of course. You have only one backside to kick if it goes wrong. The downside is that you’re locked into Cisco, unless you choose an imaginative ‘IT partner’.

The other thing to consider carefully is the cultural aspect. Some people don’t mind work and life flowing together. They just call it all ‘life’. Some don’t mind continual interruptions, it’s part of modern work. But most of us need a bit of time to ourselves or a bit of separation and won’t want to feel tethered to the office 24×7.

Although I couldn’t find explicit mention to it, I am certain that the system will have voice-mail for those times when you just have to escape.

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David Tebbutt is an award-winning columnist and feature writer who specialises on the subject of using software and technology to increase business productivity. He's an analyst with Freeform Dynamics but, in previous lives, wrote for Director magazine, Real Business and was also editor of Personal Computer World. http://freeformdynamics.com

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