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Cisco roadmap focuses on video, collaboration

Cisco announced its future plans at the C-Scape analyst conference, stressing the importance of IP video and collaboration tools and their role as the technology enabler.

Outlining its high-level plans, Cisco kicked off its C-Scape 2007 analyst conference in San Jose on Tuesday, demonstrating the importance of video and collaboration by bringing in industry experts and remote conference attendees via its TelePresence videoconferencing solution.

If you want a quick summation of where Cisco is going to focus in the next three to five years, the three magic words are TelePresence, collaboration and video. That's the troika that will bring all of Cisco's strategic planning, R&D and acquisitions together.

Of the three, Cisco has proclaimed video the killer app, and the company plans to introduce in 2008 its EOS (Entertainment Operating System), a hosted software platform that will integrate social networking, content distribution and content targeting into a unified operating environment.

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According to Cisco CEO John Chambers, the industry is in the second phase of major Internet development, which will use collaboration via Web 2.0 technology as a positive disruptive force that promotes social networking for business and consumers.

Chambers said the network will be used to enable new business models, and Cisco is trying to position itself to be in the middle of it all, including negotiating content agreements with media companies.

"We'll watch how it goes as Cisco tries to position itself as a communications company, a software company and a video company," said Tim Dillon, associate vice president of IDC Australia. "Cisco clearly wants to get away from being considered just a hardware vendor."

Starting with the TelePresence focus first, Chambers said he plans to double the number of customers he visits over the next three years, yet cut his travel in half. "TelePresence is the ability to share information in a many-to-many form, and it can be more effective than the face-to-face meeting," Chambers said.

Telepresence is about unified communications, he said. "It's an architectural approach, using a shared workspace and having the ability to integrate video from different places, working across one unified data, voice and video network."

Collaboration as productivity catalyst

Cisco's second keyword, collaboration, is vital to increasing corporate productivity and innovation, driving it at a faster pace than most economists project, said Erik Brynjolfsson, the director of the MIT Center for Digital Business, who joined the conference via Cisco's TelePresence solution. "The more knowledge workers can collaborate with each other using TelePresence," he said, "the more they can increase productivity and innovate faster."

Collaboration has synergy with business process change, according to Brynjolfsson. "Companies that have made business process and collaborative technology improvements have found that the two go together in a highly complementary way," he said, "and the companies that did both had large productivity gains."

Collaboration also promotes social networking within businesses, Brynjolfsson said, adding that its uses go beyond the familiar FaceBook and MySpace applications used largely in the younger consumer market.

Video as the killer app

The video market is clearly where Cisco wants to be. "The next wave of Internet disruption is video," Chambers said. "We will go after it in partnership mode, partnering with content publishers, service providers and device makers."

Moving into video is clearly a more complex transition than unified communications and collaboration. Chambers predicted that IP video, which includes many video formats, will increase fourfold by 2011. Cisco believes it can power the connected experience by helping distribute content via its core networking expertise, providing consumer access via its Scientific Atlanta and Linksys acquisitions.

"The change in video usage is the single biggest disruption since the invention of the motion picture camera," said Dan Scheinman, senior vice president/general manager of Cisco Media Solutions Group. "Existing content business models are being destroyed, and media companies are scrambling to connect with customers." Cisco, Scheinman asserted, is well positioned to help media companies connect to the home, and it has the networking capabilities to help with distribution.

"Technology can't solve all of the problems; there has to be an entire market transition with video," Chambers said. "My conversations with NBC are about content, not equipment, and how it all ties to the connected consumer."

One big question is how homes will be optimized for receiving personal next-generation content at the time -- and on the device -- of their choosing. "Ease of use needs to come to the home along with open standards, and it all has to be secure," Chambers said.

BBC as content-transition poster child

As an example of Cisco's goal of meeting all users when and where they want to be met, the BBC is in the process of putting its annual TV programming on the Internet via a peer-to-peer network so users can view it at their convenience, according to Erik Huggers, BBC Group Controller of Future Media, who also attended the meeting via TelePresence.

Huggers, who previously worked in digital media at Microsoft, came to the BBC to help the corporation rethink how it would distribute content in the future.

"The transition is absolutely radical for a traditional company to realize it had to change dramatically when looking at the future of content delivery," Huggers said. The BBC's ultimate goal is to digitize and deliver all the 1.3 million hours of programming in its archives since 1922 via on-demand television delivery, mobile or the Web. The BBC plans to spend 60 million pounds on its Digital Media Initiative (DMI).

"In the next couple of years, we're expecting our news services to have bigger reach on the Internet than on our traditional broadcasting system," Huggers said.

"Today's network infrastructure is in no way ready for getting video to the desktop," he said. "It's a really big change for an organization like the BBC, a state broadcaster. We recognize that all of our talent needs access to all material that is produced, and they need to be able to do edits wherever they are in the world. So we're rolling out a fiber optic network in the country to link all offices to make it possible to embrace a digital future. IP and digital technology will help the BBC stay relevant."

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