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Cisco Spark and the Video Conferencing Reformation

The Wainhouse Research Blog

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on Unified Communications & Collaboration


Cisco Spark and the Video Conferencing Reformation

By: -
25 Jul 2016

I was unable to attend Cisco Live In Las Vegas a few weeks ago, but thanks to the electro-magnetic wonders of the internet, I was able this week to watch the replay of “Collaboration Re-imagined” starring Rowan Trollope, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Jens Meggers.  Between Cisco Live, multiple Cisco Collaboration Summits, and two years of Enterprise Connect and infoComm briefings, we’ve been inundated with Spark news and announcements.  I even wrote a tongue-in-cheek blog about Spark in December, 2015 shortly after Cisco positioned Spark as both a service and a platform.

When Spark was first announced as Project Squared, I questioned whether the application would require information workers to change the way they worked, and hence, would ultimately fail to gather traction.  I’ve since come to think that Spark represents a real innovation (yes, I know about Slack, HipChat, Glip, Fuze, Skype for Business, etc.) and brings the enormous development resources, skills, and potential energy of Cisco together with a focus on real customer benefits.  Traction is inevitable.  I’m not going to review all the features and benefits of Spark – others can do a better job than I on this front.  Yes, Spark is a messaging-based service (and platform) that provides users with a simple, single, natural interface to a wide variety of sync and async communications, and it’s an open platform (Tropo, Acano, Synata), and it works with CPE deployments (Spark Hybrid) as well, etc.  Rather, as one of the video guys at Wainhouse Research, I want to comment on Spark’s likely influence on the video conferencing user.

Video conferencing has been around for a long time – at least 35 years as a room-based solution and 20+ years as a desktop application.  For the past ten years it has been morphing slowly from functioning as a stand-alone vehicle to becoming a feature included with other solutions.  Spark takes this evolutlon to the next step for the knowledge worker.  It’s abundantly clear that Cisco’s management team believes in this fundamental change.  There are many proof points, but I’ll name only two.  1) All Cisco desktop and room systems can connect to Spark natively; they can launch with the Spark OS.  The room and desktop environments for video conferencing become the same!   If you’re a follower of the video conferencing religion, this is a reformation.  2) To provide a great experience via reduced network latency (key for video conferencing if not for messaging), Cisco is launching the Global Spark Video Cloud on Cisco’s and Partners’ worldwide data centers.

When you and your colleagues are Spark users, with multiple Spark rooms that support presence, messaging, calling, and meetings, there is a sense of belonging.  I think this is a subtle point that is hard to describe in writing, but watching the online demos you can see how Spark supports teaming as well as random, ad hoc calling.  This sense has been sorely missing from traditional video conferencing and IM solutions.  Spark goes further with an intelligent back end that helps you find the information (or person) you need and the persistent nature helps you start where you left off in the last session.

Spark has come a long way in two years with its ease-of-use and feature / function set.  Like some consumer applications, Spark is poised to become the user-interface-of-choice for room and personal video conferencing.  I think it will play a significant role in our future behavior:  the way we work, the way we deploy visual communications, and the way we buy enterprise productivity solutions.

In this day of political correctness, I don’t want to assert that Spark is a religion.  But Believe, Belong, and Behave are three legs of any religious following.  And if video conferencing is a religion, Spark is the reformation.


Andrew, while I agree that the native integration of end points (phones or video running Spark OS), along with Cisco Intelligent Proximity is impressive, Spark currently lacks presence, which is a drawback. So, you don't actually know who is available when you are in Spark if you are not directly interacting with them. This was a major point of Cisco's Partner Collaboration Summit where Rowan Trollope defended this decision to not add presence as a feature.

Being an IM junkie ever since ICQ, I kind of get Cisco's idea of not including presence. They call is the post-presence-age and make constantly remarks to Whatsapp. So their claim is: "Modern" people dont care about presence anymore; they simply whatsapp or snapchat away and the reactions will flow back whenever it might happen. And indeed running both Spark and SfB on the same desktop it is indeed a way of working. I could not pick a winner currently.