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Cisco Looks to ‘Spark’ Collaboration

**Editor’s Note: Click here for our recently compiled list of new products and services that partners can sell.**

Earlier this week Cisco formalized its Project Squared suite under the name Cisco Spark. The offering, available exclusively through channel partners, enters a crowded space, with pressure from not only the likes of IBM, Jive Software, Microsoft and Salesforce but lightweight consumer-class (read: free but feature-limited) collaboration options.

Spark uses a “room” model, where any team member can launch a space and invite others to securely send messages, share files and screens, and start multiparty voice and video calls using a wide variety of clients and devices. Files, documents and discussion strings are stored in the room for easy reference, and content is encrypted end-to-end. Admins can set up single-sign-on and directory sync and enable role-based access, while users can control who invites or removes others in the rooms they set up. Rooms can also be locked. Spark runs on Android, iOS, Mac OS and Windows and in browsers — current versions of Chrome and Firefox plus Internet Explorer 10 and 11, though full functionality is currently limited to Firefox.

A full rundown of Spark features is available here.

Only Cisco Collaboration Specialized Partners can sell value-added subscriptions of Spark. To demo the product, the company is offering a free trial of select features for as many as three participants.

Two bundled packages are available:

  • Cisco Spark Message: Base Spark functions plus room moderation, single-sign-on, directory sync and live support.
  • Cisco Spark Message and Meet: All of the above plus meetings in rooms of as many as 25 users and the ability to use WebEx Meeting Center or Enterprise Edition.

Pricing is based on volume and discount tiers. Customers may select from flexible usage-based pricing or companywide access plans for a fixed cost. As an example scenario, a midsize business can …

… enable companywide access to the Message and Meet bundle for a list price of $25 per employee per month, while the standalone Message option runs $13 per employee per month.

Richard McLeod, Cisco’s’ senior director of worldwide collaboration channel sales, says Spark is the first product built on the OpenStack-based Collaboration Cloud Cisco launched late last year, but it won’t be the last. In a blog, McLeod invites resellers to spin up a room in Spark and give him feedback directly. No one can accuse Cisco of not eating its own dog food, as it were.

One shortfall in Spark for email-centric companies is a current lack of hooks into Outlook, meaning no calendar or task-list integration or ability to reply to discussion comments directly from the mail client. A spokesperson told Channel Partners that Cisco is continuing to engage with customers and using their feedback to inform product development efforts, adding that a new Windows client provides faster access to content on the desktop and notifications, even if the Spark app is not open.  

As anyone who has searched in vain through a packed inbox for a critical document or discussion point knows, there’s plenty of room for improvement in enterprise workflows. The problem is, it takes more than well-designed software, which Spark looks to be. Processes tend to be entrenched, and we’ve predicted the death of email for a decade. This is an area where solutions providers can add value by helping customers educate end users and revamp business processes to take full advantage of collaborative capabilities.

Follow executive editor @LornaGarey on Twitter.


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