Cisco aims to simplify, unify collaboration products' design, interfaces

The initiative is called Futurama internally and will touch products like WebEx, Quad, Jabber IM and Tandberg

Cisco is in the midst of a major initiative to better integrate its various collaboration products and to give their interfaces a uniform, consistent design in order to make them easier to use and more effective at helping employees work with each other.

The project is known internally as Futurama, and it's driven by the company's conviction that the consumerization of IT is a real trend in the enterprise. Thus, Cisco wants collaboration products like WebEx, Quad, Jabber IM, Tandberg and Social Miner to replicate the "user-centric" simplicity of consumer social networks and consumer mobile devices.

In addition, these collaboration products will continue to be integrated with each other until they provide a "seamless," unified experience so that users can move among them organically as their collaboration tasks require, said Raj Gossain, vice president of product management of Cisco's Collaboration Software Group.

"It's not just about making each of our products great unto themselves. Our objective is to bring these solutions together so that as people escalate from different experiences they feel that they are engaging with Cisco collaboration technologies in a consistent fashion: similar controls, common identity, elegant user experience," he said.

Cisco has been working aggressively on the Futurama user-experience design effort for the past year, and its results are just starting to show up in product upgrades and enhancements, but users will see a major push in this area this year, he said.

The fruits of Futurama will appear not only in the user interfaces of collaboration applications but also in the design of Cisco collaboration devices, such as the Tandberg video conferencing products, its IP phones and its Cius tablet.

"We're trying to deliver a common user experience so that everything feels like it's coming from the same vendor. We're making great progress. You'll see a number of new solutions launching this year that are delivered against that Futurama spec," Gossain said. "It's all about a quality, elegant experience, that's easy, intuitive and consistent."

The goal is to tap into the consumerization-of-IT trend and reduce the training and adoption burden that many enterprise computing technologies and products still place on IT departments and employees, he said. "We want to make these solutions as easy to use as Apple products, and as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn."

An example of Futurama's influence can be seen in the new version of the WebEx web-conferencing and online-meetings application, which was announced in November and is currently in public beta, he said. The Quad enterprise social-networking software will also feature Futurama-inspired design enhancements this year, Gossain said.

"You'll see products launching in the next few months that comply with this internal standard that we've established," he said.

Cisco, best known for its networking hardware, recently identified enterprise collaboration as one of several growth markets it's focusing on. It has been investing in and developing its collaboration portfolio in recent years and believes it now has a very strong offer to compete against the likes of Microsoft, IBM, Google and others.

Specifically, Cisco's collaboration stack now includes IP telephony, high-end telepresence, enterprise social networking, online meetings, and Web conferencing and social media monitoring. The company is focusing on both on-premise and cloud software that can be accessed via a broad range of platforms, browsers and devices.

Juan Carlos Perez covers search, social media, online advertising, e-commerce, web application development, enterprise cloud collaboration suites and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Juan on Twitter at @JuanCPerezIDG.

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