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Cisco Spark: the spark that ignites a fire of innovation
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We have all been in a situation where the offerings of our collaboration devices and apps have not been sufficient. This is what Cisco Spark tries to solve – it is not a nice to have feature, it is a carefully engineered solution that approaches collaboration in a completely different level.
I was eagerly awaiting “Collaboration Reimagined” - the session from Cisco Live where Rowan Trollope, Jonathan Rosenberg, and Jens Meggers were going to spill the beans on where the collaboration team in Cisco is headed. I have to admit that when Cisco Spark (back then Project Squared) was initially released in 2014 I was rather sceptical. I was worried that this would be just another IM application which would only add confusion to customers and partners, that instead of Spark the BU should have invested more in Jabber. Fast-forward to today - I am 100% sold on Spark.

Why? Because it becomes more and more clear that Cisco Spark is the biggest innovation in collaboration we’ve seen in a long time. And by saying Cisco Spark I refer not only to the application, but the whole platform that’s behind it.

The features demonstrated at Cisco Live 2016 in Las Vegas were very impressive so let me go through them and try to give my take on what makes Cisco Spark so special.
Getting work done - The real identity of Cisco Spark
Cisco Spark is a business messaging application but what is the difference to instant messaging (IM) or other similar apps? As Jonathan Rosenberg, VP and CTO, Collaboration at Cisco, noted:
It is indeed true, traditional IM apps (including legacy business IM apps) have one main goal: reach a person, grab their attention and tell or send them something. That’s actually all we need from such apps in our private life (think WhatsApp, Telegram). Communication is focused on a single interaction and when it’s done collaboration ends too. Perfect.

But things in our work life are different. In our jobs we work on projects, in those projects we are part of different teams, those teams share ideas, create content, have regular and spontaneous meetings. And this is where Spark comes in. Spark opens virtual rooms for collaboration which provide persistency and context.

Every person can be part of multiple teams depending on the projects they work on and the different roles they have in their organization. This way, you can discuss your projects with all your team mates, share content with them and make decisions in a very structured way.

But as Rosenberg notes, when it comes to decisions and complicated discussions, “Business messaging is not enough. You need calls and real-life face-to-face meetings to get work done”. Cisco Spark allows you to initiate real meetings from within any room bringing all members together in a voice and video call with content sharing.

But what happens if you were not online or you were busy and you need to catch up on what was going on, the cunning reader might ask? That’s the cool thing about Cisco Spark – messages in Cisco Spark are persistent and saved in the cloud so you can catch up on everything you’ve missed. You can search for everything anyone ever said or shared.

With this in mind, go back and take a look at your current IM app that is just a big buddy list and agree with us that business messaging is and should be more than that. Otherwise it’s just a shiny tool that helps you get in contact with people but doesn’t really bring anything new to the table leaving you to resort to the same old ways of uncoordinated (mis)communication.
Synced Devices – Beam me up, Sparky
Imagine you are participating in a conf call with your team from your shiny MX700 in a conference room. Suddenly your boss enters and demands to use the MX. Normally this would mean that your call ends and you start a painful endeavour of finding another room and at the same time missing a big part of the call while being on the run.

Not with Cisco Spark, now you can literally drag the call from the MX700 down to the Cisco Spark app on your mobile while you try to find another room to physically host your virtual meeting. Transitioning between devices is almost magical just by sliding the call down to bring it to your phone, or up to beam it up to a bigger device. Below you can observe another set of human hands doing exactly that, alas just with a DX80.
So, instead of getting on the wrong train or in this case, in the wrong evaluator (I love this GIF!) let Spark beam you up!
We love BIG GREEN Buttons
Until recently, the big green button to join a meeting was reserved for the cool guys with Cisco Telepresence video systems. The others had to go through the process of 1) dial a 12-digit phone number 2) enter a 9-digit meeting number 3) pray they’ve entered everything right.

Not for long - the big green button to join a meeting with a single click is coming to a Cisco Phone near you! As Jonathan said while demo-ing the feature, “No more human copy machine”.
Monica, Siri and the bots
You don’t want to push buttons? No problem. Enter Monica!
Monica is a digital assistant just like Siri except she is optimized for business and lives in Cisco Spark. She can make a call for you, create a schedule for you or remind you of an appointment and lots of other cool stuff. I can’t wait to see her chit-chat with other bots.

Speech recognition quality and AI are finally approaching levels at which the combination of the two can actually be put to work and not just used as a nerdy way of having fun. So the timing of this announcement seems perfect. I’m sure some of you might be a bit sceptical about Monica, you might wonder why Monica and not just Siri or Google… The answer is consistency. Remember, Cisco Spark works on iOS, Android, Windows, macOS and Telepresence devices so you can’t rely on each platform’s digital assistant to provide the right set of features without creating discrepancy.

On the topic of assistants, Jonathan showed two use-cases for bots with Redbooth and Evernote in which task management, schedule management and information sharing all come to Spark providing an integrated experience where you don’t have to shuffle through a myriad of apps just to get some basic task done. Bots are a huge deal at the moment, however, I will leave it at this and tell you to stay tuned.
Cisco Video Cloud
As Jens Meggers said, “Every millisecond matters”. That is why in three to six months Cisco will be drastically extending their datacenters and Cisco Spark media nodes creating the Global Spark Video Cloud. That’s a good sign that Cisco bets big on Spark as we do too.
The result will be that the quality of video calls via Cisco Spark will be great even for people in remote locations allowing low-latency Cisco Spark meetings worldwide.

Furthermore, Spark Video software development kit (SDK) was announced. Spark Video SDK makes it possible to integrate Cisco Spark video in existing applications. This allows developers to enhance their own apps with the services of Spark and create a seamless integrated experience. Think Jabber SDK but from the cloud, i.e. sans the servers.

Video and IM have been around for more than three decades and in the past ten years we’ve been witnessing attempts to bring all that technology to the desktop and make it available to the knowledge worker. In the last two years since its launch, Cisco Spark and the team behind it continue to show us that they know how to achieve this goal. The key to that is that the idea behind Spark is not focused merely on the technology but takes into account the human factor.

There is a subtle difference whether you start a meeting with your team and move it to a video room if needed or you move your team to a video room to start a meeting. This shows us that someone at Cisco actually sat down and started thinking how do people interact and work and based on that decided what to develop and what not develop in Spark.

Of course behind all this is a great deal of tech that delivers a fantastic user experience - the Cisco Collaboration Cloud that allows innovation with speed I have not seen before from Cisco.