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Cisco’s next move: online collaboration?

The most recent round of rumors about Cisco buying EMC came about because Cisco CEO John Chambers said his company needs to expand into new tech markets. Now the question is, what will those markets be?

If storage is the answer, it’s probably not going to be through an EMC acquisition — at least not now. Despite those rumors, Chambers says Cisco isn’t eyeing any big-name buys at the moment.

Another possible area, suggested by GigaOM’s Om Malik, is online collaboration. Malik posted last night that “Cisco needs to start thinking like a software company.” The theory is that as more businesses embrace online collaboration, they’ll need to expand their corporate data centers. And what better vendor to provide that infrastructure than Cisco?

But the problem is, online collaboration also requires front-end software, either on-premise (Microsoft SharePoint) or hosted (Google Apps). And despite its acquisitions of WebEx, and Five Across, Cisco “doesn’t have either the software or the web DNA” to compete with Microsoft and Google, Malik said.

In a response to Malik’s post, blogger Mark Sigal also questioned whether Cisco — and Cisco partners — will be able to sell collaboration software successfully.

“Selling products with a bow around them, such as networking gear and even web conferencing systems, is very different than providing solutions that integrate with proprietary software systems,” Sigal wrote.

Forrester Research has labeled Cisco a “dark horse” in the race to become online collaboration market king, and this vendor comparison diagram shows that Cisco trails Microsoft, Google and even IBM/Lotus in most areas — except for its channel, which is a strong suit.

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I could not agree more - as a former CIO who started out selling and delivering consulting, became a CIO and then went on to a sales and marketing career before general management, I think sales is a vital skill to learn. Unfortunately "sales" has developed a tarnished reputation over the years, but we forget at our peril that without sales we have no business. I believe every business leader should learn how to sell. Some of my best learning came as a result of "carrying a bag" - sales focuses the mind like nothing else and you can't be successful without learning to satisfy customer needs. Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking post.
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