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Cisco Spark: Developers, integrators see profit in all-in-one endpoint

Channel partners believe Cisco's Spark Board collaboration offering will boost sales and recurring revenue, while providing software development opportunities.

Cisco's newly unveiled meeting room system offers channel partners an add-on sales opportunity, a source of recurring revenue and an API set that could prove a boon to Cisco Spark developers.

The vendor this week launched Cisco Spark Board, a system that provides wireless presentation, digital whiteboard, and audio and video conferencing capabilities in a single, 55-inch device. The Spark Board has a suggested retail price of $4,990.  Customers will also pay $199 a month for a subscription fee covering the cloud service, software updates and help desk.

Spark Board is the latest addition to Cisco's Spark collaboration product line, which debuted in March 2015. Cisco Spark, which provides cloud-based messaging, meeting and calling service, is sold through the channel on a subscription basis. Spark Board also aims to appeal to channel partners, whether they are resellers, service providers or Cisco Spark developers.

Spark Board to provide add-on sales

For partners already offering Spark collaboration services, Cisco's all-in-one collaboration endpoint opens opportunities to revisit customers and grow wallet share.

Robert Bellmar, executive vice president of business operations at

West Unified Communications Services, a Chicago-based conferencing and collaboration services provider, said the Spark Board's price point and ease-of-use factor will make the product an easy add-on sale with respect to the company's existing collaboration customer base.

He added Spark Board will also help open conversations with customers around conference room technology refreshment. Customers, he said, are looking for a nimble and cost-effective alternative to purchasing projectors, video conferencing and audio conferencing products as separate entities.

"It's all one simple component that replaces everything you need in the room," Bellmar said of Cisco's Spark Board.

Joe Berger, practice director for collaboration at St. Louis-based World Wide Technology (WWT), said he also views Spark Board as an add-on sale. He said the collaboration product is nice on its own, but works best as part of the broader Spark story of messaging, meeting and calling.

In that context, "you really start to see how all of these [pieces] come together for a collaboration experience," Berger explained.

Berger also credited Cisco with lowering the cost of entry for video conferencing, while also making collaboration technology easier to use. Those factors will let customers put video endpoints into more places, so "more and more rooms are enabled," he noted.

"We really wanted to get this into the hands of a lot of customers," added Jens Meggers, Cisco's senior vice president and general manager for the vendor's cloud collaboration technology group. He noted 85% of all meeting rooms are not technology-enabled.

"They don't have anything," he said.

Recurring revenue

While the Spark Board offers the potential for growing collaboration product sales, it also has a recurring-revenue dimension in light of the $199 monthly subscription fee. Spark Board thus contributes another layer to Cisco's already subscription-oriented Spark offering.

Berger said that subscription approach is an important consideration.

"We have seen a shift toward recurring revenue over the past year and a half, as more and more offerings become cloud-based," he said.

WWT, he said, has been spending more time on adoption services and lifecycle management, as recurring revenue grows in importance. He said the company has created a team and developed a methodology to help customers evaluate technology, roll it out and get it adopted. When technology is sold as a subscription, adoption is key for renewals, and renewals are critical for a recurring revenue stream.

Gary Wolfson, head of Cisco's global collaboration partner organization, described the subscription-oriented Cisco Spark lifecycle as "landing, adopting and renewing."

He said Cisco is working with partners to help them establish adoption and lifecycle practices.

APIs for Cisco Spark developers

Channel partners in recent months have sought differentiation through intellectual property, a movement that has put some companies on a software development track. Cisco is making APIs available that will let partners develop custom applications and integrations for the Spark Board platform.

This platform is ripe for differentiation.
Gary Wolfsonhead of Cisco's global collaboration partner organization

"It allows us to get creative," Berger said.

WWT acquired an application development shop about two years ago, he said. That operation will house the company's Spark development. He said WWT will look into specific vertical use cases where it can create applications -- healthcare and education, for example.

"I think education is going to take off," Berger said. "There are a lot of things you can do around digital boards ... and distance learning."

"This platform is ripe for differentiation," Wolfson said.

Using what they sell

Channel partners from collaboration consultants to Cisco Spark developers may acquire Spark Boards through Cisco's internal use program.

Berger said WWT has two Spark Boards: one in its Advanced Technology Center, where customers can get experience with the collaboration product, and one in its Asynchrony app development shop.

Bellmar said West Unified Communications Services plans to install Spark Boards in key facilities in Chicago and Louisville, Ky.

"It will be pretty important for us to experience it for ourselves," he said. "It is a lot more powerful to use it and have real experience of how it changed your life than it is to talk about it."

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