Lessons learned from Cisco pulling the plug on WebEx Social

Cisco has announced that it is halting sales of its enterprise social networking software WebEx Social and will instead partner with Jive Software. WebEx Social -- originally launched in 2010 as "Cisco Quad" -- was intended as a connective social layer for several of the vendor’s real-time communication products like video conferencing, web conferencing and IP-telephony.

A bit of history

In theory, “social meets unified communications” is a useful scenario, but Quad failed to take off, partly because Cisco was late to the game but mostly on account of Quad having an “unfinished” feel to it. Quad was less a "layer" and more an attempt to convert a fork of the open source Liferay Portal platform into a social networking platform.

A couple of years later, Cisco tried to give Quad another push, rebranding it as WebEx Social and selling it as part of a broader collaboration offering alongside WebEx Meetings and Instant Messaging software Jabber. However, WebEx Social also never found many takers, and Cisco’s announcement last week represents the final acknowledgement of the lack of any meaningful traction.

In our review of the product in the Enterprise Collaboration and Social Software Report, we foresaw this eventuality: “there are few scenarios that would be appropriate for WebEx Social, given that it remains a work-in-progress, it lags the market, and lacks differentiators.” However, the point of this blog is not “I told you so.”  Vendors have hits and misses and I admire Cisco for being a pioneer in their core areas of computer networking.

Lessons for you

The lesson here for enterprise customers is two-fold.

Firstly, does the product that you are buying constitute a meaty business area for a vendor or is it a side show? If the latter, then even if the current version of the product is good enough, will it receive enough attention and updates, or will it just wither on the vine?

Next, is there an alignment between the product and the company’s DNA? Why do you think that Google can't shake off the perception that it’s not interested in enterprise business despite Google Apps being a multi-billion dollar business? Now, Cisco has excellent credibility as a purveyor of networking gear, but is business software in general, and social networking services in particular, really up their alley? More generally, does a hardware company get software products?

Moving beyond Cisco for a moment, it's worth asking similar questions of other types of suppliers.  For example, does your traditional software vendor understand what it takes to deliver a multi-tenant cloud service?  How much can you depend on product offerings from companies whose main line of business is not selling software products but offering systems integration or professional services?

Yes, these questions speak to vendor intangibles and so you can't always readily quantify them. But do not ignore these "softer" aspects in your software selection. We can certainly complement your internal analysis here. 

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