Today IBM and Cisco announced a new partnership that brings together parts of each vendor’s collaboration platform: IBM and Cisco Tap the Power of IBM Watson and Cisco Spark to Transform the Way People Work

"As part of the transformation, the highly secure Cisco Spark and WebEx collaborative workspace platforms will be integrated with IBM’s leading cloud collaboration solutions, including Verse and Connections, and underpinned by IBM’s cognitive computing capabilities."

On the surface, this sounds like a good opportunity for both companies.

  • IBM has been successful in the email and social networking markets (with Notes/Domino and Connections, and is now offering customers IBM Verse), but their Sametime product is not as well known as Cisco WebEx for web conferencing or Cisco Jabber for voice/video calls.
  • Cisco has been successful with WebEx and Jabber, but has a poor track record (see below) in collaboration software and does not have their own email platform.

So working together could provide each vendor a way to expand their market presence by leveraging the other to fill their gaps. But questions remain:

  • Will Cisco WebEx customers buy IBM Verse and IBM Connections based on this new integration?  
  • Will IBM Verse and Connections customers buy WebEx (vs IBM Sametime) and more importantly to Cisco, will they use Cisco Spark instead of or in combination with IBM Connections? What about IBM’s upcoming project Toscana software?

Collaboration Portfolios At A Glance

  • Notes/Domino
  • Verse

Voice/video chat

  • Sametime
  • WebEx
  • Jabber

Social networking 

  • Connections
  • Project Toscana
  • Spark

Cisco Benefits From IBM's Cognitive Computing

One of the most important aspects of today’s announcements is that Cisco plans to leverage the cognitive capabilities of the IBM Watson platform to help improve the way people work. Meetings, chat, voice calls all contain large amounts of unstructured data, making it difficult for people to easily glean insights from the content and interactions they have with their colleagues and customers. If Cisco can bring a layer of intelligence to WebEx, Jabber and Spark it will not only help their customers, but also provide an excellent reference for the power of the IBM Watson platform.

IBM and Cisco Have Been Down This Road Before

This is not the first time IBM and Cisco have partnered on integrating their collaboration offerings. In 2009 the two vendors made a very similar announcement: Cisco and IBM: Enhancing the Way People Work Through Unified Communications 

2009: "Together, the two companies are enabling a new way of  communicating and collaborating—one that’s open, timely, and effective. Using best in class unified communications capabilities from both Cisco and IBM, organizations can transform their business processes and reach new levels of productivity. Collaboration will be made easier and communications will be enhanced. Individuals and teams will work more effectively—when, where and how they choose—without sacrificing security or productivity. The integrated product offerings combine IBM Lotus® Sametime®, IBM Lotus Notes® and multiple Cisco Unified Communications products to deliver a complete unified communications solution that unify voice, data, video, messaging, and mobility technologies into a single, flexible solution."

While I do not have statistics around the number of new customers or amount of revenue this previous partnership generated, it’s safe to say it did not have substantial impact on either company. However, things are a bit different today. In theory, today’s software is easier to integrate in the cloud than older on-premises offerings were. IBM says that we’ll start to see the newly announced integrations this year, with the cognitive capabilities of Watson working their way into the Cisco portfolio in 2017.

Cisco’s Rocky Road To Collaboration

Cisco new collabroation platform Spark is being well received by customers and partners, but Cisco has had a tough time getting to this stage. Here is a timeline of Cisco’s collaboration software portfolio. As you’ll see they have tried twice to create their own offering first with Quad then WebEx Social, then tried partnering with Jive (which sounds a lot like today’s IBM announcement) and are now back in the market with Cisco Spark. 

  • Mar 2007 - Cisco acquired WebEx
  • Sep 2008 - Cisco acquired Jabber
  • 2010 - Cisco announces their social networking for the enterprise platform, Cisco Quad
  • Aug 2011 - Cisco acquires Versly: integrates collaboration capabilities via a plug-in into Microsoft Office applications 
  • Jun 2012 - Quad is rebranded as WebEx Social
  • Dec 2013 - Cisco acquires Collaborate: provides unified document sharing, task management and team communication
  • May 2014 - Cisco ends WebEx Social and announces partnership with Jive - "Today I am happy to announce that we are entering a relationship with Jive Software to deliver the best in enterprise social collaboration to our customers. By combining Jive’s enterprise collaboration platform with WebEx and Jabber, we can bring together the elements that help organizations deploy an integrated, seamless experience for their employees, customers, and partners. What really gets me excited about the Jive and Cisco integration is that we are bringing two leading collaboration and communications technology solutions together and delivering them in a single experience for our customers"
  • Jun 2014 - Cisco acquires Assemblage: real-time collaboration apps for shared whiteboarding, presentation broadcasting and screensharing.
  • Nov 2015 - Cisco acquires Acano: video and audio bridging technology that allows customers to connect video systems from multiple vendors across both cloud and hybrid environments.
  • Dec 2015 - Cisco announces Spark, cloud based messaging, meetings and voice calls
  • Jun 2016 - IBM and Cisco Combine the Power of Watson Internet of Things with Edge Analytics
  • Jun 2016 - IBM and Cisco Tap the Power of IBM Watson and Cisco Spark to Transform the Way People Work

After several different strategies around collaboration, Cisco now seems to focused on making Spark a success. They have even created $150M developer fund to entice business partners to build solutions on the new platform. It remains to be seen how Spark will compliment or compete with IBM Connections and later IBM Toscana.


  • Both vendors have held leadership positions in their respective markets, but are now facing tough competition that is stalling growth or even reducing their base. Both companies are looking for new routes to market as they compete against the likes of Microsoft, Google, SAP, Salesforce, Facebook, Slack and others, and partnering with each other could open up additional opportunities. 
  • For IBM, the more places they can have IBM Verse and IBM Connections (ex: the file sharing component) integrated with business applications that people use everyday (such as WebEx) the better.
  • For Cisco, having access to IBM Watson’s cognitive capabilities will help them compete with Microsoft and Google, each of which has their own cognitive platforms that they are leveraging in their own collaboration products.
  • I’m pleased to see the IBM Collaboration Solutions division making partnerships. This follows the modus operandi of General Manager Inhi Cho Suh, and shows she’s already having an impact in her new position. 
  • My biggest concern is IBM’s ability to deliver on this functionality. Over the last few years IBM has been heavily criticized by customers, partners and industry analysts such as myself for over-promising and under-delivering. As I’ve frequently said, code talks… not slides. IBM has struggled in delivering new features to their Notes/Domino platform, meeting customer expectations with their new IBM Verse email client, and is now talking about a new product in Project Toscana. Will they have the resources to develop all of those things, as well as this new Cisco integration, and other integrations/partnerships such as Box. Time will tell, but IBM is saying we will see the first phases of this Cisco/IBM integration before the end of this year.

I will be attending Cisco Live on July 10th, and I expect to learn a lot more about this there.

If you are a customer of both IBM Collaboration Solutions and Cisco Collaboration, I’d love to speak with you about the ways you see this partnership impacting your organization.