When’s the last time you checked your voicemail?  Your email?  Your texts?  In an era of always-on-the-go dispersed teams working together, Collaboration tools always seem to slightly lag the ideal point of “frictionless” experience.  Today Cisco announces a first version of their newest Collaboration tool: Cisco Project Squared.  And with it, the tools are once again catching up to the way users want to collaborate.

What is Cisco Project Squared?

Gartner might soon term it a “4th Generation Collaboration” tool, but what does that mean?  Project Squared lays the foundation for a “collaboration hub” with a fresh and modern user interface (UI) stitching together multiple tools of collaboration:

  • Mobile-first development, making the personal mobile device the focus for end-user collaboration
  • Messaging, in a topic-centric fashion
  • Video and voice communications
  • Box.com integration (Box.com’s CEO shared the stage with Rowan Trollope and John Chambers at today’s product announcement)
  • Calendaring and WebEx integration
  • Single Sign-On (SSO), allowing “one password to rule them all”
cisco images

[“Cisco Project Squared on mobile provides an excellent Collaboration experience. At left, the iOS application on the home screen.  At right, the “hub” of the collaboration experience – the “Rooms” list.”] 

While that all sounds great on paper, the key is the end-user experience.  To that end, Project Squared uses the concept of “rooms” to organize topic-centric collaboration.  Groups of users can dynamically create, join and leave these rooms.  Project Squared also prominently indicates third party participants in rooms, allowing the user to know their audience at a glance.

Despite the simple concept, the execution, thus far, propels the solution past other tools like Slack, WhatsApp, GroupMe or even iMessage.  It truly fulfills the promise of next-generation collaboration, and the promise of deeper hooks into already established Cisco Collaboration tools (and investments by Cisco UC customers) – meaning the experience will continue to get better and better.

Technical Deep Dive

For the past several months, CDW participated in an Early Field Trial of Project Squared. Cisco rapidly developed this application, with code pushes almost daily in the frenzied lead-up to first version.

As a cloud service, the “technical deep dive” by necessity focuses on the end-user client. At launch, Project Squared will support.

  • iOS platforms (iPhone, iPad)
  • Android platforms
  • Browser-based experience
  • Mac “thick client”

Cisco also plans a thick client for Windows in the very near future.

The client itself offers a very clean and polished UI.  Cisco has obviously sunk a lot of time in User Experience design, and it shows beautifully in the client.  As mentioned previously, the client offers the “rooms” experience with tie-ins to WebEx, video/voice calling experience (currently standalone from other Cisco UC products, but the writing is on the wall) with conferencing for up to eight (8) parties natively in the client and integration to Box.com.

cisco2

[“Three key experiences in Project Squared. At left, a “Room,” also showing the external participant indicator.  At center, native image integration.  At right, Box.com integration into a conversation.”] 

What does it cost?

The first version starts this week – sign up via the iOS  or Android apps, or at http://web.projectsquared.com/.

Lab testing

CDW, as mentioned previously, has been using Project Squared internally over the past few months.  Admittedly, any new Collaboration tool takes a while to reach “activation energy” – the point where using the tool is more than an experiment, and shifts to being a common everyday occurrence.

In our experience, Project Squared really shines, offering the tight communication loop of instant messaging (IM) and merging it with the breadth of email.  Our teams have started using Squared in several interesting ways.  Here’s a sampler:

  • The project team at one of our CDW Professional Services branches has been piloting the use of a Squared room for every UC professional services engagement.  The room serves as a hub between the Account team, the CDW pre-sales Solutions Architect, the Project Manager and the post-sales Engineer(s) and their Team Lead.  This allows the entire team to maintain visibility into an ongoing engagement, and the tight communication loop means questions are answered quickly, resulting in more productivity.  Everything related to each professional services engagement is easily accessible and cleanly separated.
  • Our CDW Services Readiness team has been using Project Squared to work collaboratively on new services development for Cisco’s Business Edition 6000 “S” platform (BE6KS).  The team uses Project Squared to chat about the project, coordinate schedules, get quick support from other team members and share documents.  We’ve also been using escalation to video conferencing for more technical discussions.
  • At the Cisco Collaboration Summit, November 17 – 19, our team of attendees uses Project Squared almost exclusively to communicate and coordinate.  A team member uploaded our schedule of meetings via Box.com integration.  Our internal discussion utilizes Squared.  Everything down to where we will be eating lunch or grabbing a post-convention beer uses Squared.  And the team uses two separate rooms around the conference, one to coordinate with our Cisco reps, and one to share meeting notes, pictures and discussion with our wider team throughout the USA.  Project Squared has almost completely eliminated the use of email or texting for the duration of the conference.

Closing Thoughts

To be clear, Project Squared is a work in progress.  The client still has some rough edges and is missing some key features (hello Search function).  The platform lacks any published APIs to allow extraction and analysis of data.  The platform also lacks integration to existing UC technologies.

But the start is very promising, and the future looks bright.  There’s potential here to change the game.  CDW is very excited to be working closely with Cisco on Project Squared as it comes to market, and would like to congratulate the team at Cisco’s San Francisco offices (formerly Meraki HQ) with a great product launch.  This is the future of work.

Discover the power of virtual conference rooms while augmenting existing solutions via @ProjSquared or #projsquared.

Thanks to my fellow co author Ken Snyder for this review of project squared.

2 thoughts on “New product road test: Cisco’s Project Squared: Frictionless Collaboration for the Agile Workplace

  • Arvind Gooding says:

    So i wasnt fortunate to get it before the collab launch but started day before yesterday. I like it, i can see the quick no hastle way to meet. Im impressed with the multiparty video and its useability.
    Functionality wise, i/we have been using sharepoint to “meet” and other than the video i think that ill still use the sharepoint – (I get that we can do a video call and present in realtime) but wondering if we could put the two together or expand squared to offer things like project timelines etc, simple stuff, then it would be a killer tool.

    I also liked Quad from a high level but never got the chance to use it…..Completely side topic, remember when Cisco had its virtual partner space :)…i like that too….great great review and im subscribed.

    Reply

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