You may have noticed this week that Cisco announced $10m in support for a telemedicine pilot in California. If you haven’t seen the news, then there’s a Network World piece about it here.
I find this announcement really fascinating. The program itself is interesting: it’s taking what many vendors have promised in healthcare for years and putting some serious money behind it to really make it happen. Clearly Mr Chambers is no fool: he knows that if he can prove advanced telemedicine technology in such a visible market, then it will become a lot easier to sell it elsewhere…
What makes it more interesting, though, is that it is yet another piece of Cisco’s momentum in unified communications and collaboration technologies. Cisco continues to throw serious money at telepresence. Whereas other UC vendors would be looking at $10m as a major chunk of their marketing budget, for Cisco this is a single pilot. I’m not saying that they don’t view it as serious expenditure – they clearly do – but this is just one vertical market. I cannot imagine any other UC vendor investing even a fraction of that budget into a single vertical market in this way.
This level of investment comes at a time when most UC vendors have slashed marketing budgets. As they have done this, Cisco have invested in UC-relevant M&A activity, marketing programs and alliances, such as their successful alliance with BT. They are proving the golden rule: that cash is king in a recession. They may have been hurting like every other vendor, but the strategic moves that they have made have been changing the playing field at a time when many of the other vendors have been competing to stay on the old one.
The other reason that this announcement was big news, was that it yet again underlined Cisco’s ability to pull in the big names to put some marketing bling behind its technology. I’m sure that other vendors could have got a quote from Governor Schwarzenegger. But I can’t think of one that would have had the audacity to pull off having him speak at their press launch. Even Microsoft only throws crumbs onto the enterprise communications table. UC is not a core market for them even now, which is why we all get excited when Steve Ballmer gives a UC press conference – it’s such a rarity.
Cisco continues to be the only vendor truly able to throw sufficient marketing muscle behind unified communications technology to bring it close to the mainstream. Clearly other vendors will not be able to compete on the same terms (either in marketing or M&A terms – I don’t count the Avaya-Nortel combo yet, as that gives scale, but little evidence of new innovation in marketing), so it will be interesting to see how they try and change their own approach to keep on Cisco’s coat tails.