Bye Bye Cisco Mail

I wrote just a few days ago that people who see email as legacy and something very different from the core mechanisms of social networking interaction need to look again. Then yesterday I heard that Cisco have decided to kill off their cloud email product, “Cisco Mail”, in which they’ve made considerable investment (the purchase of Postpath alone cost $215M). So, are they not reading my blog? Was I too late with the news?

Before I go on, I should say that I’m currently contracted by Cisco – however I have had no contact with the Cisco Mail team at all, not even via the grapevine. So the demise of Cisco Mail was a big surprise to me.

Many blog commentators are taking the news philosophically, recognising the low cost of email solutions, especially cloud-based, and the legacy nature of email. In Cisco’s blog post which discusses the move, presumably given it’s title of “Listening to our Customers” by the marketing department, Debra Chrapaty said “we’ve … learned that customers have come to view their email as a mature and commoditized tool versus a long-term differentiated element of their collaboration strategy”. OK. But in 2009 “Customers told us they were interested in divesting responsibility for managing email on-premise in much the same way as they outsourced conferencing to Cisco via our SaaS WebEx Conferencing service”. So maybe listening to customers is a bad idea.

The truth is, any big play costs a lot of money. And sometimes even the best make bad calls, and need to re-evaluate later. That’s all well and good.

But.

Email is central to a collaboration system. It is not a legacy tool which sits alongside something better, it’s a mature tool which is at the heart of daily business communications and should be embraced into a business’s next generation architecture. Some customers may see it differently, and apparently all the youth of today hate email (and don’t wear watches). That’s good input, but isn’t actually helpful because regardless of that getting messages from one person to another person, or from one person to lots of people, is always going to be necessary. Focusing on the presentation on the desktop or phone is madness.

Google understands this.

Why does Google provide a great cloud email service for free to individuals, and at a low cost to businesses? Are they charitable? Do they receive a lot of advertising revenue from this? No. The reason they have Google Mail is so that they can hook customers in with a major communications tool which those customers use heavily, tie it into their corporate communications environment so that email, IM, calendar, documents are integrated, and so that they can build new services (Wave died but don’t expect that to be the end of collaborative offerings from Google).

The end result is all the collaboration flows through – and can be stored in – one place. Then it can be archived, indexed, searched. Google’s core business. Finding needles in haystacks.

There is huge value to Google in having hoards of information in their databases. Didn’t we all learn that information is power? I’m glad that Google’s unofficial moto is, apparently, “Don’t be Evil”. What they can, have and will do with that information is tie it into ways to earn money – mostly by linking like with like and charging someone money. In other words, targeting adverts to people likely to be receptive to those adverts and charging a premium for doing it better than anyone else.

That isn’t Cisco’s earnings model, Cisco makes money from selling software, hardware and services.

Regardless of this, Cisco have made the wrong move if they’re serious about being a major player in collaboration software. By not having a cloud mail offering they’ve lost both a major hook to bring in customers, and the ability to centralise all of an organisation’s flow of collaborative information. Whilst Cisco may not want to tie into advertising, their customers do want to be able to get their information out of their databases and into people. Centralisation and search are the keys to that.

If the reasoning is truly that Cisco wants to play in markets that are not commoditised, then there’s a problem ahead. Collaborative solutions, social networking solutions, Unified Communications solutions – whatever you want to call them, and even though the great stuff is still to come, they are commodity services already. There are too many players, large and small, for the market to be anything but low margin.

So, interesting times. I wonder what will be next?

Others blogging on this news: Michael Sampson

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About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

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