This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Microsoft Ignite 2018 conference coverage

Microsoft and Cisco diverge on UC interop amid customer complaints

Despite sharing many of the same customers, Microsoft and Cisco are unlikely to cooperate on interoperability between the latter's collaboration apps and Microsoft's Office 365.

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Many large businesses have complained that Cisco's collaboration products and Microsoft's productivity tools don't work well together.

Cisco wants to help them. Microsoft does not.

Microsoft's posture may frustrate some of its customers in the short run. But, over time, the vendor appears to be hoping the clumsiness of the integration between Microsoft Office 365 and Cisco Webex will convince more businesses to abandon its competitor's products altogether.

And there were signs at Microsoft's Ignite conference this week that the strategy was paying off.

Bridgestone, an auto parts manufacturer with 20,000 users in the United States, uses Cisco Webex for video conferencing and Cisco Jabber for instant messaging and presence. The company is looking into a switch to Microsoft Teams because of its better interoperability with Microsoft Office 365.

"The Cisco stack, as good as it is for meetings and messaging, doesn't seem to have that robustness when it comes to integration to the [Microsoft] Office back end," said Jose Arbelaez, enterprise architect at Bridgestone, based in Nashville, Tenn. "And, right now, being split into two worlds, it's just not working out well."

Despite Bridgestone's pain, Microsoft does not intend to let Cisco compete with Microsoft Teams from within the popular Office 365 suite.

"We are not, at this point, looking to have an interop relationship with Cisco directly," said Lori Wright, the general manager of Office 365 collaboration apps.

Microsoft is apparently suspicious of what motivated Cisco to add the word Teams to the name of its competing product. The vendor rebranded Cisco Spark as Cisco Webex Teams in April.

"I think Cisco sees a lot of reasons why it makes sense for them, with the change with Spark, to build into the Teams ecosystem," Wright said. "And they've made some curious choices in naming their product Teams."

Businesses want Microsoft and Cisco to integrate UC and productivity suites

A decade ago, when their portfolios had less overlap, Microsoft and Cisco worked together to build links between Cisco's networking gear and Microsoft's email and Active Directory systems.

We're not, at this point, looking to have an interop relationship with Cisco directly.
Lori Wrightgeneral manager of Microsoft Office 365 collaboration apps

Since that time, Cisco has entered the collaboration market, and Microsoft has developed products for voice and video communications. Over the past couple of years, in particular, Microsoft and Cisco have both been investing heavily in new cloud-based team collaboration apps similar to Slack.

Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams offer businesses most of the same core capabilities: messaging, calling, video conferencing and file sharing. But only Microsoft has platforms for email, calendaring, word processing and document storage.

Cisco is doing the best it can to integrate the Webex suite with platforms like Outlook, Exchange, OneDrive and SharePoint using Microsoft's publicly available APIs, said Angie Mistretta, senior director of Cisco's collaboration marketing group.

Cisco's desire to integrate with Microsoft is "a reaction to customer demand," she said.

"The reality is most of our customers are saying, 'We're a Microsoft shop for all of our productivity tools, and we're not changing that,'" Mistretta said. "And [Cisco is] not in that business."

Cisco announced this month that users can now join a Webex meeting with one click from Microsoft Teams. It also recently gave customers the ability to message using Cisco Webex Teams from within a Microsoft Word document. But the integrations are not as seamless as they would be if the two companies worked together, as Cisco does with Google for connections to G Suite.

For example, a user can send a colleague a link to a document stored in Microsoft OneDrive through a Cisco unified communications (UC) client, but cannot also use the Cisco product to alter the permissions of that document to ensure the colleague can access it. The clunkiness is one of the issues that Bridgestone's Arbelaez cited to explain his company's desire to adopt Microsoft Teams.

Another common complaint from businesses is the inability to federate messaging channels between Microsoft and Cisco UC clients. Conjoining the two would be particularly helpful for external collaboration, because users could remain under their company's governance settings when communicating with people on the other platform.

"I don't think you're ever going to see Teams-to-Teams federation, as much as the end users would love to see that," said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

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