This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Enterprise Connect 2018 conference coverage

Microsoft Teams integration with Cisco Spark presents challenges

Microsoft and Cisco interoperability does exist in unified communications. But, for team collaboration, Microsoft Teams integration with Cisco Spark adds another wrinkle.

Many of the companies we work with at Nemertes Research are both Cisco and Microsoft shops for unified communications. Typically, they have large investments in Cisco phone and video conferencing systems, while they also use Microsoft Skype for Business -- either on premises or via Office 365 -- for instant messaging and presence. Often, these companies also use both Cisco WebEx and Skype for Business meetings for web conferencing.

Thanks to integration services from vendors such as BlueJeans, Cisco, Pexip, Polycom, StarLeaf, Zoom and others, companies can create an integrated environment for meetings, share presence status between Cisco Jabber and Skype for Business desktop and mobile apps, and make calls between Cisco and Microsoft endpoints. Using plug-in or common client software from vendors such as Cisco, CounterPath and Ribbon, companies can even deploy a unified desktop client that interfaces to both Cisco and Microsoft back ends.

So, integration problem solved, right? Well, now, there's a new wrinkle: team collaboration.

Cisco seeks Microsoft Teams integration

In the last couple years, Cisco and Microsoft have started to center their UC client experience on their team collaboration applications: Cisco Spark and Microsoft Teams. Each of these apps presents a new dilemma for the mixed Cisco-Microsoft shop. 

For instance, do IT groups deploy Spark to take advantage of its integrations into Cisco voice and video platforms, as well as Cisco Spark Board for virtual group collaboration? Or, do they deploy Microsoft Teams, offering a similar set of features that are tightly integrated into Microsoft Office?

With Microsoft converging Skype for Business Online into Teams, is the road to Teams inevitable? And, if so, what are the opportunities for Microsoft Teams integration with Cisco Spark? The challenge of deploying these two products -- either together or separately -- has dominated recent discussions I've had with UC leaders in these mixed environments. 

In November 2017, Cisco's collaboration CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg, reaffirmed Cisco's commitment to supporting Microsoft interoperability. But, to date, Microsoft has not issued an equivalent statement. As Rosenberg noted, Microsoft has just recently released previews of Teams APIs to developers. 

Meanwhile, Microsoft partners BlueJeans and Polycom have already delivered services for connecting video endpoints, including Cisco, to Teams. Other options for limited interoperability include 8x8's Sameroom, a service that connects chat rooms, but it does not yet support Microsoft Teams.

Microsoft Teams, Cisco integration relies on APIs

Eventually, I'd expect to see a mix of third-party and native integrations become available, but much will depend on the APIs that Microsoft is expected to provide to its partners and developers.

For companies in the Spark versus Teams boat, you should evaluate each product, while staying abreast of integration options that could emerge from each company and from third-party vendors. If you have to make a single team collaboration decision now, consider your existing and planned environments.

Companies committed to Cisco voice and video are likely to find Spark attractive. Companies with collaboration users centered around Microsoft Office -- and have already deployed Skype for Business for telephony -- will find a natural pathway toward Microsoft Teams integration. These customers could use video interoperability services from vendors like BlueJeans and Polycom to connect Cisco video conferencing systems into Teams.

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