Conferencing Consolidation: Cisco Buys WebEx

By Bob Snyder

If you had attended the annual CeBIT SUMMIT, you might have predicted this: Cisco will acquire WebEx, provider of Web conferencing services to SMEs, for $3.2 billion.

That confirms that the biggest buzz in conferencing is exactly what Gartner’s Peter Sondergaard, in his speech at the CeBIT Summit, called “the consumerization of I.T.”

And here we are, only days after that speech, and I.T.’s biggest, most-feared maker of infrastructure shows you the “wallet-share” of Cisco strategy: the nuts-and-bolts of networking wants to redefine itself as a player in the consumer realm.

And what Cisco wants, Cisco buys: earlier this year, Cisco agreed to acquire closely held Five Across in social-networking Web sites and previously Scientific Atlanta and Europe’s own KiSS Technology.

Cisco says WebEx fits with their vision of offering service on top of its network. Cisco executives call the addition of the WebEx service “a key product for small and medium-size businesses.”

But here’s what Charles Giancarlo, chief development officer for Cisco, told the press, “…it’s a natural extension for Cisco’s Unified Communication products to give users inside and outside the workplace a way to work and collaborate.”

The key phrase to ponder is “inside and outside the workplace.” Exactly Sondergaard’s point: today what happens inside the workplace cannot be firewalled from what happens outside.  Those days are over: “Don’t even try to fight it,” recommends Sondergaard.

What Cisco knows is that WebEX’s services to SMBs spill over now (and will simply POUR OVER in the future) into the lives of all those SMB owners and employees. For $3.3 million, Cisco is buying a two-for-one:  SMB impact and another ramp to the consumer highway.

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Microsoft LiveMeeting, watch out! Apple watch out. The buzz is that the Cisco juggernaut is on the roll, rolling over any and all obstacles to its goal of becoming a consumer brand.