Cisco, Collaboration & Innovation

Proponents of the benefits of crowd-powered innovation are no longer just scrappy early stage ventures. Cisco, a $40 billion revenue company, is also part of the global fray. Carlos Dominguez, Senior Vice President in the Chairman’s Office, explained to me how he is co-leading Cisco’s collaboration initiative.

Dominguez closely follows collaboration on behalf of Cisco, especially as it relates to innovation. Cisco, founded in 1984, has been a leader in the development of Internet Protocol (IP)-based networking technologies. Dominguez grasps a key point that is even large companies must grapple with: innovation has moved to the consumer.

Dominguez told me that he does about sixty presentations per year related to collaborative innovation. He is visiting early stage pioneers and connecting with thought leaders at institutions such as MIT to stay at the head of the curve.

What is “collaborative innovation?” As I explained in e-Preneur, this form of collective action occurs when large numbers of people work independently on a single project, often modular in its nature. A key aspect distinguishing mass collaboration from other forms of large-scale collaboration is that the collaborative process is mediated by the content being created—as opposed to being mediated by direct social interaction.

Another term commonly used to describe this notion is “collective intelligence.” The term was popularized by Tim O’Reilly, the internet thought leader whose company coined the term “Web 2.0.” The impetus for this collective intelligence movement was the development of open source software. O’Reilly ties collective intelligence to the “network effect”—how networks grow as a result of the value of the connections they make.

Cisco is thinking into the future, as one would expect of a company with such as impressive track record of success. Dominguez explains that Cisco has started a collaboration consortium, tapping into thought leaders in order to successfully integrate crowd power into their corporate strategy. Dominguez also follows what is happening in the marketplace. Another behemoth, Amazon, is trying to integrate collaborative innovation.

Dominguez’s close relationships with worldwide communications providers, including cable, mobile operators and content providers give him a unique perspective on how the internet is changing. Dominguez particularly focuses on collaborative networks and the growing trend that is tapping into millions of users that contribute informed opinions, ratings, software code, expertise, videos, shoe design, and pictures.

Some of the key trends of the future that Dominguez identifies are the role of video communications. One factor driving innovation is the Millennials or Generation Y (people in the 20s – 1980 to 1995). Dominguez emphasized that they comprise 10% of the workforce and companies that want to succeed must get the best out of this generation. They are entering the workforce en masse and wanting to use the same online tools, and technology, at work that they use in their home.

One of Cisco’s initiatives related to collaboration is TelePresence, which delivers “a unique ‘in-person’ experience with remote participants—you can interact and collaborate with others like never before, moving faster and more effectively. Cisco TelePresence interactions use industry-leading video, audio and environmentals to create real-time, live, in person communications.” [Cisco’s “Accelerating the Pace of Business – Cisco Telepresence”]

Besides working on in-house initiatives, Dominguez also follows the collaborative marketplace. He cites Amazon’s attempt to work with user-generated public relations. Amazon has tried to leverage the power of the crowd. Amazon has offloaded to user’s the tasks of reviewing products. Amazon announced its “Holiday Customer Review Team.” These are six Amazon customers who are particularly active in writing product reviews and it has offered to reporters to discuss gift packs.

Dominguez blogged that, “Time will tell is the Amazon model will be successful. My only advice, make sure that the community can be themselves and do not alter or edit the reviews. In these new models the voice and opinions of the people is what’s really important.” This sums up one of the key aspects of collaboration, grasped by Dominguez—customers are not only consumers, but they are co-collaborators.