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2/13/2012
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Virgin Media Merges Social Networking, Unified Communications

Cisco Quad for enterprise social networking, WebEx for corporate collaboration, and a bundle of unified communications technologies for instant messaging and corporate video are crucial infrastructure for the U.K. cable and telecommunications operator.

Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
Enterprise Social Networks: A Guided Tour
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

For Virgin Media, enterprise social networking and unified communications naturally fit together, so Cisco was the natural choice to deliver them.

Virgin, the U.K. cable television, phone, and broadband Internet division of Richard Branson's corporate empire, is implementing Cisco Quad along with WebEx for corporate collaboration and a bundle of unified communications technologies for instant messaging and corporate video.

Colin Miles, head of technical services for Virgin Media, said social collaboration was the new ingredient that made the case for unified communications. "We are a telecom company with our own voice switches, so we haven't got the natural business case most companies have for voice over IP--for us, phone calls are free. But in our analysis of what collaboration means, we wanted something that was free flowing, where you could escalate from text to IM to voice or video to share information. We saw the real value of having a platform that could do all that in one place," he said.

[ How do you succeed in social business? See What Enterprise Social Success Stories Have In Common. ]

Since introducing Quad in the summer of 2010, Cisco has been telling a consistent story about the value of an integrated social and unified communications platform. Quad lets you scan a summary of your incoming voicemail or launch a video conference through the same web-based interface that displays status messages and contact profile photos.

Miles said he looked at Jive and Microsoft SharePoint as alternatives but decided Virgin would be better off with "a single tool where you can escalate from text to video in a single click," rather than having to graft together multiple products for different types of collaboration. He also likes the idea of having a visual display for voicemail that displays the identity of the caller, making it easier to prioritize which messages to respond to first, rather than making users listen to messages sequentially.

Virgin Media wanted to add both vertical collaboration within existing groups of coworkers, and horizontal collaboration across the organization, Miles said. WebEx will particularly help with "people talking with the same people they always have," but doing it more efficiently, he said. Social collaboration through Quad shows promise for improving horizontal collaboration, which means "new people talking to new people, even though they've never met before, through sharing around communities and groups," he said.

In a phone briefing arranged by Cisco public relations, Miles said all the right things until I asked if he was considering adding the Cisco Cius tablet, which is marketed as a tablet designed specifically for the enterprise. "We took a couple of Cius units on loan to trial and demo, but we concluded those devices have a long way to go to compete with existing tablet devices in our organization," he said. A Cisco public relations representative then interrupted before Miles could detail what he saw as the shortcomings of the Cius.

Miles was more impressed by the other part of Cisco's mobile story--its support for iPads and Android tablets, which are popular with the company's executives, some of whom also prefer Macs. Cisco's commitment to deliver "exactly the same experience across any device" was a big part of the decision to choose its products, he said.

The initial pilot project reached 1,000 people, "a fairly large sample" designed to reach people from across the organization who were identified as already being active collaborators, Miles said.

Virgin Media is targeting 5,000 employees for the production deployment, with the emphasis on knowledge workers. At least initially, field technicians and call center workers will not be included. WebEx is scheduled for full production in March, with Quad and the broader suite of unified communications technologies to follow in April and May, Miles said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard

Social media are generating tons of data, but that data only becomes truly valuable when examined in context. Attend the virtual Enterprise 2.0 event Social Analytics: The Bridge To Business Value, and learn how social analytics will provide the bridge to unlocking business value. It happens Feb. 16.

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