Cisco's Flip Flop - InformationWeek
Government // Mobile & Wireless
02:34 PM
Gina Smith
Gina Smith

Cisco's Flip Flop

By sacking its popular video camera, it's raising some IT lessons, and begging more questions.

It doesn't matter if you're in IT or on the moon. I bet you or someone you know owns a Cisco Flip video cam. The demise of the cool little Flip--killed April 12 by the hand that acquired the invention (for $590 million) in 2009 and waved consumers its way--provides a corporate lesson in sticking to what you know and some perspective on the consumerization of IT.

What does Cisco's decision mean to its enterprise customers? For one thing, they get a Cisco that's more focused on their technology challenges than on messing around with consumer gadgets.

Another benefit is that Cisco now has a better understanding of the impact of video on network infrastructure, one of the vendor's reps told me. The Flip sent a lot of extra bits over that infrastructure. There was a cheaper way to acquire that knowledge, but Cisco will use that knowledge at any rate to improve its core router and switch businesses and push further into telepresence and unified communications.

Many IT organizations, amid the ongoing consumerization of IT, purchased Flips for their users and supported them. How does Cisco's decision to kill the device affect them? Not pretty. "There's an important lesson here and that is, if you buy something trendy, watch out," says Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney.

IT must adapt to the consumerization of IT--the trend isn't going away--but it should be a best practice to make users support their own devices and software not sanctioned by their companies, and not share on the network anything that's not supported, he says.

Employees who bring their consumer hardware into the enterprise aren't thinking about file formats and standards, the "things that companies always thought about," Dulaney says. "Everyone on the planet wants you to get excited about their technology, but what people need to understand is, if you buy a clock radio with Apple's proprietary connector on it, that's a risk." And a commitment.

If your enterprise has bought or is maintaining Flips--and there are many of them, including non-profits and schools--it's unclear how those devices will be supported going forward. Typically, when a vendor kills a product of this volume, it brings in a third-party support outfit for a limited time. Cisco's head of public relations, Karen Tillman, says the company will be providing details about support soon.

So why did Cisco kill the Flip rather than sell the business? Cisco wouldn't comment, but with Flip sales reaching $40 million last year and up nearly 15 percent last quarter compared with the year-earlier quarter, a vendor like Sony or Kodak might have ponied up. They wouldn't have paid what Cisco paid, but that user base has value, even if smartphones with cameras have slowed or could eclipse the Flip's growth. More than one of our contributors speculated that Cisco simply wanted the intellectual property for its own products, like the upcoming Cius tablet.

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