Cisco Buys Versly, MS Office Collaboration Toolmaker

Picks up startup that adds a social collaboration sidebar to Microsoft Office documents--to counter Jive's acquisition of OffiSync.
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Cisco is acquiring social document collaboration specialist Versly to make its own collaboration software capabilities instantly available from within Microsoft Office documents.

Versly, which is so far available only as a private beta, provides a collaboration service that users interact with through a Microsoft Office plugin. The plugin adds a sidebar to documents that can be used to post comments and track revisions. Today, this is a stand-alone service, but Cisco said the capability will be integrated into its collaboration software lineup, including Cisco Quad, Cisco Jabber, and Cisco WebEx. For example, users will be able to receive automatic notifications within Cisco Quad when the content of a document has changed. While reviewing a document, they will be able to initiate an instant messaging session through Cisco Jabber or start a webconferencing session through Cisco WebEx.

Cisco is recognizing that even in a Web 2.0 world, desktop software like Microsoft Office is still important. "This is what customers have been asking for," said Murali Sitaram, VP and general manager of the Cisco Collaboration Software Group. Enterprise customers like what Cisco offers for collaboration but need to reconcile it with their investments in Microsoft Office, Outlook, and Exchange. "They say, 'tell me how you're going to integrate these things closer and better,'" he said.

In May, Jive Software acquired OffiSync, which offers a similar ability to add a social collaboration sidebar to Microsoft Office documents. OffiSync supports collaboration through integration with Google Docs, and the same capability is available as part of the Jive platform. Jive has also promised Microsoft Outlook integration to be delivered on the basis of the OffiSync technology.

Giga Om blogger Om Malik suggested Cisco had to be buying Versly for talent, since this "little known collaboration software company" doesn't seem to have much market presence.

Versly employees are being integrated into Cisco's collaboration software group. Several members of the team came from BEA Systems, including co-founder Benjamin Renaud, who joined BEA when it acquired WebLogic in 1998. Co-founder Erik Eccles previously worked at Yahoo as one of the business development leaders of its communications and social media products. He held a similar role at JumpCut, a video-sharing startup Yahoo acquired in 2006.

Sitaram said Versly brings a strong team of people to Cisco but is also contributing substantial intellectual property. Beyond adding a collaboration sidebar to Office documents, like OffiSync does, Versly had invested in "fundamentally understanding formatting of the document and how to merge versions and changes, which is something some of these other guys did not have," he said.

Beyond Office document, the same technology could be applied to collaboration around PDFs and other types of Web documents in the future, he said.

Versly was also on the road to creating an independent cloud service, whereas OffiSync integrates with other collaboration services, Sitaram said. The Versly home page continues to advertise a private beta of the cloud service the company had in development. "There will be opportunities for us to re-look at that in the future--that's just not what we're announcing today," he said.

Raj Gossain, VP of product management for the collaboration group, said Cisco's primary emphasis will be on integrating the Versly technology into its existing products. "We will leave the private beta going for the next couple of months, primarily to get our own people up and running on the experience, and to continue to get feedback from the current beta customers," he said.

Cisco will also work with the Versly team to define "new classes of cloud collaboration products," Gossain said. "We just don't have any roadmap on that yet."

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

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