There are things I like about Cisco’s WebEx Event Center. There are things I don’t like about it. But my post title refers to a higher level concern than individual feature/function analysis. What the heck is Cisco doing with the product as a whole?
I’m trying to remember when I first used WebEx for business webinars. Maybe 13 or 14 years ago. Today’s version of the product is fundamentally the same. Yes, there have been small improvements here and there. But over all, Event Center has the same command bars, the same layout, and the same functionality presented in the same old interface. Is that still good enough? Does Cisco care?
To find out, I spoke with Rajiv Saxena, the manager of Event Center product management at Cisco. I shared my observation that press releases and news stories from Cisco over the past year or so have tended to focus on peer-level collaboration using WebEx Meeting Center (or its upgrade: WebEx Meetings). Cisco gives the impression of promoting WebEx purely for its integration into larger concepts of unified communications/collaboration, and not so much as a standalone solution for web events. Event Center seems to just rumble along on autopilot without much marketing push to gain new customers or much innovation to improve functionality for existing users. Meanwhile, competitive products have entered the market or upgraded their interfaces and functionality.
Rajiv emphasized two points strongly. The first is that in many ways Cisco is constrained from making a lot of significant changes to the way that Event Center looks and operates because of its huge existing user base. There is no question that WebEx is the 800-pound gorilla of the web conferencing world in terms of market share and usage. Rajiv said that when you look at major international corporations with their own internal WebEx training programs, user guides, internal usage policies and procedures, or desires for application stability, it becomes difficult to suddenly alter the way their software behaves. At least three times in our conversation, he used the phrase “We are stuck with that.”
But the second point he made is that WebEx Meetings just went into general availability three months ago. It contained significant changes to Meeting Center, especially in terms of meeting setup and post-event activities. Rather than being a direct upgrade, it is being offered as a new, alternative product option for users of Meeting Center. Rajiv said that Cisco can use WebEx Meetings as “our definition of what the next gen platform should look like.” They can extend the ideas tested with WebEx Meetings to improve the full web event lifecycle for Event Center users, from setup to reporting and follow up.
Rajiv was careful to give no timelines, or even any assurances that Cisco had specific plans for product development on a corresponding newer version of Event Center. So I’ll just have to chalk it up to my general gut-feel that this seems to be an inevitable direction for the product to take. Rajiv did tell me that Cisco has entered into a phase where they are more closely working with their major customers to better understand needs and desires for web event functionality, using the new WebEx platform assets as a base to start discussions.
I have to admit, that statement leaves a bit of a sour taste in my mouth. Cisco should already have a darned good idea of what is needed and what their customers think. They have more users than anybody in the industry. The product has been remarkably stable for many years. How does the song go? “If you don’t know me by now…”
But I’ll cut Rajiv a break from a personal perspective. He hasn’t been the Event Center product manager for very long, and there’s nothing he can personally do about past history. I asked him why I couldn’t find a user forum online, a place to collect ideas, get feedback, and share use cases. He wasn’t quite sure. It seems like a good place to start, if you really do want to learn from and respond to your customers’ key issues.
In the meantime, my personal opinion is that existing customers of Event Center may want to stay with the product for reasons of stability, but for new customers it faces awfully stiff competition from other products that have leapfrogged it in functionality and flexibility over the last decade. It is time for Event Center to get the innovation engines running again.