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The hole in Cisco's collaboration story

If Cisco is gunning for Microsoft, it needs more ammunition--in the form of content.

I wrote previously about Cisco potentially becoming "the great open-source consolidator," and I continue to believe that Cisco has much to gain from open source.

But in looking through its collaboration offerings today, it's clear that Cisco needs to quickly fill a big hole in its product portfolio, open source or not: content management.

Why? Because Cisco is playing the collaboration game against companies that are rich in content management and seem to be getting the communications part down.

On Monday, IBM launched the beta of its "Bluehouse" product, designed to be a Cisco WebEx killer. IBM already has e-mail, instant messaging, content management (internally developed and through its FileNet acquisition), and more.

Oracle recently launched Beehive, an "open-standards based platform which aims to integrate team workspaces, calendar, instant messaging, and e-mail. All these utilities come with tightly tracked date stamped logging."

And then there's Microsoft, which continues to see rampant growth with SharePoint while simultaneously building out (and integrating) its Unified Communications Suite.

Cisco may view it as a competitive advantage to come at collaboration from the communications angle, and this is certainly a way of building from its traditional strength on the networking side. However, even after the relatively recent acquisitions of Jabber, WebEx, IronPort, Securent, and PostPath, Cisco is still missing in action on the core element to all of this collaboration: content.

Ultimately, enterprises collaborate around documents, and Cisco appears to have little to no strategy on managing that content. It has lots of ways to talk about it but seemingly lacks a central repository for storing, managing, auditing, and building workflows around that critical content.

Acquiring a company like Jive Software, while a great strategic move in some respects, would provide another way to chat about content but no clear way to store/manage/audit/etc. Or Cisco could acquire one of the last few remaining independent ECM vendors like OpenText, but its architecture and code are old, making integration painful.

Perhaps the most interesting play would be a move for Alfresco. Alfresco will do less than $100 million in sales this year, so it's not going to give Cisco a sales bounce. But at $39 billion in sales in 2008, very few companies are going to move the needle on Cisco's sales. What Alfresco brings to the table is leadership on emerging standards as well as a track record of being an OEM's choice for ECM.

Regardless of whether Cisco partners with Alfresco, buys OpenText, or takes a different road, it needs to plug the hole in its collaboration strategy. By buying PostPath, a Microsoft Exchange clone, Cisco has sent a signal that it intends to play hard with Microsoft et al. But without a central ECM strategy, its bigger strategy is a bit hollow.