Cisco Quad: A Social Network for the Business Enterprise

Quad is Cisco’s enterprise collaboration platform. It is a system where the social tools that are widely used in Facebook and Twitter and other social networks such as; newsfeeds, groups, relationships with friends and followers, contacts and the ability to be able to see activities that other people in our social network are doing, have been adapted to meet the demands of the business world. The emphasis here, however, is more on enterprise than social network.

The social networking capability that we are used to having with Facebook or Twitter has been enabled for integration with the enterprise systems that nearly all businesses have, and which already deal with the demands of CRM systems, document management and numerous other tasks.

Cisco developed Quad because they found that there was a need to provide integration between social networking and the requirement to maintain commercial security and fulfill various legal compliances. It was time to bring social media into the grown-up world. Quad transforms the idea of social network systems from being a fun tool to stay in touch with family and friends to a cutting edge business tool to aid communication and productivity.

Keith Griffin, Lead Architect of the Enterprise Collaboration Platform at Cisco, is based in Galway, Ireland. The Cisco site there is heavily involved in the field of unified communications: the combining of video, audio, instant messaging, online meetings and other collaborative solutions. Using their knowledge and experience, the team in Galway were able to make a large contribution to the work being done on the core development of Quad taking place in San Jose, California.

As Keith explains, “What we are doing here is adding horizontal social interconnectivity to a vertical directory structure. You can see in my profile (pictured above and below) that I have got directory information here. You can see my latest microblog about a research meeting that took place the night before last and my recent blogs and tags which I share with everyone else. If people want to go to this page, they can see all this. It is not just a static web page. It’s a full Web 2.0 environment.

“In the directory, I can see the reporting line. You can see all the people I am following in the directory. If I hover over anybody on the list here, I can see for example that so and so is not following, but this person is. That’s the difference between the ‘following’ model and the ‘friend’ model. If both people follow each other they are friends.

“When we did this integration (at one point there was in excess of a hundred thousand people participating,) the social activity was immense. As soon as people could see where they were in the directory and where they related to other people, they started sending friend requests and following requests.

“It just showed to me that vertical integration remains the backbone of the organisation, but it’s of limited value without this horizontal social activity because that represents the interactions that people do in real life, and in the virtual teams they work with, and so on.”

As it was felt that people have a little more to say in the business world, Quad uses 400 characters in its microposts. There is also the ability to have a ‘watch list’ where a separate filter of the main feed’s social activities can be displayed. This can allow the watch list to be used as a de facto to-do list. It gives the user the ability to respond to the news, requests and information that is most pertinent and relevant to them.

How easy does Quad make it to access the vast and varied amount of resources and expertise that a company like Cisco has?

“A big trend that we borrowed from the Web is the concept of social relevance. If I am an expert on something and I offer an opinion or write a blog, that tends to be given a pretty heavy weighting. If someone offers an opinion and perhaps they don’t have a background in a certain area, then it tends to stay as an opinion with a lesser weighting.

“In a social network, because you get to see all the activities, you can see who is active in any particular area. Over time, if people aren’t getting the answers that they expect from somebody who has been represented with having those skills, then in a system like this you would see less social activity associated with those topics for those people. So their relevance and ranking overall can drop.

How is Quad modeled?

“What we have done here is modeled our entire system on people, communities and information. Those are the three dimensions of the system.

“If I search for something like the Semantic Web, which is something we research quite deeply with the people at DERI, it will bring us back a three-dimensional search result. We’re not doing anything special with search, but what we are doing is interpreting the results in the context of social network rather than in the context of a keyword search on a number of documents.

“What it is about is providing a richness of information in any given search.”

A natural by product of social activity is the creation of communities. How are they handled?

“When people have a certain interest and that’s an ongoing interest, whether it is a project or it could be a sales campaign or a feature that they are working on, they can set up a community. The community can have a number of owners and contributors. We can have wikis and other Web 2.0 tools of the sort which you would expect, as everything running here is completely within a browser environment.

“Just like on the Web, crowdsourcing in an enterprise is significant as well. It is not just based on the hierarchy of our team. Anybody can come in and contribute their ideas. We use the crowd within our own organisation to get things done.”

While Cisco and companies like Cisco have been using instant messaging technology in preference to emails and telephone conversations for a number of years, particularly in the areas of engineering and software development, there is a major benefit to be had in harnessing one of the real powers of social media – persistence.

Persistence means that a message is kept alive and relevant because it can be seen in the context of its usefulness and relevance by the people engaged with that conversation. Important ideas don’t get lost in emails or are forgotten to be passed on after isolated conversations on telephones.

As it is easier to see the relationship between different messages and their place in the context of activity, it makes it easier to obtain a better perspective on what has already happened, and as a consequence be more appropriately placed to make better decisions about what to do next.

How does Quad help with the issue of time zones in a company as large as Cisco?

“I work an awful lot with San Jose and I am not sure if I could get through my day without Quad. As soon as I come in, I get a snapshot of all my colleagues and all the projects and technologies they are working on.

“It’s not as good as the coffee machine conversation, but I can get a sense of what is going on. The alternative is reading lots and lots of individual emails which doesn’t give me the same context or the same conversational view.”

A tool or a piece of software will only go so far. There has to be a desire for a company to collaborate and want to work together. There is an organisational and business process that needs to happen with this technology as well. Software, as ever, is just a facilitator. It is just something to make things happen. But perhaps when people look at the powerful possibilities that technologies like Quad can offer, it can inspire them to drive the sort of changes needed to enable organisations to work more collaboratively and, hopefully, make things better for everyone.

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