We need to change the way we communicate and collaborate around work. Email is dead. Ditto for never-ending meetings and conference calls that force you to be in a particular place and at a particular time for way too long.

The future of work is mobile, social, open, collaborative and agile. How many times have we heard that said? And how many products claim that they can deliver on that?

Plenty of Options

There’s Microsoft’s Yammer and Salesforce’s Chatter that facilitate enterprise chat. There’s Jive Software, which promises modern communication and collaboration solutions for business. And there’s Asana that helps you put conversations and tasks together.

Mind you, this is an abbreviated list, there are too many to mention here. Not only that, but there’s a new breed of solutions that integrate, compete with and/or improve on the aforementioned.

Needless to say, it’s a hot space whose growth is born of mobile, cloud, the consumerization of IT, bring your own device (BYOD), social, mobile, chat …you get the picture. And in the enterprise all of this comes (or eventually will come) with the required security.

While many of us might think that there are already enough good options to choose from new(er) ones keep popping up.

Of recent note there’s Glip, whose elevator pitch is “Connect your team and clients with the pleasures of chat, tasks, video calling, file sharing, and event scheduling.”

HipChat, a hosted group chat and video chat built for teams, promises to “supercharge real-time collaboration with persistent chat rooms, file sharing, and screen sharing."

Unify enables teams to share content and communicate through rich multimedia channels, regardless of whether they are located on the same campus or across the globe.

Basecamp that makes it “easy for people in different roles with different responsibilities to communicate and work together. It’s a place to share files, have discussions, collaborate on documents, assign tasks, and check due dates. Basecamp stores everything securely and can be accessed at anytime from anywhere.”

There’s Talko, which reimagines email and collaboration for the mobile era.

And, then there’s the very sexy Slack, a corporate messaging tool that claims to be “the fastest growing SaaS company ever.”

It’s an assertion that we haven’t seen challenged. Maybe because there are reportedly 30,000 plus active teams using Slack, 268,000 daily active users and an active user base that is growing by 3 to 5 percent each week.

With all of that being said, is there really room for yet another player in the space?

Bringing People Together

Cisco thinks so. Last month Rowan Trollope, SVP/GM of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology Group, introduced Project Squared. It’s elevator pitch? “Where teams do their best work together” or, as Trollope put it, using a virtual room as a metaphor “a place for stuff to live and people to connect.”

The idea behind it is pretty simple, imitate the way you work in the physical world, digitally; in other words, bring together people and the files and folders they need into a virtual room.

If this sounds like something Cisco has done before, you might be (sort of) right. Except that the company’s telepresence solutions were, and still are, out of an everyday worker’s reach. They offer things like high definition video (hair and makeup too?), audio that sounds like it’s from a Hollywood blockbuster, cameras that follow you as you move around the room and so on.

Needless to say corporate board members, C-level executives and VP's typically enjoy these features. But it’s not only that that makes them exclusionary. They require(d) a lot of upfront investment (at one time, even the walls had to be painted a specific color), are pricey to implement, and only top management had access to them. They also require that participant be in one of several fixed locations.

Project Squared is a lot more accessible. It works from any desktop, phone or tablet. “We plan to use every piece of real estate available,” said Trollope.

And while Cisco is by no means leaving the telepresence business, Cisco CEO John Chambers said that he’s going big on Project Squared; in fact, he’s aiming for a 40 per cent market share and claims that he’s never (seldom?) lost when he puts his all into launching new products.

We’d bet that some of his competitors are equally bullish.

The Big Question

And while Project Squared has been called “like Slack only with video and voice,” we’d argue that other solutions which are already on the market fit that description as well.

And Slack, for that matter, offers video voice via partner integrations, but plans to build it for themselves as well. 

Trollope said that Cisco spent two years building Project Squared which means that many older competitors have at least a few years advantage in building out features function and partnerships.

As for younger enterprise communications platforms like Slack, which is having its first birthday right around now, they’re likely to be too busy adding users and features to be looking behind their backs.

So the million dollar question for Cisco and Project Squared is whether they’re getting to market in time and are able to deliver an exponentially more compelling experience to cause companies to give up the ground they’ve traveled with competing vendors.