Review: Hands on with Cisco Spark

I’ve been using Cisco Spark for almost a month now and my experience so far has been, in a word, marvellous. Yesterday, I participated in a video conference and my team decided to put Cisco Spark through its paces. Everyone connected via different devices, we had people switching from their laptop to their phone and colleagues joined from across the country via our local internet, 4G and even home networks. The result from this curious, but not entirely unrealistic, video conferencing scenario was an astounding success. You might be asking, why?

Well, setting up the video conference was a wholly uncomplicated experience. The bandwidth on our local network may have suffered slightly, but then again, we did have a lot of users connecting at once and this would have been easily remedied by faster internet. For those who connected via their home networks or 4G, the video quality was, I’m told, ‘crystal clear’. Starting the video conference was as easy as clicking on our persistent group (more on that coming shortly) and then clicking on the call button. More people could be added by selecting ‘add guest’ and searching for them in our contacts.

Persistent groups are possibly one of Cisco Spark’s more ingenious features. As you might expect, persistent groups last indefinitely and they work in a way very like other messaging services, such as text messages on your phone, Facebook or WhatsApp. Not only is the chat history recorded, but powerful collaboration features are available for you and your team at a touch of a button. Your group could consist of colleagues, agencies, associates, customers or even friends. In fact, anyone with a Cisco Spark account can be a part of your group.

Persistent groups form the backdrop of Cisco’s take on the interesting concept of ‘workstream’ or ‘continuous collaboration’; the idea that working as a team, switching between devices and carrying out meetings should be a seamless experience. Workstream and continuous collaboration are both interesting terms, but do they mean anything in practice and does Cisco Spark live up to its promise? Well, actually, yes! I’ve found that I am using Cisco Spark to communicate more across teams and with my own department. Creating groups for different projects has made it easy to get feedback, share ideas and ultimately collaborate with my colleagues in real-time.

There’s lots of small ways too that Cisco Sparks makes a difference. Its digital whiteboard feature is a great quality of life improvement, since my team tends to use the office whiteboard a lot for delegating daily/weekly tasks and coming up with new ideas, but by using Cisco Spark’s cloud connected whiteboard we can now do it in a way that’s accessible from anywhere. And whilst we do not yet have our hands on the Cisco Spark Board, I can only imagine that it would be something that enhances the experience even further.

Needless to say, Cisco Spark has made a strong first impression. Many improvements are already being made to its subscription based cloud service. Whilst its cloud based model may not be suitable for all companies, it’s undoubtedly a good example of a simple yet powerful cloud collaboration service. I’m certainly looking forward to see how this exciting new direction for Cisco unfolds.

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Andrea (Cooper) Gibson - Head of Business Development