Feature Story

Collaboration investments and the future of teamwork

by Stephanie Chan

Collaboration investments and the future of teamwork

Dynamic Signal and Gong teach us how to work together, better.

Cisco's collaboration tools have always played a crucial role in the company's vision for teamwork. The future of work will look drastically different from how we operate today—and we will need the tools to help us accomplish everything from meetings to action items in record time. The company's solutions include Cisco WebEx, TelePresence, and more, but Cisco is also investing in the latest collaboration startups as an innovation leader in this business.

Director of Corporate Development and Cisco Investments, Collaboration at Cisco Donald Tucker says that the team looks for two things when looking into investments. One is a complementary investment—if a startup could be relevant to the business in a certain timeframe. The other is a thematic investment, or companies that fall in our care-about areas. 

"Ideally we're investing in market leaders," says Tucker, "We're looking for management teams that have built companies before—a history of creating value. The other thing we're looking for is if they have built a sustainable competitive advantage. Is there something unique about it that's hard to replicate?"

See also: 5 things you didn't know about Cisco Investments

Cisco's Collaboration Investment Portfolio grew in late 2017 and 2018, funding companies that are looking forward to the future of teamwork.

One of these collaboration startups is Dynamic Signal, a mobile-first communication platform that enables companies and employees to share content. Sharing content, in turn, creates better productivity and engagement. Dynamic Signal's platform looks to modernize employee communications by transforming their business intranet. That way, employees can immediately get the company's high-priority content.

"People use our product when they have large, disparate workforces to keep their employees up to speed and to make sure they know the things they need to know to do their job," says Dynamic Signal CEO Russ Fradin, "It could be that there are donuts in the breakroom, or their schedule, or their paystubs, or this important announcement from the CEO. The smart phone has really changed the way companies work with their employees and we power the technology to help these companies engage with their employees."

"Employee communications will continue to be more and more smartphone centric, more and more personalized for the individual," says Fradin, "There's no good reason why there should be different apps for your vacation schedule, trainings, surveys, and social media. Dynamic Signal is almost like the evolution of what the Intranet should be."

Another important piece of this platform is the ability to measure what's working with your business' employee communications. Analytics provides a way to measure reach, impact, or effectiveness so that you can improve your future strategies.

See also: Focus: Startups and Investments

Another startup from this portfolio is Gong, an application that transcribes sales and customer service conversations and analyzes these meetings to pull action items. By recording, transcribing, and analyzing these conversations, sales representatives can use successful call patterns to track what's working.

Gong's strategy is to tie these recorded conversations to business outcomes and best practices—which sales representative is being the most effective and how? What are the conversations they are having and how are they successful?

"Our goal is to enhance human communication," says Gong CEO and co-founder Amit Bendov, "The amount of information that is exchanged today is growing exponentially. It's very easy to misinterpret, mishear, and there's a lot of loss because people don't understand each other too well, especially when it's done remotely. You can think of Gong as augmented person with very sensitive ears, with much better understanding, and an infinite memory of what was said. I can always go back and see what I did right, what I did wrong."

The future of work looks like the expansion of these collaboration tools into other areas. If we take Gong's approach and apply it to different areas like HR, internal communications, healthcare, and more, we can see the possibilities for massive impact.

"It's an extension of your brain with much better hearing, much better understanding, and a much better memory. says Bendov. "That's what we can look forward to in the future, augmenting our brain with AI."

Like Bendov, Fradin believes that these tools are changing what communication will look like in the years to come.

"It democratizes the way to share information with a company–it gets rid of the barriers," says Fradin, "For many of our largest customers in the world, half of their employees don't have work-related email. With a smartphone, they now have access to tools that have real-time information. I think the employee communications market is going to triple in the next couple of years thanks to that."

Cisco's Collaboration Investments team looks for companies that have a symbiotic relationship with Cisco's own services. The workplace of the future could be the ultimate combination of Cisco tools and the tools of the companies they invest in.

"Those are the investments that we love and look for and hopefully have the ability to accelerate," says Tucker, "Taking their tools plus our tools and extending that to everybody—this creates more value for the end customers."

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