'Cisco Cultural Advisor' Might Help Workers Collaborate

Cisco Systems is quietly developing a mobile application that profiles how users work and communicate, with the aim of helping them work better together.

The company has applied for a trademark on "Cisco Cultural Advisor" as the name of an application for "creating, analyzing and comparing profiles of users' communication and work styles, and for improving effectiveness of business interactions." In the application, filed Oct. 19, Cisco referred to Cultural Advisor as "application software for mobile phones." The application has not yet been assigned an examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Cultural Advisor is a product under development and is "focused on inclusion and diversity," Cisco said in a statement on Friday. The company did not provide any additional details.

Though it's not clear exactly how enterprises would use Cultural Advisor, improving employee interaction is becoming a major part of Cisco's business, through its wide-ranging push into collaboration. In addition to communication platforms such as IP (Internet Protocol) phones and TelePresence high-definition videoconferencing systems, the company has acquired WebEx for its online meeting service and PostPath for its e-mail system, now called WebEx Mail. Cisco is also working on extending its collaboration products, including videoconferencing, to mobile devices such as its Android-based Cius tablet, which is due to ship next March.

Earlier this year, the company introduced Quad, a social-networking hub for enterprises that combines aspects of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube with real-time forms of communication and policy-based corporate controls. Quad can be used in a Web browser wherever the employee goes and is also destined for the Cius and future iPhone and iPad applications. Other mobile platforms are also on Cisco's road map, especially for tablets, Cisco said. Quad is currently in limited availability in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

The idea behind Quad is to make colleagues throughout an organization accessible to each employee, with their interests and latest activities visible in a profile. A phone call, videoconference, or instant-messaging or document-sharing session is just a click away.

But introducing these new communication choices into an enterprise can make life more complicated for employees who need to work together, analysts said.

"They adopt them in a different way, they prefer to use them in a different way. But we don't really talk about it," said analyst Brian Riggs of Current Analysis.

If the aim of Cisco Cultural Advisor is to inform individual employees about how potential collaboration partners prefer to communicate and work, it might be a useful guide, Riggs said.

"That could really ... break down barriers," Riggs said.

However, there may be a limit to how much people will modify their behavior to meet a co-worker halfway, said Frost & Sullivan analyst Melanie Turek.

"On paper, it sounds like a good idea to me, but in practice ... people still tend to do what they want rather than what the person they're trying to connect to wants."

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