March 05, 2007
Why Cisco bought Tribe; or The Corporsphere

Several people in the Blogosphere have commented on Cisco's decision to buy and can't seem to see why Cisco did this. These people don't work inside the Corporsphere.

The Corporsphere is the groupthink and reasoning that goes on within much of the technology departments within Corporate America. Just as the Blogosphere pertains to the ideas and rationale floating around the blogging community, the Corporsphere exists to reflect the ideas and concepts inside the systems of The Man.

Besides being a fantastic husband, father, and blogger, I also go to work. I work deep in the heart of Corporate America helping provide technology to co-workers. Overall, I like it, but you do have to simply accept some of the surreal thinking that goes on.

If you're in the Corporsphere, the Cisco acquistion makes perfect sense. You may not buy software from Cisco, but it doesn't seem crazy.

Let me explain.

In the regular world, people tend to make their purchasing decisions based on functionality, price, and sometimes brand reputation. People want the best product for the best price.

Inside the Corporsphere an entirely new set of rules apply.

There are things called Strategic Sourcing and Enterprise Standards and Risk Management that lurk like corrupt judges wandering into town messing with the local sheriff/IT manager.

Here's how it works. Let's say you want to put some weblogs into your company. You chose a best-of-breed solution made by a small company that runs on LAMP.

Strategic Sourcing says, "Have we done business with them before? Can Microsoft, HP, Dell, EMC, or anyone else we have long term purchasing agreements do the same thing? Will they pay $1,500 to join Ariba, our spend management provider?"

Enterprise Standards says, "Why Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP? Isn't there a solution that works on .Net with SQL Server or Oracle with IIS? Do they meet our identity management standards? What is the value proposition of this solution over Sharepoint?"

Risk Management say, "Do they have $3+ million in liability insurance? Can we see their financial records to ensure long term stability? Are they Sarbanes-Oxley approved? What's their overall compliance profile?"

At this point most IT managers are willing to install pretty much anything to get something done and stop the inquisition.

I haven't even mentioned other corporate boogeymen like Strategic Alliances, Diversity, Enterprise Learning, and Enterprise Resource Planning. Like the Nazgul, they roam the lands looking for naive technology managers to suck the life out of.

Back to Cisco.

Cisco is a tech company that is deeply embedded in every Fortune 1000 company. In the Corporsphere, Cisco is a safe choice. No one asks a single question if you want to buy a Cisco product. Cisco's got most corporations wired for the basics; email, web, and maybe even VOIP. But to grow, Cisco has to drive even more traffic inside corporations. 100Mb/s won't keep the orders rolling in. They need to be installing Gigabit Ethernet, Content Distribution Networking, Packet Acceleration, and a host of other new products.

The issue is finding something to fill up the pipes inside of companies. Recently, they bought Scientific Atlanta, a company that does serious digital video, powering cable companies systems that pump gigabytes of video around.

Business people say, "I want an internal Myspace!" and the IT managers try to figure out what to buy. Sure there's plenty of choices from small startups but rather than face the gauntlet, the beaten-down IT manager looks on the Preferred Supplier list and sees that Microsoft has Sharepoint, Intel has SuiteTwo, and now Cisco's going to have Tribe. Cisco sees the social software needs of the Corporsphere.

In the corporsphere, a mediocre solution that you can implement is better than a great solution that you can't get approved. So many make the choice to take the easy path and buy the system that is 'close enough' to what's needed. Why worry if KickApps or Ning are going to be around next year, when you can just buy a solution from Cisco or Microsoft?

Cisco knows this and sees a key to their continued growth is convincing the Corporsphere that putting social software in the Enterprise is important. It doesn't hurt that it drives all sorts of network traffic, including popular videos and photos.

The Cisco sales people are good. They will take you to lunch, listen to your problems, and even give you free stuff. If they can provide an internal Myspace to Fortune 1000 companies, they will find many customers, because in the Corporsphere, the best is the enemy of the good.

Small disclaimer: I use humor and hyperbole to make my points here. Believe it or not, there are rational reasons for the Corporate Entities I describe above. Some good friends of mine ride with the Nazgul. Supporting 50,000 people with technology is no simple task. Rules and methods are needed to avoid chaos. The rules inside the Corporsphere aren't wrong, they are just different and often puzzling to those on the outside.

Posted by michael at March 05, 2007 11:21 PM


Bravo...I applaud your humorous, yet TOTALLY ACCURATE view of the software/platform selection process within the Corporsphere. I used to work as an engineering peon for a fairly large company in the defense industry, and was astonished and perplexed in my first brushes with everything you've mentioned above.

It took me 5 long years before I got a decent understanding of what and why they were doing what they did, and probably much longer (if ever) before I'd be able to explain it so clearly and succinctly.

Posted by: Ross [] on March 6, 2007 7:56 AM

Very accurate. We had this entire discussion earlier this week at a planning meeting. The topic was IM apps for 911 call centers.

Your quote "in the Corporsphere, the best is the enemy of the good" is going on the daily message board.

Posted by: mark [] on March 11, 2007 4:51 AM
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