I spent some time recently talking with Cisco’s Joe Marcus Clarke, Distinguished Services Engineer, and Gonzalo Salgueiro, Technical Leader. They presented at the first Developer Track at LiNC this spring, and spoke about how Cisco used Lithium solutions to build the Cisco Tech Zone. I wanted to get some more insight on how they’ve been working with the Lithium Platform, including what their experiences have been customizing the Lithium Platform to meet their business requirements. The second half of this Q&A is available on the Lithium Developer Network Tech Blog.
Q. In your Dev Track presentation at LiNC, you described some of the results you’ve had since building Tech Zone on the Lithium platform (e.g., 20,023 total users, 122 externally published articles, 15,986 discussions, 66,289 replies, 26,131 kudos awarded); are there other results that you're particularly proud of?
To be honest, some of the most impressive results were those less tangible and more difficult to express to the outside observer. For example, the challenge at Cisco is to quickly win over a very technically savvy audience that has a rich tradition of shadow IT and homegrown tools and applications development when the organizational tools are deficient. The viral word-of-mouth adoption is truly most rewarding for us. This adoption has been so successful that it is yielding very tangible business benefits. For instance, we have nearly doubled our internal content available since LiNC as we have continued to accelerate the migration of more and more technical teams to the platform!!! We are also seeing that Tech Zone generated content is having a powerful pull effect with the rest of the company. It is bringing in other functions such as Services, Engineering and Sales.
It's also inspiring that our work hasn't happened behind the thick walls of a secret room at some undisclosed location. Quite the opposite. As we have grown with the platform, we have been sharing our use cases, our learnings and our challenges with Lithium, the community of Lithium customers and the industry at large. In fact, we were recently awarded the 2012 Forrester Groundswell Award (Business-To-Employee Category - Collaboration Program: Technical Services: Using Social Knowledge to Reinvent Customer Support) and two consecutive Lithy awards.
Q. Why did you feel you needed a SaaS solution?
To be clear, it wasn't a requirement for us when we started platform evaluation, but it has become a very pleasant surprise in the advantages that it offers relative to ubiquity of content, scalability, centralized security, etc. SaaS offers certain advantages compared to having to develop a wholly homegrown solution completely "in-house." So while we have the technical resources to do it, we'd prefer they keep their focus on Cisco "stuff."
A SaaS solution has helped us have that better resource allocation, as well as improved agility (time to market), innovation, scale, etc. Cisco generally evaluates solutions using a build, buy, partner approach. Lithium was the perfect partner for us and they were actively invested in our success.
Q. Those are significant accomplishments – congratulations! From a technical perspective why did you choose Lithium?
In the beginning we actually considered several different collaborative community platforms. Lithium was the clear choice for us because of its unmatched ability to customize the platform to deliver on our very specific vision. The openness and accessibility of the platform (through the Lithium REST API) and the flexibility offered through its programmability were deciding factors because it allowed us to seamlessly integrate the collaborative experience in the workflow and intelligently tie in to the existing suite of tools and applications we had.
In fact, these considerations really lowered the barrier of entry for us and offered very high ROI with minimal resource investment (just the two of us) and eliminated the need for any professional services engagements in order to produce a highly personalized and scalable enterprise-class solution.
Q. Since one of Cisco's goals was to customize this experience for your users, what was your process of determining what you needed to customize and where?
As the primary guiding principle of Tech Zone is to provide a feature rich personalized user experience that is seamlessly tied to the workflow and tools of our engineers, we take customization and integration very seriously and make it a part of our process design, site layout, development efforts, etc. This and the fact that our enterprise collaboration use case is a bit unique have prompted a significant amount of customization.
In order to not sacrifice on our vision, we went with a platform that was flexible and could grow with us. The key to success with this model is to have a strong partner, like we had with Lithium, that is open-minded and willing to listen. In fact, we share our customizations with Lithium and allow them to evaluate whether or not the newly introduced capability could be (or already is) planned in future releases or if it is something too Cisco-specific. This benefits the broader community of Lithium customers & partners since it enriches the functionality and usefulness of the core platform. It also benefits us because we can eliminate any overhead associated with ongoing support and sustaining efforts associated with these customization overlays.
Q. What was your experience like integrating Salesforce with your Lithium community?
We didn't go the formal route in integrating Tech Zone with Salesforce.com. Instead, we leveraged both platforms' APIs to build custom hooks. So we don't know if this was easier or harder than normal. However, the result fit right into our engineers' workflow, so that was a huge win.
On one hand we built a live-updating interface that shows recent threads in an engineer's technology space. This helps them become aware of relevant questions that they might be able to answer. Then on the other hand, as they work their cases, they have the ability to push a distilled summary of the cases back to Tech Zone into the Tribal Knowledge Base (TKB). The result is knowledge capture right in the workflow.
Thanks so much for these insights, Joe and Gonzalo! I love seeing how much the Tech Zone has grown from its inception, and how much you’ve both been able to accomplish in under 2 years. To read more about Cisco’s experience developing on the Lithium platform, please visit the Lithium Tech Blog.
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