A long, long time ago (in the 1980s) and in a land far, far away (San Francisco), there was a band called Huey Lewis and the News. Huey (real name) was a harmonica player, like yours truly, and built a band around his harp chops and vocals. He started out working with a bunch of sidemen and together they ended up getting some pretty good gigs. They were the backup band for Elvis Costello when he cut his first album, “My Aim Is True,” and Huey did some harp work for Irish band Thin Lizzy. Eventually, all these sidemen formalized their relationship and got together as Huey Lewis and the News.
Following a couple of album releases that went largely unnoticed, the band released their third album, called “Sports,” in 1983. Coincidentally, this was about the same time that the San Francisco 49ers were starting their 1980s Super Bowl domination run following their 1981 win. On top of that, the microcomputer industry was about to explode in the San Jose area following Apple’s $1.3 billion IPO at the end of 1980. By 1985, “Sports” had gone platinum and Huey Lewis could regularly be seen standing on the sidelines with the players at 49ers home games. Huey had hit the big time.
Meanwhile, San Jose was morphing into the Silicon Valley high-tech hub that we know today. From his perch as an ultra-cool San Francisco musician, Huey, along with The News, watched as their counter-culture Bay Area home underwent a major transformation. Hippies were being replaced by yuppies, freeways began to clog up with tech-company commuters, and their laid-back San Francisco lifestyle was being replaced by the frenzied Silicon Valley stress-fest. The result of observing this transformation was the release of a song in 1986 called “Hip to be Square.”
With 49ers players such as Joe Montana and Ronnie Lott providing backup vocals on the recording, Huey Lewis sang about how his life was changing—how he had to settle down, cut his hair, work out, watch what he ate, and wear a business suit. In other words, by 1986, Huey had discovered that it was hip to be square.
Fast forward nearly 30 years and being square no longer means haircuts and business suits. In fact, today’s hipness can be found in the extent to which one is square. The pocket protector of yore has evolved into the mobile device today. The number of mobile devices you set down in front of you on the dining table so you don’t have to actually connect with others on a human level when joining friends and family for a meal is one measure of hip squareness. Another measure of hip squareness is how and when you use these mobile devices.
Unlike the pens in a pocket protector, mobile devices have the potential to be incredibly helpful or horribly intrusive. Finding the balance between these two extremes often means walking a fine line. I recently came across a post on Cisco’s blog in which the discussion revolved around the use of Cisco’s Project Squared. The blog post was written by Cisco exec Jonathan Rosenberg, who I’m sure had no idea he was about to ignite a firestorm by relating a personal story. Jonathan had simply posted a recap of how he responded to an invitation to join a discussion that was ongoing in a Project Squared room. So what was the problem? He was rejoining the discussion with his work colleagues well after work hours on the East Coast.
For those not familiar, Cisco Project Squared is a cloud-based collaboration application designed to enable collaboration among members of a work team. In essence, it creates a virtual “room” where team members can get together to discuss a specific topic, similar to a team meeting that might take place in an office building. Project Squared is accessible from just about any device including iPhones, iPads, Android devices and web browsers. It is also accessible at any time of day or night, and that’s where the controversy that is the subject of this column originated.
When Jonathan posted about his experience of seeing a work conversation ongoing after work hours and deciding to jump in, citing this as a great example of how work is getting done today, a reader took exception to his sentiment. Rather than an example of getting work done, the commenter wrote that it was an example of how work today has become a 24-hour priority and dominates other aspects of life such as vacations, sick days, family time after work, etc. He stated his belief that technology is solving and creating collaboration problems at roughly the same speed.
When I read his statement, I thought he had a point, but so did Jonathan. I think Project Squared, when used appropriately, solves a huge business problem and beyond that, will certainly have a place in the contact center. The hook here is what constitutes appropriate use of Project Squared.
The answer to that question comes from Tod Famous, Director of Product Management for Cisco Customer Collaboration Solutions. “My job requires me to interact with multiple teams on varying topics from feature development, to project management, to tracking industry trends. Project Squared allows me to drop into a room at my convenience to see how things are progressing and comment or provide content as needed. Because each room contains an historical record of all conversations and content it allows me to catch up on activity in the room when I am ready to reengage on the topic. This can be when I get into the office in the morning or when I am returning from vacation. It’s my choice when I enter a Project Squared room.”
Given the intended use of Project Squared in the enterprise, what potential roles would it have in the contact center? Again, Cisco’s Tod Famous had the answer. “Contact center managers are always looking for ways to engage the expertise within the enterprise to help agents increase first-call resolution and Project Squared is a great option to help. Consider a room full of experts who are available to agents on an ad hoc basis to answer questions about a specific product or service. This allows the agent to enter the room and get an answer from content already posted there, or they can pose a new question and even escalate to a voice or video call if needed for further clarification.”
As this column was going to press I learned that Cisco has renamed Project Squared. Henceforth Project Squared will be known as Cisco Spark. Although the Project Squared name has changed, my opinion of its usefulness in business has not. In the contact center today, it’s still hip to be squared.