Jens Meggers, the SVP and General Manager of Cisco’s Cloud Collaboration group, leads a team that works on cutting edge technology to change the way people work. His team is now breaking new ground with virtual reality and connecting the virtual world to the physical world unlike anyone else in the industry.
Focus Magazine recently talked to Jens about the brand-new integration of VR into Cisco Spark. While VR is still in its early stages in the collaboration space, Jens is excited about its potential.
Focus Magazine: Can you tell us about some of your favorite collaboration launches in the last couple of years?
Jens Meggers: We’ve done so much in my 4 years here, it’s hard to choose a favorite! Our most recent launch of the Cisco Spark Board in January is among the top three.
With integrated hardware and software in one product, we’ve done something that no one in the industry can really do. From a hardware point of view, it is highly innovative, and then there’s the software… pretty amazing. Our customers love Spark Boards and we’re seeing a huge number of orders. And, we won design awards, as well as the Best of Show award at Enterprise Connect in March.
Focus Magazine: How fulfilling is this for you personally to be leading a team that is revolutionizing the way people work and communicate with each other?
Jens Meggers: For me personally it’s very fulfilling. We have an amazing team of people – very smart– and it makes me so proud to see what they come up with! They are always finding ways to add features, enhance our products, and even build on new emerging technologies, like virtual reality.
What’s important to me is to see positive outcomes – creating products that our customers and partners really like to use. One COO of a large customer told me recently that WebEx is the operating engine of their company. They can’t live without it. That’s what we’re going for at Cisco and in Collaboration.
Focus Magazine: You’re not resting on your laurels. You’re still looking at how to innovate and make collaboration better. Can you tell me how you’re integrating VR into collaboration?
Jens Meggers: We’re always looking for bigger and better experiences, so we started thinking about the application of virtual reality in the business world about 9 months ago – combining our best-in-class collaboration technology with VR.
People are using VR for rich, fully immersive, gaming experiences and our Emerge team started thinking about the practical applications of VR using the Cisco Spark platform.
The thought process went something like this: VR headsets let you go virtually into new worlds/rooms/spaces; you have new ways for people to be together, even though they are thousands of miles apart. And Cisco Spark is built around the concept of virtual spaces, where all your work lives, like messaging, files, whiteboards, etc. And it is designed to allow people to work together, effectively, no matter where they are or what time zone they are in.
We knew that if we did it right, we could create a brand-new experience – nothing else like it in the industry, with huge potential. With early internal testing, and with early VR adopters, it turned out to be very successful.
And, we were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to create a virtual room that fits right into Cisco Spark.
Focus Magazine: Was it easy in the sense of it being a natural progression or was it that the engineering was relatively easy?
Jens Meggers: Both. As I said before, we’re always looking for bigger and better experiences in Collaboration – finding ways to delight our customers and give them something they didn’t even know they wanted.
And the engineering… well, we built the Spark platform API-based to make it easy to build integrations with other products. So the team working on Spark in VR didn’t really have to work with other developers because they were just using our existing APIs. That’s pretty cool – I mean we knew that the Spark platform was unique because it was open and extensible – but when we built it, we never imagined virtual reality as part of Spark. I have to congratulate the Cisco Emerge team for having that vision.
So, using the APIs, the team leveraged available gaming technologies that offer tools for games and adapted them to create Cisco Spark in VR.
Focus Magazine: That’s so interesting because isn’t your background in gaming?
Jens Meggers: Yes. I was already familiar with the tools as was the Emerge team… they are pretty avid gamers, and early adopters of new technology, so they had already been using VR headsets for a while. And, they were already using the gaming tools to create an application. Once they told me what they had planned, I told them to go for it. And within four weeks we had our first demo running. They did virtual programming without writing one line of code. Pretty amazing stuff.
Focus Magazine: Four weeks to your first demo?!
Jens Meggers: Yes. The Spark platform APIs and the gaming tools made that possible. Obviously, we engineered more because we wanted to go deeper and make it more relevant for our customers. We’ve been working on this since last summer.
Focus Magazine: And now you’re rolling it out?
Jens Meggers: Yes, we’re rolling it out now at CiscoSpark.com/VR. I’m excited and incredibly proud of the team.
Let me explain why we built Cisco Spark in VR. First, we want to be the thought-leader in the collaboration business. We’re also trying to explore what will be possible with virtual reality technology.
By putting this in the app store, we can get this in customers’ hands quickly and scale it up. We have thought of a lot of use cases with Cisco Spark in VR, but I know there are more we haven’t considered. Our customers and partners have great ideas, maybe better than we have. We want them to use Cisco Spark with their virtual reality equipment and tell us what they think.
Focus Magazine: I know VR is advancing at breakneck speed, but this still seems really fast.
Jens Meggers: You know, the technology has been around for a while but now we’re seeing huge traction in the consumer market and they’re very competitive. You’ve got Facebook, HTC, PlayStation and now Microsoft, that’s why you see so much innovation with the hardware. Everyone wants a VR experience. Right now the focus seems to be gaming, but It’s becoming a professional tool with more use cases emerging every day. Having VR gives you a competitive advantage, so there’s a mad rush right now and you’ll see the hardware getting better and better.
Focus Magazine: Coming from your gaming background, did you ever think that VR and collaboration would intersect?
Jens Meggers: I don’t think I would’ve predicted it, no. The games I developed back in the 90s can’t compare to the virtual reality of today. But at the same time, there is this concept of gamification in business applications, so I’m not really surprised. If you can make gamification work, you’ll always have an edge because people like to game anything – most people are pretty competitive – or they like to make seemingly mundane tasks fun. The more fun things are, and with gaming that’s often the case, the more you’ll be business relevant, and you’ll also be more effective. If we can do that, we’ll always be on the winning side.
Focus Magazine: That background has to help a little bit with having the know-how on how to make work not only easier, but more fun.
Jens Meggers: I think it helps more being a gamer versus a game developer. A lot of people on our team are gamers like me and we’d play games and say, “Oh my gosh, that is very relevant to collaboration.” So being on the cutting edge of the gaming area helps.
Focus Magazine: With AR and VR on the collaboration platform, what’s most exciting for you?
Jens Meggers: I have to make a big distinction between augmented reality and virtual reality. What we’re focusing on now for collaboration is virtual reality. On the virtual reality side, what I’m most excited about is having our customers finding use cases that we hadn’t thought about before.
I’ll give you an example. There’s a feature we just added to Cisco Spark in VR. You can take a complicated 3D model like an engine and drop it into a room. With virtual reality, you can take it off the wall and put it on a table and it becomes like a real 3D model. That allows you to walk around it and look at it from all sides. You can even lift it up with your hands and show it. Without VR, you can’t do it. That opens up a whole new world of applications.
Focus Magazine: It really brings things to life in a way that has never happened before.
Jens Meggers: That’s why we’re so excited about it and we want to get it in the hands of customers. That’s why we said, “Let’s put it as a concept or experiment in the Oculus Rift app store where everyone can play around with it.”
Our customers who have a Cisco Spark license can already use it and see what specific use cases they want to solve with it. As long as they have an Oculus Rift!
I think we’re just at the beginning of exploring of what we can do with it.
Focus Magazine: You’re just at the beginning of this, but what are you envisioning for the next couple of years?
Jens Meggers: I envision the hardware getting much better. Right now, for many people, they get motion sickness if they wear the headset for more than 30 minutes. You’re so immersed and can get dizzy. Now we’re seeing headsets shrinking, resolutions increasing, and latency and field of view improving, so less motion sickness! We’ll get to a point where headsets are much lighter and wireless.
For us, it’s great to be in on this at the beginning and show customers what’s possible. One thing I tell our partners and team all the time is this is not a product. We’re not selling Cisco Spark in VR. We’re basically selling Cisco Spark and Spark Board. We’re giving Spark in VR as a free experiment because we want everyone to try it out.
Focus Magazine: I know you’re a father of 5. Do your kids think you have one of the coolest jobs in the world?
Jens Meggers: I’ll tell you a funny story. I let one of my kids put on my VR headset to play a game. The other four couldn’t participate because only one can use it at a time. Naturally, they started fighting over it. And the one wearing it was having such a great experience he didn’t want to give it up! So, it ends up a disaster and 4 out of 5 kids are unhappy. VR is not good in a multi-kid household!
My kids think I have a cool job only because I’m always bringing home the latest in new technology – for me, it’s to test business use cases, but for the kids, it’s one long Christmas Day!