Cisco Customer Connection Program - Why being active brings value to your organisation

Normally the holiday season becomes the time for looking back and to recap the ups and downs of the last year. One of my personal largest highlights last year was the Cisco Customer Connection Program. The Customer Connection Program or formerly Collaboration User Group is part of the Cisco Communities and is open for everybody. If you are Cisco employee, partner or customer, it does not matter you, you can just join the community.

For me the Customer Connection Programm brings five large benefits to their members:

- Briefings
There are regular briefings and many topics are presented before they are officially announced,  sometimes even before the partners are getting these informations. And also the kind of the briefings are making them special for me. Everybody knows the normal Cisco webinars. Normally you come to the session, the presenter go through his slides and the only change for asking question is the Q&A function of WebEx. 
The briefings in Customer Connection Program are different. Normally they start with a small overview what will come in the near future or what will change in the community before the official presentation starts. Sure, you have during the session also the possibility to ask questions to the presenter and the subject matter experts which are normally joining for supporting answering questions, but normally at the end you have also the chance to ask questions directly via phone function and express you opinion to the experts verbally. When do you such a change normally? 

- Trials
I love the trials, they are just great. In the last year I get the possibility to test via Customer Connection Program e.g the different Jabber client releases 11.1 and 11.5, Jabber Guest and the new WebEx T30 release in the different trials.These three trials are also the best examples which benefits the community can bring to everybody.

WebEx T30 was for me very useful to get a first touch with the new release and to make some tests like the Cisco Spark integration or other functionalities. The community gave me the possibility to 
test a solution which I have normally no really contact. I also was able to make some tests with the WebEx CMR, which was provided to every trial user during the trial phase and could get after that in direct contact with the experts.

The Jabber Guest trial started some time before the official product launch and the responsible Cisco development teams were very active to support. They provided troubleshooting support during setup in labs, asked for use case ideas and which additional features are required. This option was used by several people in my organisation to get in touch with the new technology. Through the trials it was possible  to make lots of experiences to understand all the benefits and limitations of the new product. These experiences helped a lot in the discussions with other engineers or service owners to explain them the benefits and challenges of the solution. Sure, every trial participant was also bug tester, but the knowledge about Jabber Guest I get during this trial is just priceless. And even most important, even though the trials are open if you raise a question to the Cisco experts in the old trial forum you are still getting feedback.

But the most important trial for me is every time the Jabber trial. That is your change to get sure that the next release fits into your environments. Every company using Jabber can check if the upcoming release is working with their own "real-world" environment. I don't know how many bugs we found in the past trials which are specific to a special dedicated enterprise solution. E.g. you have so many possibilities to configure a proxy server and nobody could expect that Cisco cannot create, test and verify all these configurations in their labs.
In the last trials I had several WebEx sessions during the trials with developers of the Jabber clients to show them my special problem and if they understand the problem they normally provided a first friendly release to verify the fix. That's the benefit of joining the testing during the development phase compared to waiting with testing until official release of the software. After public release you have to go via TAC and to hope that your bugfix is in the next maintenance release and not postponed to the next major release. Being active in this phase can save a lot of money.
I just loving to work together with the Cisco guys in these trials. They are not only answering questions or reports of issues, you also get an explanation from a Product Manager if a special feature acts different then expected to explain you why the decision was made like it is.

- Product Enhancements Ideas
Who doesn't know the process of doing a feature request... If you don't have the right project you normally don't get the visibility from the responsible product managers inside Cisco. With the Customer Connection Program you have the stage to make your feature request and the community can help you with their votes to show the importance of your request. In the last year several feature requests from the community were included in the actual releases or on the official product roadmap for the next releases. 

- NDA sessions during Cisco Live
These sessions where last year my second large highlight. I joined the sessions during Cisco Live in Milan where some of the responsible Technical Marketing Engineers presented some very early information about Cisco Spark and the Cisco Jabber and WebEx Roadmap. These information about the roadmap planning helped a lot to make the planning in some projects better and brought a real benefit to me. The live sessions were like the briefings, not just the typical presentation and after the presentation everything was over, the presenters really asked for the feedback of all the different attendees to understand their opinion and point of view.

- The Community
The community must also be mentioned in that overview. Especially during the trials everybody tries to support each other with hints to fix their problem or trying if they could reproduce your problem. This is nothing Cisco can influence like the content they provide to community or which briefings they are doing. 
If I talk about the great community, I have also to say "thank you" to the great community managers from Cisco who are doing a great support in organising events or supporting in trials. These people are also playing a large role in making this community so special. Thanks for all your support and all your requests for feedback to make the community better and better.

I hope I could give you some reasons to take a look at the Customer Connection Program. Everybody is welcome and YOU can make the difference, join the conversations and if you want you could also add me to your contacts


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