'Coopetition' guides Cisco, Microsoft

The term "coopetition" (when competitors acknowledged they might need to partner to address a customer need) always seemed to me a defense mechanism telecom companies invoked when faced with the realization they couldn't do everything, and therefore, didn't know what to do.

I had the chance to interview Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers some months ago, and we talked briefly about the competitive overlap that's bound to occur when and enterprise gear vendor seeks to become a better partner to service providers, who in turn are competing with that enterprise vendor on its home turf. This was a huge issue for me because that kind of conflict once was unheard of in telecom circles, but Chambers brushed off the concerns, saying that competitors have to do what's right for the customer, agreeing to work together if that's what the customer wants.

Sounds easy enough, but it must be sloppy in practice. Or maybe not. Unified communications is one of the areas where various competitors are now being asked by enterprise customers to play nice or at least be "frienemies," and yesterday Cisco said it agreed with Microsoft, an intense competitor to Cisco partner IBM, to do just that.

For More:
- The New York Times has the story on what happened when Chambers met his new pal Steve Ballmer.