Cisco announces new devices aimed at enhancing collaboration for hybrid workers

This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter.

Connections have always played an important role in the workplace. However, the underinvestment in office collaboration tools has led to the hybrid work mess that most companies see today.

As part of its Enterprise Connect 2024 (EC24) activities, Cisco announced several new devices that can aid companies in their quest to get people back in the office. The company also released the findings of a recent hybrid work study. Before EC24, Cisco held a pre-briefing with Webex GM Javed Khan and other Webex leaders.

During the call, Khan shared Cisco’s hybrid work philosophy. “We feel that the approach that some companies have taken, which is to stick a camera on a monitor, is insufficient,” he stated. “It will not deliver the experiences employees return to the office for. And if companies don’t get that right, the investment in the campus will not be worth it.”

Khan’s commentary aligns with many of my discussions with IT and business leaders. Many companies have had workers return to the office either through mandates or voluntarily but have failed to keep them there. One of the issues is that the conference room experience is so bad that workers choose to sit at their desks for video meetings, even if they are in the same office as the people they are meeting.

Digital Proximity

Employee expectations have changed. Personal computing and meeting applications have evolved tremendously, and now they want a lot from their hybrid work experience. “This leads to a concept that we’ve introduced before called Distance Zero,” he told me. “How do you have an experience that feels like you are there even though you’re not in the same room with people? And that’s where we focus our software and hardware.”

I’ve described this as having the ability to maintain digital proximity in a world where we are physically distant. Connections have always played an important role in the workplace, which is why companies are so desperate to get workers back to the office. However, the underinvestment in office collaboration tools has led to the hybrid work mess that most companies see today.

The company announced two new products—the Cisco Board G2 and the Cisco Desk Phone 9800 Series—as multifunctional devices for hybrid work.

Cisco Board Pro G2

Khan said the G2 is a fully integrated device. “This is the next generation Board Pro,” he said. It’s a videoconferencing device and a whiteboard with a touchscreen. It’s focused on meetings and open spaces. Some of the experiences we are building are tailored for those open spaces. And it complements the rest of our portfolio.”

A couple of highlights of the Cisco Board Pro G2:

  • It provides better in-meeting views: A 96-megapixel dual-lens camera lets remote people see their onsite colleagues clearly, whether close to the camera or far away. AI keeps the picture clear. A new multistream layout gives Webex Meetings participants simultaneous views of the entire room and a closeup of the speaker.
  • It includes an NVIDIA chipset and computing engine: The better camera views and audio come thanks to NVIDIA, which also improves performance.

Cisco also says the Board Pro will offer flexible collaboration and simplified deployments.

Cisco has been using NVIDIA chips in its devices for years, and that is why so much functionality is built into the endpoints. Speaker tracking, background noise removal, and virtual backgrounds are all done on-device, offloading the processing from the software.

Cisco Desk Phone 9800 Series

With hybrid work and few assigned desks or offices on site, making a workspace feel personal takes a lot of work. With the 9800 Series, Cisco says it’s trying to remedy that with, for a start, premium audio and noise removal.

“So, think of these devices as desk devices that are both audio- and meeting- and calling-capable,” Khan said. “And an often-underappreciated aspect of our Desk Phone devices is that they can also make a good old-fashioned phone call.”

A couple of highlights of the new phone series:

  • It can personalize any desk. Cisco says employees can use Spaces or a QR code to reserve a desk and gain access to contacts, call history, calendar, and meetings.
  • It includes security: Cisco provides security and end-to-end encryption for meetings and calls using Trusted Platform Module 2.0 hardware.

The company also says it’s providing simplified user experiences and better management capabilities. The sustainability of the new phone series is in line with Cisco’s environmental commitment. It contains more than 74% post-consumer recycled and uses low power modes to ensure energy efficiency.

Recently, Joe Berger, VP of Digital Experiences for World Wide Technology, and I were talking about the devices, and he told me, “In our Advanced Technology Center (ATC), we tested the Cisco devices, and they offer an excellent employee experience. This includes not only Webex meetings but also Zoom and Teams. We also like integrations like ThousandEyes that allow us to monitor user experiences better. The quality and breadth of features allow us to deliver better solutions to our customers.”

The Hybrid Future

Cisco also revealed the results of its hybrid work study that showed 72% of employees feel positive about the return to office. But they say they want better-equipped spaces for collaboration and brainstorming. Of the employers surveyed, 81% have already redesigned workspaces to bring them in line with employee expectations—or they plan to within two years.

  • And a side note from the “Tell Us Something We Don’t Know” department: Cisco says that most surveyed employers plan to adopt AI but lack a strategy and worry about security, integration, and costs.
  • NVIDIA’s GTC event was last week, nicknamed “AI Woodstock” because of the massive crowds and mania around AI. The reality is the hype around AI is well ahead of customer deployments. Everyone knows they need AI, but how to deploy it, where to use it, and the ability to ensure the data is secure still allude to most organizations. AI embedded into devices, like the Cisco ones, is a great starting point as it has an immediate benefit to users, and the turnkey nature of those devices removes the deployment complexities.

Some Final Thoughts

Cisco and Webex have been innovating on phones and collaboration devices longer than anyone. Their hardware and software are very well thought out and easy to use. The company has thought about the employee experience and with these two new device announcements.

One of the challenges for the industry, including Cisco, is getting people to try these new devices. In some ways, the entire device industry is paying for the sins of the past when devices were not as intuitive and delivered a “good enough” experience.

One Cisco’s market tactics is a device “seeding” program where, through its partners, Cisco gives companies to try for a period of time. This puts Cisco’s money where its mouth is – i.e., if the devices perform as marketed, customers will buy more. If they don’t, they won’t. Early feedback on the seeding program has been very positive and that’s a win for everyone.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.