At WebexOne, Cisco laid out its vision for reimaging workspaces for hybrid work, supporting flexible working styles, and more.
This week, Cisco is holding its virtual WebexOne event. And like in past years, the company is using the event to show off its many new innovations and products while highlighting what it has delivered in the past year.
Looking at the bigger workplace picture, the pandemic shifted collaboration tools from being a nice-to-have to a must-have technology for workers. The collaboration industry is also at the front end of transitioning from remote work to hybrid work, which created some significantly different challenges for businesses. Remote work is about creating an excellent experience in one location, whereas hybrid work demands a great and consistent experience across locations. This enables users to work seamlessly, regardless of if they are working at home, on the road, or in the office.
For a sense of where we stand with the future of work, Cisco recently conducted a customer survey and found that 98% of meetings today will have at least one remote participant. Yet, ensuring everyone has an equal seat at the table is what makes hybrid work difficult. That’s because most office spaces are still not video-enabled, the survey found. This is consistent with my research that found 51% of employees will work from home two-to-four days a week, another 14% one day a week, and 25% will work remotely permanently. This leaves only 10% of employees in the office full-time, concluding that the future of work is indeed hybrid.
To address this new way of work, Cisco shared four top priorities that it’s focusing on at WebexOne 2022, along with a host of product and service updates and announcements. We explore them in detail below.
Priority 1: Reimaging the Workspace
For its first priority, Cisco has directed much of its focus on reimagining the workspace—both home and office—so everyone can participate equally in hybrid work. Cisco kicked off the annual event by showcasing new features in the Webex Suite and unveiling partnerships to tackle hybrid work challenges.
Over the past several years, Cisco has built a strong portfolio of purpose-built devices for every space, equipped with AI audio capabilities like background noise removal and voice optimization. While most vendors offer noise removal, Webex performs this task on the device, which means it can be turned on even in non-Webex meetings. Webex can also eliminate noise from PSTN calls, which is unique. Another differentiator is it can eliminate all noise except for a singular voice, allowing people to use it in coffee shops, open spaces, or other noisy locations.
At WebexOne, the company took the covers off a new device designed for large rooms, the Room Kit EQ. Room Kit EQ features native Microsoft Teams support, an Nvidia-based microphone array for spatial audio pickup, and supports triple screen, multi-camera, and bring your own device via a single cable USB passthrough.
The previously mentioned Teams support is part of an ongoing effort by Webex to provide multi-platform interoperability since organizations typically use more than one platform. Recently, Cisco partnered with Microsoft to enable Microsoft Teams Rooms on Cisco collaboration devices, giving organizations the flexibility to choose the experience they want. In the first quarter of 2023, Microsoft Teams Rooms will be natively integrated into Cisco’s Room Kit Pro, Board Pro 55 and 75 series, and Room Bar devices. In mid-2023, Teams Rooms will be supported on Desk Pro and Room navigator. Additionally, customers can run Zoom or Google meetings natively on Webex devices.
This is certainly a positive for the industry, as a lack of interoperability has frustrated customers for years. As part of this change, device naming will shift from Webex to Cisco, as they can now be used broadly across a wide range of meeting solutions.
Priority 2: Supporting Flexible Workstyles
A second priority Cisco unveiled at WebexOne 2022 is support for flexible workstyles. The company is addressing this with a host of new collaboration features, including:
- A new Webex Whiteboard App: Cisco introduced a new Webex Whiteboard App designed for brainstorming and sketching in meetings. The app provides each meeting participant with an easy-to-use whiteboarding experience, regardless of their location. Anyone can join a whiteboard from a browser, Webex, or a Cisco device. Participants can combine their whiteboards with Slido polls and share them in a Webex space.
- Slide integration in Vidcast. Cisco is also offering a Slido integration in Vidcast, an asynchronous video offering launched last year as part of the Webex Suite. Vidcast now has new features like an AI-powered editing tool and the Slido integration for embedding polling into shared video content.
- Mobile Camera Share for Apple devices: Speaking of shared content, Cisco revealed a new feature that leverages the video capture capabilities of Apple devices. Webex Meetings participants can use their iPhone and iPad cameras to capture content and annotate over what they’re seeing with Mobile Camera Share. For example, an architect can share progress on a building construction site in real-time instead of sending static images to the project team. Historically, vendors have augmented their collaboration strategies to accommodate mobile integration; Cisco has made it a core component.
Webex Calling received some significant updates as well. Webex Calling customers will have access to Microsoft Teams, which has been directly integrated into the platform, according to Cisco. Furthermore, Webex Calling now includes Group Call Management, a feature that allows businesses to activate call center services without a separate contact center app.
Priority 3: Improving Security and Manageability
The third priority Cisco shared was to improve security and manageability. As part of that promise, Cisco introduced an audio watermarking tool that tags audio streams to every participant in a meeting with a marker, which isn’t audible to the human ear. The goal is to help organizations protect intellectual property in a hybrid work environment.
For instance, if someone records a confidential meeting, the recording can be traced back to that person. Of all the collaboration and contact center vendors, Cisco is the only one that has a dedicated cybersecurity business and has used its prowess to make Webex the most secure collaboration platform in the industry. Historically, many customers ignored security, but work-from-home changed that, as businesses are now using products like Webex to share proprietary and sensitive information.
On top of that, Cisco has integrated the Webex Control Hub with Cisco Spaces, which turns an office into a smart workspace. The integration will provide employees with important information—such as real-time occupancy and air quality updates—to improve their experience at the office. Facilities can also use the data to reconfigure workspaces inside buildings.
On the IT side, Cisco rolled out a digital coach tool in Control Hub. Control Hub guides IT admins on how to improve the hybrid meeting and events experience. Using the tool, admins get step-by-step support for setting up and managing employees’ accounts and settings.
Priority 4: Delivering Omnichannel Experiences
The fourth priority Cisco shared at WebexOne 2022 is to deliver omnichannel experiences. Cisco added new capabilities in the Webex Customer Experience portfolio, focusing on the customer and agent experience. These include:
- AI-based noise reduction: Webex Contact Center now comes with AI-powered background noise reduction technology to improve comprehension for customers and agents.
- More customer channels: Customers now have the option to engage with companies via 16-plus channels—including Google Business Messages and social media—using Webex Connect.
- Webex Contact Center now certified for Microsoft Teams: On the agent side, Webex Contact Center has been certified for Microsoft Teams to enable seamless routing of inbound Teams calls.
- A new headset: Cisco also rolled out a 720 Series headset that agents can use to join Webex and Microsoft Teams by pressing a single button.
To further improve business outcomes for contact centers, Cisco created the Webex Customer Experience Developer Portal, where developers can access application programming interfaces (APIs) and documentation to personalize experiences for their users. The APIs are available for the customization of agent desktop, routing, orchestration, automation, AI, and much more.
As a company, Cisco has used market transitions as a way of gaining share. It was behind the curve when the world shifted to work from home due to the pandemic. Since then, Webex has come roaring back, and all its innovation has been directed at enabling companies to thrive in a hybrid environment. Recently, Cisco revamped its Penn1 offices in New York as a way of showcasing the hybrid work experience, much of it enabled by Webex. For those that can’t make it to New York to see it in person, check out my video tour of the space. New devices, interoperability, and a wide range of software features have Cisco set up better today than it has been in a long time.