Collaboration tools are hot and came to the forefront during Covid-19 for obvious reasons. We’ve seen every player step up its game every three months and now its Cisco’s turn at the plate. Last week, Cisco had its biggest premiere digital collaboration conference of the year, WebexOne, where it made announcements for around 50 improvements to the Webex experience. At this event, Cisco claims that new innovations will “deliver a Webex experience that is 10x better than in-person—and at the same time make in-person interactions 10x better too”. There was not a stated benchmark to measure that against, but it is certainly attention-grabbing and provocative.
I think Cisco is making big strides to develop solutions to support the hybrid work environment that is important now and as we look to the future of work. Cisco announced many new updates to Webex at this year’s conference, including an “all-new” Webex for meetings, messaging, and calling with a ton of new functionality, new Webex app capabilities, personalization features, a contact center solution, and new hardware.
From a 50,000 foot level, Webex talked about its commitment to help businesses thrive, being an integral platform for governments to continue to lead remotely, doctors to meet with patients safely, and educators to do distance learning. With these new integrations, the goal is to “power an inclusive future,” provide a great remote experience, but for when it did return to the office, to help facilitate a safe return to the office. Many companies have already sent employees to work permanently remotely, and others have started transitioning back to the office, so these upgrades are necessary to keep up with the changing hybrid work environment.
Webex software and service updates
All-New Webex app: This app, available last week, created a singular and secure place for connecting, calling, meeting, apps, contact center, and messaging. It continued to add more features to this app like Message Highlights, Immersive Share, Gestures, and Round Table Meeting Template. These additions were added based on significant Cisco research and gap analysis. Also, these are not esoteric feature adds but some that I think users will actually use.
New Integrations in Meetings: Currently, on Webex, there is noise cancellation and speech enhancement, which suppresses background noise to improve concentration and productivity, closed captioning, Webex Assistant verbal commands, and Webex huddle, which allows you to create spontaneous meetings. Coming soon will be integrations such as in-meeting gestures, real-time translation, large meetings of up to 100k participants, and personalized meeting templates.
Cisco also expanded People Insights with a new suite of features such as highlighting trends in your day like when your days start and stop, interaction patterns, and time spent on video calls. I believe one of the big 2021 conversations will be how employees are using tools like this and employee’s reactions to it. I’d expect a bunch of “outrage” on social media, maybe even media reports, but the fact is, if employees want to work remotely, they’re going to have to get used with some kind of reporting, even if it’s only available to the user (not the boss) to measure engagement and productivity. And if you don’t think you’re not already being tracked by email and corporate chat, you’re a bit naïve, because you likely are.
All-New Webex Contact Center: The goal of this integration is to drive more intelligent customer experiences. The Contact Center now covers all sizes of businesses, next-gen architecture, new AI-powered voice and chatbots, and integration with Webex Experience Management. These recent announcements make relationships with customers and sales agents much more intelligent.
Contact centers universally need to raise the game as we enter this new hybrid work-style and it’s imperative that it’s a uniform experience and flexible enough to move from office to home and home to office in 24 hours. I believe cloud implementation are important here, hybrid ones are differentiated.
Webex App Hub: The Webex App Hub is a collaboration app with integrations that make it easier for users to move in between existing applications. Some new integrations announced are Box, Dropbox, Miro, Salesforce, and others. As we have seen from competing solutions, integrations are beneficial in that the user doesn’t have to break the flow of their work in the midst of moving between apps, and theoretically, it should be easier to share information cross-tool.
I believe the next generation of integrations is workflow creation using no-code or low-code development tools.
Webex Control Hub: This serves as a command center for management, analytics, and IT that has secure encryption, and comprehensive data loss prevention, and ethical walls that allow IT admins to restrict teams from collaborating when needed. This will become even more important with People Insights data.
New Hardware with Webex native integrations
Along with new software updates, Cisco announced new devices designed specifically for hybrid work. These products’ goal is to optimize the work environment, whether you are working at home or planning to go into the office.
The Webex Desk Camera: This is a new USB camera created to enhance meetings from home or small in-person meetings in the office. It looks to have excellent low light performance, up to 4k Ultra HD video, and “vibrant” color. It supports the native device features like occupancy metrics and facial recognition. Cisco says the camera is priced to the street “sub-$200”. The Webex app on a PC or Mac will drive the camera.
The Webex Desk Hub (preview) is a new device designed for hotdesking that allows employees to plug in their smartphone (security-enabled) and laptop, de-clutter desk, and streamline the day. The user can see to-do lists, messages, and join calls. Like the new Camera, the Desk Hub also collects environmental data. Cisco says the Hub is priced to the street “around $850”.
The Webex Desk (preview): This is the sibling to the Desk Pro that I use in the office today. The Pro “just works” and is very high quality especially when connected to another Pro. The Desk will be priced less than the Desk Pro, have fewer features than the Pro, but does support must-have features like voice-cancellation, virtual background, and facial recognition. Cisco says the Desk is priced to the street “around $1,800”. To compare, you can buy a Desk Pro between $4,000 and $5,000.
The Webex Wireless Phone: These are designed specifically for critical frontline workers. One of the pairs is MIL-SPEC 810G and IP68 certified which means water, dust, and chemical resistance for tougher workstyles such as healthcare or construction. The phones do not support 4G LTE or 5G but operates using WiFi. I could not locate street prices for the two WiFi phones.
Cisco also announced its intent to acquire both IMImobile PLC and Slido s.r.o. IMImobile is a company that provides software and services that allow enterprises and organizations to stay connected to customers through social, messaging, and voice. This acquisition should enable Cisco to offer an improved end to end customer interaction management solution with smarter interactions through the lifecycle of a customer and uplevel Webex Contact Center. It’s amazing how close these are getting to customer data platforms.
Slido is a best in class audience interaction company. I would be surprised if you’re reading this and haven’t used Slido before. I used it three times last week at analyst conferences. With this acquisition, the Slido technology will be part of the Cisco Webex platform and enhance its ability to offer new inclusive audience engagement (Cisco). Slido offers features such as real-time feedback, dynamic polls, Q&A, quizzes, word clouds, surveys, and more. I had a family member who was recently hosting a creative brainstorming session with its team and had expressed frustrations with the limited engagement tools in Zoom and was expressive of the need for features such as this. By adding in audience interaction features, could increase participation, creative ideas, and team collaboration.
The WebexOne conference gave us many announcements on usage models, management tools, integrations and new devices that can help create more connectivity and collaboration for the future of hybrid work environments.
In the past few months, Google, Poly, Lenovo, Microsoft, 8×8, and Zoom have announced its improved solutions for the hybrid work environment and the competition has been great for IT and users.
I was excited to hear about all of these announcements from the WebexOne conference and the intent to acquire both Slido and IMImobile, and I can’t wait to see how it joins its tools together. If I can get ahold of some of the new devices, I will let you know about my experiences.
Net-net, I think Cisco Webex upped its game to better fulfill the needs of a hybrid workplace and do it with a consistent experience that is backed by top-grade security.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.