Though tech companies across the board have made strides to help the world acclimate to the pandemic, there’s a few whose efforts have risen above the rest. One of these companies is the networking powerhouse Cisco—no surprise there, considering its impressive track record in CSR. Earlier this year, the company pledged to contribute at least $225 million in cash and products and services to help prop up vital organizations such as governments, schools, and healthcare as they struggle to adapt. Amongst other efforts, Cisco also instituted a donation-matching program for its employees who want to help.
With the influx of remote workers and students, Cisco’s Webex video conferencing platform has been top-rated during the pandemic. It’s one of (if not the most) secure and trusted video collaboration platforms on the market, making it an appealing alternative to the ubiquitous (and historically problematic) Zoom. I last wrote on Webexover the summer, when Cisco introduced new security features such as Data Loss Prevention (DPL), Retention, Legal Hold and eDiscovery to Webex Meetings. Now Cisco’s back with more updates—let’s jump in.
Keeping the wheels on the track
With so much of the tech focus during the pandemic centering around how to support remote workers, students, and healthcare, it’s easy to forget that the government, who we entrust to combat the virus, is also struggling with the new reality. Both national and local government institutions worldwide are under intense pressure right now. The public expects them to deliver essential services when an unprecedented number of people are hurting and needing help. Simultaneously, they must continue to govern and keep the big democratic wheels on the track. To do all of that during a global pandemic requires the right tools.
That’s where Cisco’s Webex offering comes in. While we’ve all had to adjust our lives and jobs to practice safe social distancing, governmental organizations can’t leverage any old video conferencing platform. They have to be very careful about complying with regulations and protecting the sensitive data and information they handle. For that reason, it was a legal requirement for many organizations to meet in person before the pandemic. Now that everything has gone virtual, they must turn to collaboration tools instead. And those tools need to have the highest levels of security and privacy built into them. With these organizations in mind, Cisco unveiled two new cloud solutions designed to help the governmental bodies we depend on to function.
The first is Webex Legislate, a new iteration of Webex designed expressly for legislatures across the world. Cisco says this solution will provide an effective substitute for meeting in person on the chamber or parliamentary floor, going as far as to say it is a “better than being there” experience. This tool is useful in our current global moment when social distancing is a must. We’ve seen global leaders and lawmakers come down with Covid-19 across the world. But even outside of that, it could be useful to allow lawmakers to stay closer to the citizens they’ve pledged to listen to and serve.
Webex Legislate leverages the Webex video conferencing experience but adds on top of it a new dashboard for those in the business of lawmaking. Legislators can use the new solution to both debate and vote on legislation, with the ability to customize the experience to comply with the body’s local rules, procedures and norms. This customization includes the ability to establish appropriate permissions within Webex for different roles, such as committee chairs, speakers, lawmakers, or what have you. Additionally, moderators can utilize timers and mute controls if needed to enforce decorum and keep the proceedings orderly.
In terms of government-grade security features, Webex Legislate allows single sign-on with multifactor authentication and visual and verbal verification with secure lobby admission to establish and verify the identity of the voting members. Cisco says the solution also employs a chain of custody for voting and all other procedures and the ability to cast votes anonymously or otherwise customized. Lastly, Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, or FedRAMP, granted Webex Legislate the legal authority to facilitate these government functions based on the platform’s security compliance.
The next solution, aptly-named Connected Justice, aims to bring secure, standards-based video conferencing to the justice system—specifically, courts, corrections and community supervision. The first solution of its kind, Connected Justice promises to improve collaboration between agencies, keep daily operations up and running and reduce the likelihood of recidivism (repeat offenders). Connected Justice is available through connected solutions from Cisco partners Cloverhound and TRACKtech.
So then, what exactly does Connected Justice facilitate? Like Webex Legislate, the solution enables courtroom participants to eschew meeting in person in favor of safe, secure real-time video conferencing. Courts can leverage Connected Justice solutions to hold virtual hearings or utilize it for a “hybrid” solution in which a judge can interact with both virtual and in-person attendees. Connected Justice, within a Cloverhound solution, provides an integrated docket dashboard, which Cisco says brings additional efficiencies and streamlines court proceedings. Moderators can identify a virtual lobby or side rooms for participants-in-waiting.
Correctional facilities can use Connected Justice for virtual visitation services—it even includes custom scheduling software designed for this use. Additionally, incarcerated populations can use it to remotely access crucial resources, such as court hearings, telehealth and distance learning. There have been massive reported outbreaks of Covid-19 in prisons across the country—hopefully, tools like this can help prevent future ones.
Outside of correctional facilities, Connected Justice also serves a variety of purposes in community corrections and rehabilitation. Cisco partner TRACKtech has a new mobile supervision and integrated case management solution, featuring Connected Justice, that purports to reduce the likelihood of recidivism (ending up back in the criminal justice system). Cisco says this solution can make caseworkers more efficient by monitoring for incompliance to better support them in the specific areas where they are struggling. Additionally, it can deliver various mobile services, such as telehealth appointments, behavioral counseling, homeless services, remote probationary check-ins and more.
Elkhart County case study
I got the chance to talk to Matthew Dietz, Elkhart County, Indiana’s Director of Information Technology, about the implementation of Connected Justice at their county courthouse and the benefits they are seeing. Dietz stressed the platform’s security, encryption and FedRAMP credentials as a major improvement over the simple point-to-point video conferencing solution the county employed before. Additionally, it only displayed the judge, while the Connected Justice solution provides a window into the entire courtroom and its process. Dietz also lauded Webex’s open functionality and open API.
Dietz and his team deployed Webex across all of Elkhart County’s courtrooms and its jail system. Because of this, incarcerated individuals don’t have to travel to the courtroom for any legal proceedings—it’s all done remotely. The court system’s infrastructure (also Cisco products—the 9400 series of core routers) supports 26.2 terabytes per second, covering the courtrooms’ 40+ active endpoints and the 1,200+ users who Dietz says are active at any given time. It’s all managed from a software operational standpoint via the Webex cloud portal.
One of the platform’s most significant, valuable use cases, according to Dietz, is in the county’s traffic court. Historically, the court blocked off three hours to deal with all the traffic violation tickets (answering questions, hearing out those who contest their ticket, etc.). Defendants had to go out of their way, take off from work, figure out transportation, and generally turn their day upside down, just for a courtroom hearing that usually takes no more than 15 minutes once it’s your turn. Talk about an inconvenience. Now Elkhart County handles traffic cases virtually through Connected Justice—defendants simply dial in, state their case and then go about the rest of their day mostly uninterrupted. Now, if only they could do this with the DMV!
Overall, I think these new platforms look like very promising additions to the Webex environment. I love Cisco’s strategy of tailoring its solutions to better suit specific applications and sectors, such as legislatures and courtrooms. Instead of customers struggling to bend existing technology to their specialized needs, Cisco delivers a solution that is already uniquely suited for the setting. Additionally, these are two specific areas that can benefit heavily from secure video conferencing in the age of Covid-19. Legislatures must keep the government operating and, if possible, deliver relief to hard-hit businesses and families. They deserve to be able to do their job safely, like anyone else, and their ability to do so, at least in theory, benefits everyone.
Meanwhile, keeping the justice system operating safely is also essential—virtual proceedings protect both the incarcerated individual, the judge and the jury. It should also make proceedings more efficient and helps avoid backlogs of cases during volatile times like these. All in all, it’s a testament to Cisco’s finger on the pulse of society and its tendency to direct help and resources where they are needed. Excellent work, Cisco.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.