Cisco Updates Webex Video Conferencing For The Age Of COVID-19

Chuck Robbins, chief executive officer of Cisco Technologies Inc. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

Can you remember the last time you had an in-person meeting in a conference room? The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools and workplaces across the nation and forced all aspects of our lives into the digital realm—remote work, remote education, remote socializing. What that means is that we, as a society, have become more dependent than ever on video collaboration and conference tools. I’ve written about several of these solutions over the last few months, including Zoom and its privacy travails, and more glowingly, Cisco and its Webex solution. This week, Cisco announced a round of updates to WebEx, designed to further shore up the tool for the new demands being placed upon it. Let’s take a look at what all Cisco announced.

Record capacity

To set the stage for the enhancements, Cisco shared that in the month of April, well over half a billion people used Webex, for a total of 25 billion minutes worth of meetings. For comparison’s sake, that is 3 times the normal capacity of Webex—an extraordinary jump in traffic in the last several months. As more and more governments, educational institutions, hospitals and other essential organizations turn to Webex, Cisco says it has invested in large amounts of global capacity to meet the increased demand.

Heightened security and compliance

Cisco Webex already had one of the most secure (if not the most secure) video conferencing platforms on the market, making it a very appealing alternative to the beleaguered Zoom. Now, the company has announced even more security enhancements to the service. Webex Meetings will now feature DLP (Data Loss Prevention), Retention, Legal Hold and eDiscovery—geared towards ensuring security and compliance for all Webex participants.

IT teams and administrators will now be able to utilize their existing Data Loss Prevention and Cloud Access Security Broker solutions to protect their Webex users and ensure compliance with regulations such as HIPAA, FERPA and PCI. Cisco says this enhancement, in addition to providing stronger security, will save organizations money by getting rid of the need to buy additional 3rd party solutions to protect meeting data. Additionally, Cisco announced that its public Events API will now allow ISV partners to obtain meeting transcripts from their organization’s Webex users in the interest of applying customer policies, reporting policy violations and taking action when necessary. Users can integrate the Events API with their own solutions or 3rd party DLP vendors.

Cisco also announced that the Webex Control Hub will now enable IT to put a content retention policy into action for both Webex Meetings and Team content. Additionally, a custom retention period can be set by administrators through the Control Hub, in order to align with their organization’s retention policies.

When a company is hit with a lawsuit, it’s required to keep all the data from the employees who are named within it. There are 3rd party archive solutions that support this preservation, but Webex customers can now save their money and utilize Webex’s native legal hold solution within Control Hub instead. Legal hold makes sure that no relevant data is purged—intentionally or otherwise—until the legal proceedings are over.

On a similar note, E-Discovery will now be available for Webex customers. E-discovery gives administrators the ability to search and obtain any meeting data, via a single console, needed for HR and legal investigations. The big differentiator as I see it is the feature’s ability to scale up to 500 users and support gigabytes of content, all in one report—making it scalable enough to support class-action lawsuits.

Cisco also announced that it is integrating Webex with its Cloudlock CASB. Cloudlock features prebuilt policies that Cisco says will protect customers from the illegal sharing of personally identifiable information, credit card information or HIPAA data. Additionally, customers will be able to build custom policies for data protection, in a manner that Cisco says will not deluge administrators with security alerts.

Lastly, on the topic of security, Cisco says it is adding AES 256 Bit encryption with GCM mode to its end-to-end encryption options for Webex. The company says this will further protect customers’ meeting data and make it more difficult to tamper with.

Navigating COVID-19 with Webex Control Hub

Cisco also highlighted several timely use cases for Control Hub, Webex’s single-pane-of-glass management interface. These use cases, geared specifically towards coping with the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, include the ability to deploy Webex Assistant on conference room devices. By utilizing voice control, people can avoid the risks of touching shared screens and touchpads and potentially passing on germs.

Additionally, the Webex Control Hub can identify usage trends, which helps inform organizations as to which devices and services it should be investing in. Webex Control Hub also provides insights into which conference rooms are used the most, in order to optimize cleaning schedules. Additionally, it provides visibility into meeting data that IT teams can leverage to troubleshoot various user issues and help them comprehend the rapidly changing workstyle dynamics of the age of coronavirus. The Webex Control Hub can also be leveraged to support and provide troubleshooting to the unprecedented amount of newly remote workers.

New conferencing hardware

The only hardware announcement made was the launch of the Webex Room Phone, which Cisco calls a “conference phone optimized for collaborating beyond phone calls.” Cisco says this new device enables a whole slew of capabilities beyond phone calls—one-touch joining of meetings, proximity pairing with the Webex app, the ability to screen and application share with both guests and employees (both wired and wirelessly), calendar integration and scheduling, digital signage and more. Impressively, Cisco says this new device was developed and launched during the last several tumultuous months. While some people are spending their free time learning how to bake sourdough bread—Cisco is still hard at work on solutions that improve our ability to collaborate. 

New integrations

Lastly, Cisco announced two new significant partner integrations with Webex. First, Webex will now be integrated with Box, a leading cloud content management platform. While Webex Teams already possesses its own secure file-sharing capability, they can now opt for Box if they so choose. This is a big integration—68% of the companies on the Fortune 500 utilize Box, along with almost 100,000 businesses across the globe.

Secondly, Webex will now integrate with Epic, an electronic health record software. One of the trends that has emerged in the COVID-19 crisis is a significant shift away from in-office medical visits in favor of telehealth appointments (to avoid exposure to the virus). Together, Cisco Webex and Epic can enable providers to perform video appointments, go over medical history, update documentation, and more.

Wrapping up

While Cisco already had a killer collaboration product in Webex, it is not a company that rests on its laurels. These enhancements to security, privacy, and compliance should make the offering even more appealing to enterprises—as should the COVID-19-specific use cases enabled by Webex Control Hub. The integrations of Box and Epic only make Webex a more versatile platform. I was also glad to catch a glimpse of the Webex Room Phone, and I look forward to seeing it in action. Nice work, Cisco.

Patrick Moorhead

Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.