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Cisco, Slack, AWS Take to the Keynote Stage at EC18

Tuesday marked the start of our Enterprise Connect keynote program, which showcased veteran EC keynoter Cisco, newcomer Slack, and Amazon Web Services (AWS), back for its second year. But before the day's keynotes got underway, we crowned Microsoft as the Best of Enterprise Connect 2018 winner for Teams, with intelligent communications enhancements announced yesterday (see winner announcement here and one judge's analysis here).

Cisco Solves for Teamwork

Cisco was up first on the docket. Jonathan Rosenberg, VP and CTO of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group, based his keynote presentation around the idea that we're entering a new era for collaboration -- one that's all about teams, he said, supplanting the era of individual genius. "The future of collaboration is teams, and the future of team collaboration, is meetings," he said. And these meetings are not just about calls and audio conferencing, but video and integrated chat capabilities as well, he added.

In order to deliver this new state of meetings, Rosenberg identified four things for which Cisco is solving: the perpetual state of meetings; ad-hoc meeting escalation; making remote work that works; and enabling multi-vendor environments.

Rosenberg introduced a couple of rebranded product capabilities: Cisco Breach Lock, the new name for its end-to-end encryption functionality; and Cisco Video Mesh, previously called Hybrid Media Service. Cisco Video Mesh gives enterprises "a little bit of cloud in your closet" -- no connector required -- and makes it easier for organizations to adopt a pervasive video collaboration culture, he said.

In his keynote, Rosenberg also took a different approach -- "the high road" -- toward Cisco's top competitor, Microsoft. While in past Enterprise Connect events, keynotes between the rivals have been peppered with subtle digs and competitive banter, this year Rosenberg said: "As much as we compete, frankly we can't imagine a world without Microsoft. We need interoperability."

Getting Chatty with Slack's CTO

Slack CTO and co-founder Cal Henderson took advantage of his company's first-ever EC keynote to get the word out on Slack's vision -- yesterday and today -- during a fireside chat with Constellation Research's Alan Lepofsky. Although not involving any product announcements or demos, the keynote was much anticipated by attendees, who in previous years have expressed disappointment in the company's absence from EC given its founding role in the team collaboration category.

Lepofsky and Henderson covered a broad range of topics in their chat, from Slack's failed video game beginnings to customer stories like that of 21st Century Fox (an executive of which participated on the morning enterprise IT panel), the partner ecosystem strategy, and Henderson's thoughts on whether artificial intelligence acts as a savior or more of a destructor ("Robots aren't going to [rise up and] kill us for at least a decade," Henderson quipped.)

AWS Speaks on Power of Voice

AWS speakers David Isbitski, chief evangelist of Alexa and Echo, and Collin Davis, GM of Alexa for Business, split their stage time pretty much right down the middle, focusing the bulk of their presentation on the company's intelligent voice assistant Alexa (and Alexa for Business) and home and office-oriented Echo devices. The pair wove in multiple demos involving Alexa and Echo devices, and shared information about the growth of Alexa skills (now at more than 30,000 skills) as well as tidbits on advancements in natural language understanding that fostered Alexa's evolution toward being able to have natural conversations.

"We believe voice represents the next major disruption in computing," Isbitski said. And Alexa is a way for us to communicate with the technology in our lives, he added. Davis later picked up the thread, saying, "At work, voice is offering up another dimension of multitasking, allowing you to get information quickly without losing focus on the project at hand, he explained. Voice is becoming a bigger part of the way we work, and there are lots of opportunities on that front."

Isbitski and Davis also touted the ability for enterprises to distribute Alexa skills in private mode (rather than publish to the public skills directory); briefly mentioned a new per-day pricing model for the company's messaging solution, Chime; and shared updates to the AWS Partner Network, which include companies such as Salesforce, Crestron, and Zoom.

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