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Cisco Updates Webex with Eye on Remote Work


Image: Cisco
To help enterprises across industries address their broadened remote workforce requirements and return-to-the-office planning, Cisco this week announced improved management capabilities, additional integrations, and security improvements for its Webex collaboration platform.
End-to-End & In-Room Insight
Cisco aims to address today’s work-from-home (WFH) and social-distancing requirements with several enhancements for Webex Control Hub, and management dashboard, said Javed Khan, Webex VP & GM of Cisco’s Cloud Calling Group, during a No Jitter briefing in advance of Cisco Live, a virtual customer and partner event that kicked off today. For starters, Control Hub will now provide greater insight into a remote user’s network, enabling IT administrators to determine more easily if bandwidth, devices, or soft clients are the source of issues arising with Webex services. The focus of this offering is to allow admins to manage the end-to-end user experience from a diagnostics and reporting standpoint, he said.
While not speaking to this or any other particular vendor offering, this sort of capability is among IT success factors in supporting WFH employees, noted Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, during Monday’s Enterprise Connect Virtual Bootcamp keynote, “The Enterprise’s Checklist for Meeting New Workplace Challenges.” Based on Nemertes research of 528 enterprises globally, Nemertes found that the roughly half of the success group provide voice and video quality monitoring, among other home IT support functions, compared to only about 35% of enterprises not in the success group. (Listen to the Bootcamp keynote on demand!)
In addition, Cisco is enabling remote deployment of voice-activated Webex Assistant, via Control Hub, to conference room devices. Not only does this mean IT doesn’t have to update conference room equipment manually, but also, once deployed, in-person meeting participants will be able to issue voice commands to the conference room devices, rather than having to use a shared touchpad or touchscreen.
Along the same lines, Cisco is providing a deeper real-time view into meeting room usage and occupancy, drawing on data from its room system OS and device sensors. The goal is to give IT a better understanding of how changing work patterns might impact meeting space requirements, as well as for new COVID-19-related uses, such as making sure employees are abiding by social-distancing guidelines and scheduling cleaning of the rooms, Khan said.
Lastly, for Control Hub, Cisco has introduced a new feature for simplifying IT workflows associated with hybrid deployments and has expanded analytics for Webex Calling.
As a web-based portal, Control Hub has proven beneficial to administrators who themselves have been thrust into a WFH scenario, noted Zeus Kerravala, principal analyst, ZK Research in an email exchange with No Jitter. This means “they can do things from home as easily as they can from the office,” which is significant given the need to manage a distributed workforce, he added.
New Integrations for Teams
Cisco has expanded its App Hub offerings for Webex Teams with two integrations. The first, for content management, is with Box. With this integration, Teams users now have the option of using Box as their file repository, Cisco’s own content management platform within Teams, or Microsoft Office 365/SharePoint Online, via a previous integration, Khan said.
The second, for healthcare, is with Epic’s electronic health integration. Cisco is addressing the growing use of Webex Teams for telehealth services, given the need for social distancing, Kahn said. The integration allows healthcare providers to pull up a patient’s medical record from within Teams, rather than having to switch back and forth from Teams to Epic.
Streamlining workflows and saving users from have to flip between apps is the core value of app integrations for Webex Teams and the like, Kerravala said. Users don’t want more apps; they want more functionality in the apps they already use, he added.
Extended Security Pack
As it continues to work at strengthening security throughout the Webex environment, Cisco will be expanding data loss prevention, legal hold, and eDiscovery to “meetings artifacts” — meaning recordings, transcripts, highlights, and action items from Webex Meetings, Khan said. Previously, Cisco offered these for chat, messaging, files, and whiteboards. And, to further protect meetings data, Cisco said it is expanding its end-to-end encryption options to include the AES 256-bit GCM mode.
The expanded security pack will be available in July.
While these Webex updated don’t contain any real “whiz bang” features, as Kerravala noted, they do represent the kind of "blocking and tackling" updates so important to keeping employees productive as WFH becomes the norm.