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Cisco Leaps Into Asynchronous Video

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Today, Cisco launched an innovation accelerator program called Webex Leap, which will allow small, internal teams to experiment with ideas and develop new products for the Webex Suite. Out-of-the-box thinking is encouraged as developers come up with standalone solutions that drive new users to Webex and add value for existing subscribers.
 
Webex Leap helps make Webex more of a platform than a product — an industry trend I’ve written extensively on over the past couple of years. Products are nice and create initial market leadership, but they become de-facto standards when you shift to a platform.
 
Creating the Future of Webex
Webex Leap is complimentary to Cisco's current development and mergers and acquisitions strategy. However, the program is unique in that it focuses on building products that don't currently fit into Cisco’s portfolio. With Webex Leap, teams will have the opportunity to brainstorm and experiment while leveraging Cisco’s technology assets, Omar Tawakol, VP and GM of the Cisco Contact Center business unit, said in an interview with ZK Research.
 
“Teams are going to create collaboration products that don't fit within any particular part of the suite today,” explained Tawakol. “We want these capabilities to attract massive usage—both for somebody who’s currently using WebEx and also for new users who might come to the suite because they start playing around with the capabilities,” he added.
 
Cisco has used programs like this in the past to drive new products. The benefit of small teams is they can stay on mission and not get bogged down with internal issues such as prioritizing other features from large customers or worrying about quarterly revenues. Webex Leap gives those teams the stability and backing of Cisco, but they can maintain the agility of a startup.
 
Cisco plans to introduce several Webex Leap projects every year, focusing on areas like conversational AI, asynchronous collaboration, and connecting meeting inputs and outputs into workflows, among others. The first product coming from Webex Leap this year is Vidcast, an asynchronous video messaging tool.
 
Vidcast Looks to Address Meeting Fatigue
With more than 25 million live meetings conducted each day in the U.S., employees are experiencing meeting fatigue. Many employees feel meetings are unproductive and a waste of time. Vidcast replaces live meetings with recorded, sharable videos. The recording and editing tool lets individuals share video messages and presentations with team members, who can provide feedback with comments or emojis.
 
The tool has real-time feedback features to track views, comments, and reactions. For example, when a smiley face or a thumbs up/down pops up in a shared video, the presenter gets positive or negative feedback right away. Several silent mode options are also launching with the tool, such as closed captions.
 
The video time limit in the initial release is 15 minutes and two minutes for video responses. Videos automatically playback at 1.2-times speed, allowing the viewer to watch the video at an accelerated pace to get through the content faster. Users will also be able to adjust the speed to their preference. Cisco will also introduce several editing and stitching capabilities for individually recorded videos that all playback simultaneously.
 
The reason for these time-saving features is to help users structure their day more efficiently and focus on tasks other than meetings, said Nikki Heyder, AI product lead and Webex Contact Center at Cisco. Much like Slack for organizing email workflows in channels, Vidcast aims to achieve a similar objective with meetings. Instead of waiting for time zones and busy schedules to align, teams watch videos in email and messaging channels that they already work in.
 
Cisco has two consumption models for Webex Leap products: freemium and premium. The first Webex Leap product, Vidcast, is available for free with basic features. Alternatively, users can pay for the Webex Suite and get all the features included in the cost. Cisco is still ironing out the details of what exactly the premium feature set will look like for subscribers. In the meantime, anyone can sign up and try Vidcast without a subscription.
 
The ultimate goal with Webex Leap is to achieve “high-engagement virality” and drive Webex Suite revenue, said Tawakol. Therefore, Cisco is looking to monetize Vidcast and future innovations through the Webex Suite, not as a standalone product with its own revenue.
 
The collaboration wars are in full gear, driven by the rise of hybrid work. Most vendors have the same core set of capabilities — meetings, video and phone — but that’s just the starting point. The next several years are going to be fascinating, as vendors like Cisco look to build on their core capabilities and create new experiences. The Leap program should help Cisco stay ahead of the curve.

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