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The ‘New’ Webex: Cisco Loads Up Features & Functionality

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Jeetu Patel, on stage at Cisco event

Jeetu Patel, SVP/GM of Cisco's Security & Applications group, on stage at WebexOne

This week Cisco held its first-ever WebexOne event, culminating a year of change for the collaboration business. Most obviously, the pandemic’s work-from-home mandate has made collaboration tools like Webex absolute must-haves. New leadership is driving the business, as well: Javed Khan took on the role of SVP/GM of Collaboration in July, complementing the new SVP/GM of Security & Applications, Jeetu Patel, a former Box exec who joined Cisco in June to help the company continue its transition to a cloud company.
 
Patel’s arrival brought Cisco a new vision for Webex, and that’s to make the experience of virtual meetings 10x better than in-person meetings. This is critical for Cisco given that it’s facing a broad set of upstart competitors, some offering tools viewed as being easier to use than those from the venerable collaboration vendor. This vision plays nicely into the overall corporate mission of “powering an inclusive future for all” that CEO Chuck Robbins laid out in June at the Cisco Live virtual event. Webex is obviously core to this mission; it’s the thing that connects us digitally in a world that requires physical distancing.
 
To accomplish its 10x mission, Cisco is loading up Webex with advanced features. Admittedly, Khan told analysts during a pre-event briefing, Cisco has been playing a game of catch-up, but now it’s done. Cisco has designed all the new features and products to help it break away from the rest of the field and fulfill on its vision of making the virtual meeting experience far better than in person. It announced over 50 innovations that fall into three broad categories: seamless collaboration, smart hybrid work experiences, and intelligent customer experiences. Below are the ones I found most notable.
 
Single Webex application — to replace Webex Meetings and Webex Teams, in a long-overdue move. Cisco has talked the talk of continuous collaboration for a while, but it’s hard to make things simple when users have to flip between applications. Converging meetings and team collaboration into a single application also should help velocity of feature delivery, since now Cisco will only need to build new capabilities just once.
 
New Webex application features available today, include:
  • Noise cancelling, speech enhancements, closed captions, and transcriptions — showcased at the event, although previously announced. The first three features improve the in-meeting experience while the last one eases the task of reviewing meetings or getting caught up on missed meetings
  • Highlights and action items — ability to create verbally through the AI-powered, Webex Assistant voice interface
  • Enhanced video layouts — let people customize layouts; a useful feature for monitoring the reaction of specific meeting participants
  • Webex Huddle — lets people connect without scheduling; not all meetings are formal, and this feature plays to workers’ need to meet spontaneously
 
Features Webex application features coming soon, include:
  • In-meeting gestures — enables people to use hand gestures to provide feedback to presenters. For example, if you like something, give a thumbs up and an AI algorithm will see that and translate it to an on-screen icon. This is an example of driving inclusiveness for people who may not be comfortable clicking icons
  • Immersive sharing — shows a presentation with a video overlay of the speaker, so participants can see the presenter and the content rather than just the content with a thumbnail of the presenter
  • Real-time translation — provides a localized, real-time transcription in one of 10 languages
  • Large meetings — allows hosting of meetings of up to 25,000 attendees or, using the new Webex Events live streaming service, up to 100,000 participants
  • Meeting templates — for customizing meetings and participation via templates (roundtable format, etc.); another example of how Cisco is supporting inclusiveness, as the shy, quiet introverts can get a word in when people like me and some of my outspoken analyst colleagues are in meetings
  • Meeting hold and resume — lets users put a meeting on hold, take a call, and then resume the meeting
 
Integrated calling plans — customers get the ability to buy dial tone from Cisco. Partners will sell integrated calling plans that provide a single bill for calling, messaging, meetings, and devices. This is something Cisco customers have been asking for and not having it has put Cisco at disadvantage to cloud calling competitors like RingCentral.
 
New devices
High-quality devices have always been part of the Webex experience, and Cisco put a number of new desktop collaboration endpoints on display, virtually of course, at WebexOne. These include:
  • Webex Desk Camera — a 4K, ultra-HD video endpoint that automatically adjusts to poor lighting and can be cloud-managed
  • Webex Desk Hub — a mobile phone dock that lets workers turn their personal device into a business phone. This is ideally suited for the hybrid workspaces where people are sharing desk space
  • Webex Desk — think of this as the baby sibling of the premium-priced Desk Pro, which can be too costly to deploy in large numbers. Although Cisco did not provide pricing for Webex Desk, I believe it’s trying to get to the market for under $1,000
 
Webex Application Hub — an application ecosystem that includes pre-built integrations into mainstream applications such as Box, Dropbox, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Miro, and Facebook. UC is rapidly shifting from product to platform, and these integrations are key in making Webex easy to use with other apps.
 
New security capabilities — expand on Cisco’s already highly secure application. The new features include secure identity, data loss prevention, and something called “ethical walls,” which allow groups from inviting one another to each other’s spaces.
 
Webex contact center as a service (CCaaS) — this CCaaS platform is long overdue; till now, Cisco offered “cloud” contact center via a partner-deployed private cloud. Contact center analyst Sheila McGee-Smith provided a write-up of the new service in yesterday’s post, here, so I won’t go into any more detail other than to say that Cisco built this product to be cloud-native instead of retrofitting an older product
 
Cisco introduced many, many other features, but the above are those I think are key. Cisco appears committed to stepping on the gas and making Webex the easiest-to-use, most feature-rich collaboration product on the market. Going into 2021, I expect to see more acquisitions and a faster release cadence. Stay tuned.

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