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Webex is New Again

I vividly remember how complex video meetings used to be and the predictable 15 minutes it took at the start of each meeting to troubleshoot technical issues that often required the assistance of IT. Meeting equipment and networks used to be so expensive that a doctor’s note was practically required to use it.
Today, meetings are instant, and far more democratized than they were. They are also are more intuitive and more personal. They are easy to start — usually with a single click, and some even use voice commands. Asking a question can be as simple as intuitively raising a hand. We change our backgrounds and customize our view, audio, and more.
It’s astonishing how much innovation is occurring in meetings. I keep thinking we are done, what can possibly come after single click start or download-free meetings in a browser. Then comes camera tracking, virtual backgrounds, noise mitigation, and the hits keep coming. Last month was no exception with two major events: Enterprise Connect and Zoomtopia. Later this month is WebexOne. Cisco’s annual event for enterprise communications and collaboration.
Cisco’s Webex Journey
Throughout the years, Cisco contributed its share of meeting innovations. It’s also made canny acquisitions. Cisco bolstered its video business with the acquisitions of Webex in 2007 and Tandberg in 2009.
Cisco has been an online conferencing leader for close to two decades, long before Microsoft and Zoom were contenders. It was the first company to combine video, telephony, and workstream collaboration. Cisco was among the first to implement cloud-delivered end-to-end encryption. Cisco introduced Smartphone pairing to room systems that extended a user’s account and calendar to a room system. The Webex Board was one of the first all-in-one devices that included whiteboard capabilities.
Cisco was also early to integrate artificial intelligence into meetings. It acquired MindMeld, the first of several AI acquisitions, in 2017. This enabled early releases of speech-controlled systems, captioning, translation, facial recognition, and people counting.
Webex started as a solution for online meetings, and many are surprised how much its portfolio has expanded. Webex is Cisco’s brand for cloud-delivered enterprise communications and collaboration, and includes a broad set of services that span calling, meetings, team collaboration, devices, and customer engagement.
The Hybrid Work Challenge
Hybrid work is certain to be covered at WebexOne. We hope the worst of this pandemic is behind us, and there’s lots of discussion about how offices are going to be changing. When/if employees return to the office is an interesting topic, but the fact the debate is even happening at all is fascinating.
“The office” is a general term for where knowledge workers physically work. It’s used in many ways and even the name of television series about where people work, and it’s suddenly become optional. This is in part due to online meeting technologies. Without doubt, organizational success will now partially be determined by the ability to effectively manage a mix of in-office, remote, and hybrid employees.
Over the past 18 months, Cisco has introduced many new features and devices that address hybrid work. The Desk and Desk Pro are Cisco’s first Webex desktop devices. They are all-in-one appliances that include a display, camera, speakers, and stylus (for whiteboard). Both systems can be used as a second display for a PC or laptop, and can even make its camera and audio capabilities available as USB peripherals.
There’s also the new Desk Hub, Cisco’s newest desktop phone. Cisco has been making IP phones for at least twenty years, but this one is specifically designed for hotdesking. It provides easy check-in, assignment, wayfinding and is designed to make it easier to transition a laptop into a workstation.
Looking Ahead to WebexOne
In terms of WebexOne topics, Hybrid Office is a gimme. Now let me speculate other WebexOne topics. I have not been briefed, so what follows are legitimate guesses.
Voice: Cisco, Microsoft, and Zoom spent a good portion of their Enterprise Connect keynotes discussing voice. That’s a welcome change, voice and telephony took a backseat to video and messaging for a few years. Voice remains critical, and it’s more complex than many assume.
Voice may be the oldest of the comms modalities, but it’s still a highly innovative area with a lot of action -- Cisco recently reported that its platforms enable a staggering eight billion calls a month. Cisco makes Webex services available to its service provider voice partners for bundling, directly sells calling plans pre-integrated with Webex Calling, and offers its Cloud Connected Carrier program for BYOC in 65 countries.
Innovations in voice and telephony are accelerating, and I expect there’s going to be more voice-related announcements at WebexOne. I am particularly curious about wireless options as Cisco renewed and expanded its partnership with AT&T earlier this year.
Meetings: As mentioned above, the pace of innovation in meetings is fast. I expect we will see many new features in meetings at the event.
Facebook received some recent attention over its new Horizon virtual reality meetings earlier this year, and Zoom demonstrated how it can integrate with the service. It reminded me of a tech preview I saw at Cisco Live a few years ago of a VR meeting room. I’m not convinced VR is right for meetings, but I’m curious if Cisco will have something at WebexOne.
VidCast: Cisco announced Vidcast, the first service from its Leap Accelerator, in July. Vidcast was launched as a standalone video recording and sharing app, kind of a TikTok for business. I expect announcements that the service will be updated, expanded, and more integrated at WebexOne.
CCaaS: Cisco introduced its Webex Contact Center in 2020. I’ve heard customers are migrating to it, and I expect there will be a more formal update on its growth and plans at WebexOne. The last formal update was about a year ago. Since then, Cisco integrated its acquisition of IMImobile and launched Customer Journey as a Service.
Analytics: Webex evolved via separate services for meetings, telephony, and contact center. Now it’s positioned as a suite which enables more benefits. Namely, the Webex Control Hub offers integrated management, configuration, and analytics capabilities for all Webex workloads and devices. The admin portal also offers tools for security, compliance, and analytics. This category has become even more critical during the pandemic, so I expect there will be several updates, particularly around analytics.
Final Thoughts
Soon, we will be referring to this pandemic as an inflection point that changed enterprise communications. Clearly there’s numerous tech changes, but more significantly are the changes in expectations and attitudes. Remote or distributed work is more mainstream, and critical in a variety of ways. The enterprise comms sector has risen to the task. There are several innovative vendors in the space, but next week, all eyes are on Cisco.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.