Saturday, October 23, 2021

Cisco Steps Up Webex

I would have argued two years ago that Cisco’s Webex was behind its competitors. Today, however, the pandemic has made this product strategic again, and Cisco is massively investing in it.

With many innovative changes since the pandemic and a security focus, it is not only relevant again to Cisco, it has become relevant again to markets that need the extra security features and want a solution that stands out in terms of reliability.  

Let’s talk about how WebEx has become more strategic and what makes this collaborative offering sand out in the market as we advance toward our hybrid future.  

One of the exciting things that Cisco has done is engage their head of HR, Francine Katoudas, who has provided critical insight and helped refine employees’ needs, particularly for those at Cisco related to collaboration. Her efforts have significantly influenced Webex development and turned it into one of the best employee-focused solutions in the market. While involving HR in product development is unusual, it should be a best practice for offerings developed to improve employee interaction.  

Hybrid future 

To suggest anyone knows how we will be working in 2030, given we aren’t even clear on how we will be working in the second half of 2021, would be a stretch. But it does appear like most of the market will be working in some hybrid mode, with employees split by varying percentages between working in an office and working from home.  

This hybrid trend means that collaborative products will have to somehow better blend those in conference and huddle rooms with those in remote offices or still working from home. And given the needs of both groups and the equipment being used will be vastly different, this will not be an easy task.  

While I still think this will eventually force us to move to room designs that better reflect this hybrid future — for instance, square rooms with round tables and centrally mounted 360-degree cameras — this need has resulted in better noise cancellation and automated camera control. This capability is being built into Webex, which can better cut out any sound than the speaker. In addition, it can better focus the camera on the person speaking in a large room, providing a similar experience between conference and huddle rooms with individual users at home. 

See more: IBM Begins Cloud Confidentiality Push

Webex assistant and safety

One of the other features that several vendors are bringing to market is a business-focused digital assistant. IBM’s version of this focuses on business operations and metrics, while the Cisco Webex assistant will provide information on the best huddle or conference room to use and levels of building crowding, so employees who want to avoid getting infected can make decisions whether to attend a meeting in person or remotely. Over time, I expect all of these digital assistants for business to pick up similar features and interoperate eventually — though early on, they seem to be excessively proprietary.  

Cisco’s smartphone?

Cisco has expanded its hardware lines into dedicated wireless phones. These devices have the dual role of providing a plug-and-play conferencing experience and placing the Cisco brand more prominently in front of users. Of course, they’ll likely have to interoperate with other collaboration solutions to reach their full potential eventually. Still, the marketing potential for desktop hardware is often overlooked and can significantly benefit brand consideration and recognition in creating RFPs and vendor selection.  

Employee insights

One of the fascinating parts of this solution driven out of HR is employee insights. Employees and managers only see the data on their collaborative and engagement performance, so they can work to improve that performance. To make this function genuinely effective, it will need to expand to all forms of employee communication. Otherwise, it might highlight false problems where employees communicate using non-Webex tools. However, it should also drive more Webex usage in its current form to capture the related data and give more accurate results.  

Security

Webex is the opposite of Zoom in that security was a high priority right from the beginning, whereas Zoom focused far more on ease of use and had security issues early on. Zoom’s security has certainly improved, but it remains more of a consumer-level product, while Microsoft Teams and Webex both have addressed security more aggressively. As a result, Webex is generally preferred in areas demanding higher levels of security like government. 

Wrapping up

Webex is evolving from just a communications and collaboration tool to integral to management and personal growth and development. 

Suppose the pandemic threat continues. In that case, I expect it to continue to develop to encompass additional features addressing the care, safety and management of employees, both remote and on-premises.  

The overall market for this product class still appears to be ignoring one of the essential requirements of every communications product: interoperability. However, the exceedingly high-security needs that have also spiked during the pandemic have offset this requirement somewhat and helped prevent these offerings from evolving into the more common interoperable and open standards expected in the rest of IT.  

While I still expect this entire category to migrate toward more of an NVIDIA Omniverse back end driving a higher level of client interoperability, Webex remains positively differentiated by focusing on crucial new employee management and new security features.

See more: NVIDIA And The Move To A Virtual AI Future

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