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Cisco staged its first-ever WebexOne event on Dec. 9, 2020, combining three previously separate tech industry events for service providers, contact center and collaboration leaders into one event. There were luminaries, industry analysts, Cisco Webex customers and, of course, plenty of Cisco leaders. And because 2020 has caused a tectonic shift in the way people work, the event featured insightful, forward-leaning sessions about the future of work, the permanence of the remote workforce and the real-world application of AI.

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Cisco's heightened focus on digital employee experience

While Zoom and Microsoft Teams gained exponential adoption and stock valuation this year, Webex held its position as the standard for medium and large organizations. Barron's calls Webex the "granddaddy" of video calling, noting that Zoom became a verb while Webex has not.    

Still, Cisco Webex has its sights set on making meetings 10x better. We're seeing Cisco pull out all the stops to bring forward a laser-focus on the digital employee experience. From its unified app -- now simply called Webex -- to new AI-powered enhancements -- like gestures and Webex Assistant -- to some sizzling new devices, it's clear that Cisco is stepping up its Webex game.  

Here are our key collaboration takeaways from Cisco WebexOne:

  1. The digital employee experience is paramount.
  2. Simplification.
  3. Dozens of application integrations for productivity and personalization.
  4. New devices bring sizzle for the remote workforce.
  5. Secure from all angles.

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1. The digital employee experience is the focal point. 

Cisco is doubling down on the "experience" -- both immersive and inclusive. While well-known for its premium price point, high-end video resolution and sound quality, Cisco is targeting the worker experience in 2021. This means focusing more on fostering interaction and enabling immersive and productive meetings through new capabilities, such as: 

  • Gestures: Turning users' on-video expressions and motions into emoticons or using them to mute/unmute without touching anything.
  • Roundtables: The ability to assign individuals to speak next to encourage greater participation in team calls.
  • Quick Check-In: These are shorter calls that don't fit into a standard Outlook time slot and feature a countdown clock so participants stay focused and meetings finish on time. For example, you could host a seven-minute meeting.
  • Noise cancellation: We've all heard lawn mowers, dogs and kids in the background on calls. Webex demonstrated some impressive noise cancellation features on the new Desk Cam and the Webex Desk units that will enhance Webex Desk and Room endpoints. It was seriously impressive to hear one session in which the Cisco presenter spoke over her hair dryer and the vocal quality was all that we heard. Noise cancellation would have been a "who cares?" or "nice-to-have" option in 2019; it's now a must-have in 2021.
  • Real-time translation: Translates the active speaker's speech into text in more than 10 languages in real time. This is expected in February 2021. Languages include: English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Dutch and Japanese.

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2. Simplification 

Simplification means fewer tools, a Webex unified app and multi-functional devices. At WWT, we've long championed streamlining and simplifying workforce productivity tools so it was refreshing to hear Cisco echo the same message at WebexOne. Cisco discussed how they are streamlining and unifying to deliver a better, simpler experience -- from home, on the road or back in the office.

  • Webex unified app Cisco announced it is doing away with its disparate apps -- Webex Teams, Meetings app, Jabber -- and presented its new unified app, simply known as "Webex," for meetings, messaging, voice and video or any combination of the four.
  • Desk Hub is a multi-functional unit that recognizes the user and serves as a docking station, charging station and digital signage. When offices do reopen, this will be the go-to option for a hoteling/hot-desking device.
  • Smart conference rooms Webex endpoints and table-top touchpads will work together to facilitate occupancy monitoring and display real-time alerts when there are too many people in a room.

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3. Dozens of integrations for productivity and personalization 

New endpoints and app updates weren't the only things announced at WebexOne. Cisco's mantra of "Better Together" has led it to invest significant time and resources to focus on enhancing workflows with top Enterprise SaaS providers. Enhanced integrations with Box and Dropbox will streamline content management and compliance requirements. Salesforce and ServiceNow customers now have more options for tighter, customizable alerts, notifications, and ticket creation workflows. But perhaps the most exciting of these announcements is their acquisition of Slido. Slido's technology enables more engaging Webex meetings by providing dynamic Q&A sessions, expanded audience polling and event-based layout options.. 

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4. New devices are bringing sizzle to Cisco's remote workforce 

Cisco devices will become sexier and more accessible. Webex Desk is Cisco's new personal endpoint device with a smaller footprint and 24" screen for the remote worker. It will be available in summer 2021 and is the replacement for the DX80. Cisco has entered the USB camera device market with its Desk Cam at a more accessible price; it'll be in the $200 range. The Desk Hub is truly well thought out, creating a new standard for shared desks. With integration to mobile devices, it will recognize employees, personal preferences and serve as a hub for workers who return to reconfigured office spaces. The digital display can serve up corporate digital signage or display users' mobile photos. The Desk Hub allows for organizations to personalize shared space, simplify the shared desk hardware and provide analytics on open and occupied spaces. 

Left to right: Webex Desk 24", Webex Desk Hub, Webex Desk Cam.
Left to right: Webex Desk 24", Webex Desk Hub, Webex Desk Cam.

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5. Secure from all angles 

Cisco's Webex has maintained an aggressive, holistic and proactive security posture for decades. Cisco is continuing to build on its position of strength on the security and privacy front. The newest feature called "Ethical Walls" will remedy a thorny issue for many large organizations, especially those who are regulated. Using Control Hub, teams and individuals can be partitioned to block messaging and sharing from teams that need to remain separate.   

Cisco's newest feature, Ethical Walls, will allow organizations to set controls for blocking messaging and sharing across teams when needed.
Cisco's newest feature, Ethical Walls, will allow organizations to set controls for blocking messaging and sharing across teams when needed. 

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WWT: Our Viewpoint for Collaboration leaders  

This event was a crucial moment for Cisco to innovate and shine. On the application side, Cisco hit the mark with the new unified app -- now simply branded as "Webex" -- for meetings, messaging, voice and video. At this point, it's no longer about catching up to the competition but rather leap frogging. With the advent of meeting templates, AI for noise cancellation, real-time translation and transcription, and the use of physical and virtual gestures, Cisco is showing it has put some thought and, most importantly, funding and development, back into the Webex Business Unit. 

On the device side, we're impressed with everything we saw. To date, the Desk Pro is the best collaboration tool we've used; the introduction of the 24-inch Webex Desk will make this type of endpoint accessible for a wider audience. The new USB cam was overdue, and will help Cisco enable the at-home employee with a top-of-the-line video experience that includes all the bells and whistles of the Desk series. We find the Desk Hub most interesting and forward thinking as companies look to reopen and hot-desking becomes a standard reality. Returning workers aren't likely to go back to the office five days a week. The Desk Hub will allow workers to check in and start working quickly in shared desk spaces while also giving Facilities the insights they require to track utilization and management. All told, Cisco has stepped up its game and is showing that it's ready to address Zoom and Microsoft's ascendance head-on. 

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Is your workforce ready for 2021?

As a partner of Cisco, Zoom and Microsoft, we not only bring an informed and independent point-of-view to your workforce productivity strategy but can help you realize its full potential through our execution, integration and employee training capabilities. 

Get started today with a one-hour analyst-style call to learn more about the leading meetings platforms or start developing your hybrid work strategy to ensure a successful 2021.