Hybrid Work, Autos and Microsoft Teams Highlight Webex Innovation at Cisco Live
by Zeus Kerravala for NoJitter
Cisco's global event, Cisco Live, was held last week in Las Vegas. While much of the product news was focused on networking and security, there were still plenty of Webex announcements. During his keynote, Cisco EVP of Collaboration and Security, Jeetu Patel, laid the foundation for Webex today and in the future by outlining the three focus areas for the group – reimagine work, reimaging workspaces, and maximizing customer experience.
As one would expect, Cisco's ability to "reimagine work," tenet is based on many of its AI capabilities. Patel gave the audience a high-level look at Webex AI, calling out audio intelligence, video intelligence, natural language understanding, and analytics, and used the new "catch me up" feature as an example. This is like transcription on steroids, where in addition to capturing the text, it can generate meeting recaps, tasks, notes, and chapters to enable people to catch up quickly.
What I like about this feature is that it addresses pre- and post-meeting experiences. Most vendors have done a good job of the in-meeting experience with noise cancellation, virtual backgrounds, etc. Few have addressed pre- and post-meeting. The analogy I've used is that many executives have handlers constantly prepping the person with key messages and reminders from previous meetings. Most of us do not have that but features like catch-me-up can fill that gap and make us all more productive.
Regarding re-imagined workspaces, this is the area that Cisco has done more work in than any other collaboration vendor. In addition to having the broadest and deepest line of endpoints, everything from headsets, which includes a partnership with Bang and Olufsen, to home video devices, desktop endpoints, whiteboards, room bars, and more. At Cisco Live, Patel showed a video demonstrating the new "Cinematic Meetings," which uses multiple cameras to track a speaker around a room. It's called "cinematic" because the camera shots change based on the best possible view, much like what happens in a movie.
Another interesting new feature is "Meeting Zones" which puts a virtual fence around a physical area. Anything inside the Get Smart-like cone of silence can be heard only by meeting participants, while things outside the fence are muted. This is ideal for open spaces, cafeterias or anywhere else that's noisy. It also allows Webex to be used in environments where it was never used before, such as outdoor venues or even stadiums.
Maximizing Customer Experience
The third pillar, maximizing customer experience, is tied to its contact center business. This is an area where Cisco has loaded its platform up with AI capabilities. The keynote highlighted many interesting use cases, including conversation summaries, which are AI-generated chat and voice summaries to improve agent effectiveness. Webex will also use the summary data to build a real-time knowledge base to advance future interactions.
Patel showed an interesting generative AI capability where administrators could describe the function they want to perform, and then Webex auto-generated the code for them. The hysteria and hoopla around generative AI is at an all-time high, but so is the concern created around hallucinations Editor's Note: For more, see this article on hallucinations.
This is an excellent example of generative AI used on a curated data set, eliminating many of the problems people have encountered with consumer tools. It's like the world of search where we use Google to look at the weather, what's on TV, and who Taylor Swift is dating, but lawyers search for information in Lexis Nexis while financial analysts use Bloomberg.
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Webex: Feature Rich
An interesting challenge for Cisco is ensuring customers know what's in Webex today. Over the past two years, the product has been loaded with new capabilities, so much so that many users may have no idea what some of the features do.
During an analyst breakfast, Nikhil Narvekar, VP and Global CTO for Graphic Packaging International (GPI), talked about this issue. His company brought trainers in to educate their staff on using the new capabilities. This seems like an excellent opportunity for Cisco Partners to
insert themselves into the value chain to ensure customers are successful. Webex does have the broadest set of capabilities today, and it can deliver experiences no one else can, but that's predicated on people using them.
At the show, I had a chance to talk to Joe Berger, Area VP of Digital Experiences, for World Wide Technology, a $17B systems integrator and one of Cisco's largest partners, about Webex becoming a Teams enabler. He told me, "We are excited about the opportunity ahead for Teams-Webex interoperability. There is a massive overlap between the two in our customer base. Cisco and Microsoft working together let customers use the best of both suites while enjoying a seamless experience between the two. It's a win for both vendors and, more importantly, the customer."