To further support hybrid workers, Cisco Webex is launching major updates to its Webex suite, including features to further support flexible working, a partnership with Microsoft, a brand-new whiteboarding app, and new functionalities to help improve security and manageability.
The announcements of the new capabilities were made Tuesday at the company's annual WebexOne conference.
Speaking at a media roundtable event, general manager of security and collaboration at Cisco, Jeetu Patel, said that even though most companies have been working in a hybrid way for a big chunk of time, there is still often an issue of disconnect that comes from not being in the same physical space as your colleagues.
“The reality is that this problem can't be solved in isolation,” he said. “It's no longer just a tech problem, there's a cultural aspect to it.”
While workers need to be conscious of how they behave and engage with each other in hybrid meetings for remote and on-premises staff, Patel said that organisations also need to be aware that there’s a space configuration and facilities aspect to tackling this issue.
“What we've seen is that this requires a holistic solution,” Patel said.
Reimagining the workspace
The majority of the new capabilities Cisco has added to its Webex platform fall under the umbrella of what the vendor describes as a “reimagining” of the workplace.
Despite hybrid and remote work models having firmly cemented themselves as an established way of working, an October 2022 report by Frost & Sullivan looking at the state of the global video conferencing device market found that only 6.4 per cent of meeting rooms and classrooms are video-enabled.
To overcome this lack of deployment, Cisco has formed a number of partnerships and is offering new capabilities to aid video interoperability and make meeting experiences more seamless. For example, iPhone and iPad users can now share content from the rear-facing or front-facing camera via the Webex Meetings app and annotate over what they’re seeing with Mobile Camera Share.
Other announcements include a new Cisco Room Kit EQ — an AI-based computing appliance that provides improved meeting experiences by video-enabling large spaces for inclusive, hybrid work.
The company has also announced a new Hybrid Workspace Design Guide to help customers design next-generation hybrid workplaces. Encompassing Cisco’s Smart Building Solutions such as collaboration, networking and security technology, it also offers embedded camera and audio intelligence.
Furthermore, Webex Control Hub is now integrated with Cisco Spaces, providing employees critical information, such as real-time occupancy and air quality updates, designed to improve the in-office experience.
Elsewhere, updates to Webex Events and Webinars will give users access to a virtual lobby for online events that will support a variety of customisations for agendas, speaker bios, and sponsors. New content widgets and production tools have also been introduced.
Finally, a new partnership with Microsoft allows users to have the Microsoft Teams Rooms feature on Cisco’s collaboration devices, while an update to Webex Calling includes new integration with Microsoft Teams, enabling users to make enterprise-grade Webex Calls seamlessly from within the Teams interface.
Patel compared the video conferencing sector to the growing entertainment market, insomuch as employees often have different collaboration platforms to facilitate different needs, in the same way the multitude of streaming services currently available to customers all offer something unique.
By making Microsoft Teams Rooms natively available on Cisco devices, the company is trying to eliminate some of the stress that comes with constantly switching between platforms.
“Microsoft Teams actually gets better when used on a Cisco device because you can get benefit of all [Cisco’s AI] capabilities,” Patel said.
All-new digital whiteboarding solution
Cisco Webex has long offered users a basic in-meeting whiteboarding tool to help boost collaboration. However, Tuesday the company announced the launch of its new Webex Whiteboard app, a standalone tool that will form part of the Webex Suite and can be used in and outside of Webex meetings.
When speaking to customers, Abhay Kulkarni, general manager of the Webex app in the Cisco team collaboration group said that one of the things that is most often cited as being missed is the ability to brainstorm with people on the fly.
“Having tools available that allow you to whiteboard from anywhere, whether you're on a laptop, tablet or mobile phone was very important,” he said.
While Cisco has also partnered with third party whiteboard vendors like Miro and Murel, Kulkarni explained that the company wanted to continue to develop its own in-house whiteboard innovations as facilitating the type of impromptu collaboration it can inspire is an important use case that Cisco wanted to help solve.
The new whiteboarding app will be available to customers from November 2022.
With the new Webex Whiteboard app in the Webex Suite, users can start or join a whiteboard from a browser, the Webex App, or a Cisco device. Whiteboards can be combined with Slido polls and saved and shared in a Webex space for asynchronous and collaborative working.
Alongside offering new and improved whiteboarding capabilities to users, Cisco Webex is making its asynchronous work tool Vidcast generally available. Launched last year, the company estimates it has saved users from 47 million minutes of meetings.
Over 40 new innovations for the tool have also been announced, including an AI-powered editing capability that reduces the time it takes to create content, and a Slido integration that incorporates polling and audience engagement into shared video content.
Secure by design
The final set of announcements from Cisco Webex extent from its first product principle: “To be secure by design and private by default.”
Consequently, Kulkarni said that the platform’s new security updates help to ensure IT operations are deployed, optimised, and monitored effectively and securely.
Cisco Webex’s new audio water marking capability uniquely tags audio streams to every participant in a confidential meeting with a marker that cannot be heard by the human ear, so that leaked recordings can be traced back to whoever released them. The idea is to allow organisations to better protect intellectual property in today’s hybrid world with more highly dispersed and remote teams.
Additionally, the new Control Hub as a Coach capability offers Cisco Webex customers a digital coach that guides IT admins to achieve best practice set up, adoption quality, and create greater efficiency for managing and supporting workers.