Cisco Webex and Getting Collaboration Right

    I was impressed at Cisco Live where Amy Chang presented Webex updates and I began to see a future for the platform. I’ve pretty much hated Webex since it was first launched largely because it fell well short of what I thought a company focused on communication should provide. But Amy is a natural communicator and appears to be taking the platform in the direction that I always thought it should go. Well this week I had an update from the Webex team, and they are making more progress.

    Let’s talk Webex and the future of collaboration this week.

    My Collaboration Frustration

    While this started out being video conferencing as an industry, we actually first showcased this capability in the 1930s at the world’s fair, but it took till the 1970s, 40 years later, to actually have something that could be deployed, and it sucked. In fact, that word has pretty much defined video conferencing ever since. With apps like Facetime people are doing more of it but now we refer to the products as “collaboration” offerings when most are still just video conferencing.

    Even as collaboration capabilities have increased most of the times, I’ve seen these systems used is simply to dd video to a conference call. And other than seeing the smiling faces of the folks I’m talking to there really isn’t much “collaboration” going on beyond what could have been done with a conference phone.

    Now, historically, we’ve had massive interoperability problems where systems from one company won’t work with another company’s solution. We’ve had significant use problems where you had to have a technology specialist set up and assure the call (not to mention figure out how to hook a laptop into the system so all parties could see the slides) and security issues so that the calls were private and people didn’t abuse the technology.

    Cisco’s Better Solution

    Now Cisco is finally serious about Webex and they’ve made some impressive strides. The system is highly interoperable, it is integrated with products like Office365, JIRA, Salesforce, and Trello so you can work in the app during the call. It blends most of the messaging platforms including Microsoft Teams and Jabber under a single user interface with interoperability from within Webex. And they have made the product far easier to use.

    This means that a Cisco user can near seamlessly move from a phone call to a video/collaboration call while in a phone call. In addition, the system is better secured and can use facial recognition to identify the people using the system also showcasing the backgrounds of those people if they are in the system. This is handy for those of us that both struggle with names and are often in meetings where the only person we know is our self.

    Used properly attendees get briefing and identity information before the meeting so they hit the ground running and substantial time doesn’t have to be wasted getting attendees up to speed. Features like real time transcription and translation are available and their latest partnership with Samsung opens new areas like Smart whiteboards and Smartphone integration.

    One interesting feature is a Proximity capability where users are reminded of the collaboration tools near them, so they are more likely to use those facilities in a meeting. Finally, the system has a build in conversational AI using Mind Meld. So that, during the call, even if you don’t have an admin, the system can perform those tasks for you with voice commands (like set reminders, make airline reservations, or get answers to questions).

    Wrapping Up: Looking To The Future With AI Collaboration

    Now Cisco is using AI in their solution for something called Cognitive Collaboration which provides active assistance in the process. However, I think this could go far further. For instance introverts tend to be effectively locked out of participating in meetings but an AI that knows this could provide prompts that would help people in the room bring out input from those introverts as well as providing methods of communication, like texting, that may work better for them.

    AI could also bridge personality types and flag on anger to better preserve collaboration and negotiation using a system like this. It could call a break when it senses unusual stress one or more voices and provide alerts and corrections if a presenter or attendee gets their facts wrong. These AIs could also learn how you communicate and help train you how to be better by taking your in meeting performance and compare that to subjective best it class attendees. Then we have the potential for virtual attendees, avatars that you train that can attend meetings in your stead, alert you to critical decisions, and even respond in your stead.

    In the end I think Cisco is going to be doing some amazing stuff in this space and as we approach a century, yes, a century, trying to make this work there finally may be a little light at the end of the tunnel. Part of this is moving to having someone that is good at communications lead this effort and Amy Chang likely turned out to be the perfect leader to take Webex to the next level.


    Rob Enderle
    Rob Enderle
    As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.
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