I started in tech with IBM’s old Telephony division Rolm Systems and my last days in that division were in the Competitive Analysis section working on positioning followed by future technology. We were working on some incredible things like integrated video calling, phone integrated PCs that gave you not only the caller’s name but also relevant information about them, and speech-to-text automatic transcription. Granted, we were living off a relatively slow data network (this was before Ethernet took off or the internet), making those features less than reliable. However, I’d expected to have these advanced features long before now.
At last week’s Cisco’s Webex One event, Cisco announced they would go well beyond what we were working on back in the 1980s and finally update the office phone to address this century’s needs. Left out were technologies that were being showcased by a startup called Arthur, which was also showcasing the beta release of their Mixed Reality solution, which arguably represents the next evolution of conferencing. But, much like our work in the 1980s, several things need to be addressed before making that step.
In the shadow of Cisco’s Webex One, let’s talk about communication, collaboration, and POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service).
It is amazing how long some technologies that should be obsolete aren’t. One of the phones on my advanced custom desk that is more than 20 years old is a Cisco phone that isn’t that much different from the phone I had on my desk in the 1980s. You get caller ID information, you have a speakerphone and a headset option, and many buttons you likely never use.
You also likely have a smartphone with a camera, an active display, and the ability to potentially integrate information from the internet into the call. For instance, it should warn you that a scammer is calling, and if you have the right application, it can do that. You can also do a video call on the phone, but switching to video when someone calls you isn’t precisely one-button easy. You generally have to hang up and then institute the call using an application like Zoom or Webex.
So the hardware is capable of a more engaging experience but the path to get there is less than ideal. But what if you rethought the office phone system, blending the capabilities of a smartphone with the simplicity of a desk phone, folded in end-to-end encryption and video, analytics, ethical walls, data loss prevention, personal insights, and some digital assistant.
Like the old TV Show 6 Million Dollar Man’s opening, we have the technology, why don’t we apply it?
Cisco’s Webex Revolution
Among Cisco’s new Webex hardware, the Webex Desk Hub, a desk phone replacement, is the most interesting. Webex Desk Hub is a blended device that takes your smartphone, adds an additional display, indicative charger, and a dock for Cisco’s headphones. Once you dock your smartphone, the Cisco solution recognizes you and then configures the environment to your custom needs. The customization level will have a lot to do with the office’s automation level enabled. But think of temperature adjustments, lighting, potentially even window coverings, and ambient music. The limit is probably more tied to technology advancement in your office, not any limitation in the Cisco solution. They also have a specialized camera and headphones that combine to complete the desktop solution.
So, we suddenly go from an office phone that we probably don’t use that much anymore to a phone that integrates your smartphone, configures your office pace, give you information about who is calling and can instantly switch from voice to video, protects the call, provides analytics you can use to make yourself, or your team more productive, and includes the Cisco Digital assistant.
The Phone Evolves for this Century
This Cisco updated office phone solution is a considerable jump in-office phone capability. Its functionality is more pronounced by how long it has been since we’ve seen a significant improvement in our desk phones. The solution can work in the office, or a home office and better protects employees who are either at work or working at home (which many, if not most, of us, are now doing). Finally, it integrates accessories, like headsets and high-quality conferencing cameras, into the solution.
After decades, we get a phone system that embraces the technology we have today. Let’s see if it can advance to embrace the next generations of AI, mixed reality, and connectivity. Suddenly, our aging office concepts are starting to look more like the office of the future. It is about time.