By Jeetu Patel, Cisco SVP and General Manager, Security & Applications
When the COVID-19 pandemic upended our lives this year, networking technologies and collaboration tools kept the world running. And it’s been a testament to human ingenuity and adaptability that so many of the world’s 3 billion digital workers continued to produce, learn, heal, and share, from anywhere and at any time.
The pandemic also revealed that our technologies need to be better, much better. As Cisco’s Global Workforce Study 2020 revealed, only 9 percent of survey respondents expected to fully return to the office once the pandemic subsides. But a full 98 percent of survey respondents reported frustrations with video meetings at home.
Bottom line, people want meetings to be efficient, and to help them work smarter before, during, and after a call.
When I joined Cisco this year, I set the goal of making the Webex experience not just better than an in-person interaction, but 10x better.
And the world’s digital workforce agrees. In the Global Workforce Study, 96 percent wanted to improve their work environments with intelligent technologies, whether at home, in the office, or a hybrid of the two.
Increased productivity was cited as a key benefit. But I see great collaboration technology supporting a range of additional benefits: everything from creative collaboration and inclusive experiences to better time management and efficiency.
At the same time, Cisco’s core purpose is to power an Inclusive Future, one in which diversity, opportunity, education, and sustainability, all coalesce into better lives for millions of people.
Today, opportunity is unevenly distributed throughout the world, but human potential is not.
I believe that great collaboration technologies will help to level the playing field, so that everyone can participate in the global economy regardless of geography, language or personality type. Just think of all the talent, skills, and outright genius that aren’t getting a chance. We can change that by giving everyone a seat at the global economic table.
Our team is driving this vision, and it fuels every device we build, every line of code we write, and every feature we create.
For the all-new Webex, we wanted to transform every key mode of working together, with greatly expanded capabilities in meeting, messaging, and calling — all with security and intelligence built in at the core. The result is seamless collaboration, smarter hybrid work experiences, and highly intelligent customer interactions. Because, in the end workers are measured on results, not how much time we spend in meetings.
A key element of making communication better is emerging technologies like AI and machine learning. We’ve been investing in the promise of AI for years. And today, it’s infused into nearly every aspect of what we do at Webex — to drive security, ease of operations, and to help employees be more productive and less stressed.
From AI to app integration, new ways to empower workers
Work today is fast-paced, data-driven, and global. And even after the pandemic subsides it will be just as likely to take place in a home, café, or airliner as in an office. But improving the work experience any place, any time, or with anyone is what good collaboration technologies are all about. Cisco’s Global Workforce Study confirmed that there are plenty of frustrations with the current state of work. But I feel we are going a long way to addressing the pain points.
The new Webex capabilities are too numerous to mention, but here are a few of my favorites.
- An exciting aspect of work today is the ability to interact with people from different cultures, countries, and continents. But language barriers can be a problem. That’s where AI comes in. Many are already familiar with Webex’s fast, accurate transcription feature. But now we’re taking AI-powered voice recognition to new heights. Starting in February, Webex will provide real-time language translations for English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Dutch, and Japanese.
- Working at home has great benefits in flexibility, time saved from commuting, etc. But it’s not without stress — some of which comes from noise during calls. With Cisco’s acquisition of Babblelabs, we are integrating the industry’s most sophisticated noise removal and speech enhancement technologies. Whether it’s a lawnmower, a barking dog, drum practice, or a screaming kid, the technology is smart enough to segment the noise from the human speech.
- And Webex doesn’t stop at understanding human speech. It now responds to a range of hand gestures. Enjoying a presentation? Give it a thumbs up (literally) and it will translate into a thumbs up on screen for all to see.
- Today, we often juggle multiple conversations, calls, and projects — often at the same time. Webex will let you put one video meeting on hold while taking another call. And if you’re thinking big, Webex Events native live enables meetings with up to 100,000 attendees.
- Apps fuel our work lives in all kinds of ways. But toggling between a dizzying array of apps any given day adds complexity and frustration. Webex is solving that by integrating the workflow between WebEx and a variety of key apps, including Box, Dropbox, Miro, ServiceNow, Salesforce, Workplace from Facebook, and many more. So, in one meeting you could, for example, share a file from Box or Dropbox, leverage Salesforce to drive quotes to cash, and broadcast to the employee community on Workplace from Facebook.
- We’re also delivering templates that create structure when planning a meeting. For instance, the new roundtable template gives everyone an equal voice by allowing all participants to speak once, before anyone gets a chance to speak twice. We’ve also created a quick sync template that puts time limits on meetings.
From software to hardware, simplicity wins
With all the added complexity in our work lives, keeping things integrated and easy is essential. To that end, our hardware devices will support an even more streamlined hybrid-work experience, whether at home or in the office. From a high-definition camera to an all-in-one integrated collaboration device for the desk, these devices take simplicity and reliability to new heights.
For example, the new Webex Desk Camera offers 4K ultra high-definition video and responds to voiceless gesture commands. It also excels in low-light conditions, where its infrared sensor can capture attendance stats.
These innovations are great news in our pandemic-challenged lives: for the employee at home managing work deadlines, kids’ homework, and outside noise; the manager guiding workers back into a hybrid work environment; or the person in an underserved region looking to connect to a wider world of opportunity in learning and working.
But now that so many people see the advantages of remote work, there’s no going back. The future of work will be hybrid. And I believe that innovations like these will continue to make work more productive and satisfying for everyone — no matter where they choose to work.