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Cisco Revamps Webex To Address Hybrid Work

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This week Cisco held a hybrid work event, at which it launched an entirely new Webex.

Cisco has been the market leader in on-line collaboration since it acquired Webex in 2007.  Over the years, it’s faced many competitors, both big and small, but it’s managed to stay on top.  Most recently, the pandemic created a surge in use from smaller vendors, most notably Zoom, which has massive consumer appeal.  At that time, many industry watchers believed Webex to be over the hill and its best days were behind it.

Webex has unveiled a flurry of innovation over the past year

As an analyst that follows Cisco closely, I believed Webex certainly had areas of strength, such as security and scale. But it clearly lagged behind many of the upstarts in usability and many of the whiz bang features, such as virtual backgrounds, that users seemed to like.

Since then, the company has come roaring back and has quickly and methodically added feature after feature.  Over the past nine months, Cisco has added over 800 new features to Webex and added capabilities through four acquisitions, which includes BabbleLabs (noise reduction), imimobile (contact center intelligence), Slido (audience interaction) and Socio (events platform).

New logo highlights the change in Webex

The culmination of all of this work was on display at the hybrid work event.  The most noticeable change is the new logo and look and feel of the product. Gone is the older, circular logo, which has been replaced with a new, sleek looking brand that’s indicative of Cisco’s broader mission to “Power an Inclusive Future.”

The new logo is obviously a “W” but it’s also a rotating double helix, which showcases two hands coming together, which is meant to be a metaphor for teams in flow. Also, the organic curves and roundedness of the logo is a reflection of Cisco’s belief that collaboration should be easy for everyone to use, not just technically savvy. This is part of Cisco’s inclusive mission that everyone should have the same experience, regardless of demographic.

The marketing group efforts at Cisco, particularly since the pandemic began, has been exemplary as the entire image of Webex has been modernized. Webex now has partnerships with some top tier partners, like the recently announced McLaren Formula 1 team ensuring the “new Webex” gets more eyeballs on it. Webex has also partnered with the PGA of Australia and I’m sure everyone has seen the tool being used on CNN and other new stations during the pandemic.

Webex is now built for users first

All of these new features and branding has certainly helped Cisco raise its profile with customers.

During a pre-brief with analysts, the Webex team shared critical customer feedback from a year ago that drove much of the change. Customers wanted more features, faster; they wanted greater focus on users and not just the IT department (Microsoft Teams is largely designed as IT first) and they wanted better quality.

Cisco delivered. The net result has been a boost of 15 points in Net Promoter Score (NPS), which is remarkable in a year’s time.

New Webex includes a number of new features

At the event, Cisco also announced a bevy of new features designed to make hybrid working easier. Cisco recently conducted some research that found pre-pandemic only 8% of meetings had at least one virtual participant. Moving forward, it will be a whopping 98%. Clearly, hybrid is the way. To support this shift, Cisco announced the following:

  • New pricing. Webex will now be sold as a suite where customers that purchase it will have access to everything Webex including meetings, calling, messaging, polling and events at one low price. While Cisco told me that exact price will vary by customers, channel partner and other factors, customers should expect to pay about 40% less than purchasing things a-la-carte. This equates to about $10 / user per month street price with enterprise licensing. One of Cisco’s current challenges is getting customers to try the new Webex and at this disruptive price point, they should have some success.
  • End to end events. The term “event” is very broad and can include everything from a small meeting to webinars to a large conference. The events portion of Webex includes “all of the above” with the large event experience being powered by the Socio acquisition.
  • Audience interaction tools. One of the more compelling event features comes from the Slido acquisition as it brings audience engagement capabilities such as polling, quizzes and Q&A. It’s important to note these can also be used in live events for speaker to interact with the audience better.
  • Audio Intelligence: Building upon Webex’s current noise removal and speech enhancement capabilities, users will have the new ability of speech optimization for remote and shared workspaces through My Voice Only to eliminate background noise, including speech from people in the background, and solely focus on the main speaker’s speech.
  • Camera Intelligence: Earlier this year, Cisco announced People Focus, which uses machine learning and AI technology to individually re-frame meeting participants who are spread across a meeting room allowing remote participants to feel more connected and everyone in the meeting to benefit from seeing body language, facial expressions and more.
  • New Devices: The Webex Desk is an all-in-one collaboration device designed for the desk at work or home. Immersive collaboration experiences are delivered via touch interactions in the Webex RoomOS that connects workflows with less context switching​. Additionally, Webex Assistant Skills platform opens up a universe of voice-powered extensions to seamlessly and easily integrate more controls, content and applications for Webex Devices.
  • Secure Experiences: Real-time data loss prevention (DLP) for Webex, which automatically blocks and removes confidential information, will be available in Messaging. With real-time DLP, users are prohibited from posting classified content rather than redacting or deleting content after it is posted. Additionally, European Webex customers will be able to host and process their content within the EU. Webex users will also benefit from the improved end-to-end encryption options.

Hybrid working is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and this puts an emphasis on workers’ ability to collaborate with one another. Historically, the collaboration industry has been filled with disjointed tools that force users to be the integration point. The new Webex removes much of the heavy lifting and creates an experience that is easy yet full featured and secure.

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