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Cisco Webex democratizing collaboration regardless of the workplace, work environment, and workspace

As the world turned to Zoom, I switched to Webex. I have been using Webex for the last ten months. I have experienced nothing but delight with the Webex collaboration application suite, including Webex Teams, Webex Desk Pro, and Cisco Webex headset.

I first met the founders of Webex in 2001, one year after its IPO and six years before its acquisition by Cisco. As quickly as Webex became the default web-conferencing software offering, its popularity started eroding with an onslaught of solutions, especially Go-to-meeting and Skype. In the intervening years, Microsoft Teams took off, primarily because of its integration with M365, further pushing Webex into the background. However, years spanning 2019-2020 has been an inflection point for Webex. After yielding the everyday video conferencing lexicon to Zoom, Cisco Webex has just begun its steep rise in its innovation curve and has no intention of pausing and letting the curve slope down into the trough of disillusionment. The triumvirate leaders - Jeetu Patel (Senior Vice President and General Manager of Security and Collaboration), Javed Khan (Senior Vice President and General Manager of Cisco Collaboration), and Aruna Ravichandran (CMO & VP, Cisco Webex Collaboration) - are on a mission to deliver collaboration experiences that are 10X better than in-person. Perhaps naively, I have yet to understand its enormity. Still, so far, new releases and enhancements are continuing to blend physical and virtual workspaces to deliver similar immersive and authentic experiences: the latest being gesture-recognition, white-boarding, and the pending integration of Slido for polling. The next steps in delivering similar experiences are ad-hoc conversations and serendipitous interactions. Since September, Cisco Webex has released 400 enhancements with AI and security as the Cisco collaboration strategy foundations. IMImobile acquisition will enable Cisco to incorporate expanded digital channels and flow builder capabilities for contact center and customer engagement.

The future of work has become very complex. Collaboration is more important in complex, interconnected digital transformation work environments. 58% of SMB and midmarket employees (1 to 5000 employee size firms) expect to continue to work from home post-pandemic. As a result, mobility, cloud, and collaboration are important trends in today's market, and they are tightly interconnected. This interconnection empowers collaboration. Collaboration is most potent when connected, intuitive and pervasive, so deeply ingrained in the employee's infrastructure fabric that its use is a natural extension of their work environment. At the heart of Cisco's collaboration strategy is its collaboration application suite bookended by its platform, devices, and specialized experiences. The vertical integration from platform to devices promises to be a one-stop collaboration shop for mainstream businesses.

Collaboration represents a significant investment for most mainstream businesses, and collaboration platforms become a central, everyday resource touching all users within an organization. Collaboration is pervasive and critical to SMBs (1-5000 employees). Our most recent SMB survey looked at collaboration as a discrete category and found that it is the second-most prominent SMB solution area, behind cloud and security. There is a wide-ranging trend towards seeing collaboration as part of the fabric of business activity, rather than merely a means of enabling connections between discrete tasks. It is a core component for digital transformation, and innovative businesses embed it in their organizational DNA. Collaboration is a top IT priority for 96% of SMBs, 79% of innovative SMBs are using collaboration organization-wide, and 74% of digitally transformed leaders are using collaboration solutions. Therefore, it is natural for these businesses to invest in agile, adaptive, transformative, magical, and empowering collaboration solutions. Cisco is getting there. Perhaps, this is what Cisco leaders mean by delivering experiences that are 10X better than in-person.

Hybrid is everywhere. Anywhere, anytime also means any collaboration. The capacity to enable collaboration has become an intrinsic and essential component of many different systems, ranging from standard productivity tools to entirely new application categories. From a collaboration supplier's perspective, these are both encouraging and daunting times. Buyers are eager to acquire collaboration capabilities, but at the same time, they are far more demanding in terms of the scope of those capabilities. Buyers are demanding the ability to connect discrete systems into broader collaboration frameworks. They want their cloud-based CRM systems to enable collaboration around an individual customer account or territory and want that system to integrate with telephony, email, messaging, conferencing, and other systems so that the modes of collaboration can adjust to specific contextual requirements. Cisco is addressing the need for integration to reduce cross-app fatigue with its bi-directional Open Platform and API/SDK and prebuilt widgets, which enable bi-directional integration with third-party applications. It already works with many business apps. Webex app hub includes prebuilt integrations for Webex, and similarly, other app marketplaces support prebuilt integrations with Webex.

Meetings are not an especially popular topic of discussion unless the conversation focuses on how much time employees spend on them because meetings consume a great deal of time that optimizing their impact is essential. SMBs and midmarket firms attend an average of 64 meetings per month. The critical business question becomes, "how do we get the best payback on an activity that each of us engages in several times per workday?" Powered by Webex Graph, Cisco is releasing its most exciting feature yet – People Insights. Governed by the foundational principle of privacy, it aims to surface insights to individual users to understand how to collaborate better and manage their wellbeing. There is no doubt that there is a strong connection between emphasis on cross-functional teamwork and video meetings – improved time management, personal interaction, better teamwork, and seamless exchange of ideas.

People Insights allows businesses to foster better employee engagement by providing rich, contextually relevant, and professionally applicable information on the people employees interact with throughout the Cisco collaboration suite. It may help the user better understand roles, responsibilities, and access to a colleague's location and contact information. It can also assist with serendipitous details such as schools or interests in common to build more personal connections.

Collaboration, by its nature, connects multiple people in the performance of a shared task both synchronously and asynchronously. However, collaboration is not a discrete category. It is a framework that connects employees and customers and suppliers. Holistically, there are three layers to the collaboration framework. The inner layer is the platform layer, the software solution enabler from chat to voice to video. It includes asynchronous functions like file annotation and sharing and synchronous activities like simultaneous document editing. The second layer is the range of devices that have come into prominence in the last year. The outer-most is the evolution layer depicting the enhancements and experiences to make collaboration smart, intelligent, adaptive, and flexible. Using stand-alone collaboration platforms is a good start, but the real benefit comes from integrating multiple capabilities. Cisco has successfully positioned itself in all three layers. Is it an indication of the coming changing of the guard?

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