Stories about collaboration platforms often revolve around what you as a user look at and think about when you hear the names Webex, Teams, Meet or Zoom. This is logical, because this is where people and platforms visibly and physically meet. At Cisco, however, they have a slightly different way of looking at collaboration. They see Webex not only as a communication platform but increasingly as a workflow tool. We talk to Jan Roggeveen, Country Lead Collaboration at Cisco Nederland about this.
We have all been more or less forced to deal with hybrid working environments in the past year. This puts demands and strains on how we work together within organizations. This is not only the case now, during Covid. It will also be the case after this. In basic terms, this impact is fairly simple to interpret. “From now on there will always be remote participants in meetings and gatherings,” Roggeveen states. These remote participants should not be left out or ignored, but should be given the best possible experience.
Making Webex attractive
To get Webex as good and attractive as possible, Cisco is continuously working on the platform in various areas. The ambition of Jeetu Patel, the former CPO of Box and since last year SVP and GM Security and Applications at Cisco, is to eventually make Webex 10x better than face-to-face meetings. That’s quite a goal, the feasibility of which is obviously a big question. In any case, it indicates that Cisco is serious about Webex. That in itself is also necessary, because the competition is moves forward too. Teams has enormous potential, being integrated in Office 365, and Zoom is also doing extremely well with the masses.
To reinforce the ambition expressed by Patel, Cisco announced a large number of new features and upgrades for the platform some time ago. The most striking feature was the Real-Time Translation addition to the Webex Assistant. This allows you, as the name implies, to translate in real time what someone on the other end of the “line” is saying. At the moment of launch it is only possible to translate from English to 108 other languages. In the future there will be additions in multiple languages, so you will be able to translate from Dutch to Spanish and vice versa for example. The algorithm behind it will undoubtedly improve as well. It’s still rather rough around the edges at the moment.
Features alone not enough
However, Roggeveen believes that it is not enough to have beautiful and useful new features alone. These focus solely on the collaboration aspect of a platform such as Webex. That’s a shame, he says, because there is much more Webex can offer. “In addition to communicating via Webex, integration into workflows is becoming increasingly important,” he points out. That is, if you only focus on the front-end piece – that which you see from the Webex application – you won’t achieve maximum results from Webex as an organization.
“If you want to facilitate real-time communication, you have to be able to deal with other software suites.”
Collaboration is part of many business processes today and in the future. Within those processes, people need to communicate with each other. “If you understand the business processes well and know who has to communicate with whom within these processes, then you can realize acceleration as organizations,” as Roggeveen himself puts it. In other words, Webex needs to be part of a bigger picture. And Webex itself must really manifest itself as a platform. The fact that this platform also includes a front-end in the form of a Webex application is, of course, nice, but not what it should be all about.
Integrating Webex into applications and suites
To be part of a bigger picture, then, you have to look past features and even the different Webex applications. Hence Cisco’s strong emphasis on collaboration with other software suites, such as Office 365 and Salesforce. Webex, according to Roggeveen, can achieve full integration into these kinds of workflow and productivity tools. “If you want to facilitate real-time communication, you have to be able to deal with other software suites,” Roggeveen indicates. Incidentally, such collaboration is not limited to existing software suites. As organizations, you can also build your own apps and integrate functionality from Webex into them.
Cisco makes these integrations possible by making the Webex platform open. You can communicate with it by means of REST APIs. If you are using a help desk application, then you can create an integration with Webex in that application, which allows you to set up an audio or video connection from the application. This then uses the Webex platform, but you don’t leave the helpdesk application to set it up. Another example Roggeveen mentions is a digital waiting room for healthcare. In this waiting room you not only wait for your turn, but you can also, for example, test your audio and video before the call actually starts.
It is not the case that these kinds of integrations are particularly interesting only if you want to provide an additional service to customers or clients, as in the examples above. Roggeveen also sees added value for the processes within organizations. If, for example, through an integration with an IAM tool you know who is present in a specific meeting, you can make it impossible to share certain sensitive documents.
Integrate into buildings
Webex integrations don’t stop at applications and software suites. There’s another key area where integrations can make a difference for remote participants. Several times during our conversation, Roggeveen talks about good building design. Buildings still play an important role in the hybrid working world of the future. In the case of facilitating communication, it is important to have well-designed spaces. There too, you need to take remote participants into account. This is possible with a good integration of the Webex platform into the physical spaces, is the point he wishes to make.
For example, if you use Cisco’s video endpoints, you get insight on the use of the rooms based on data from those endpoints. Data to enforce the current corona rules, for example, and to indicate which room has been used and needs to be cleaned. Or to send a message if too many participants are present. In addition, you can also use the data to gain insights on how to save energy. If there are no people in a room, then the lights can be turned off, for example.
Collaboration part of the backbone
Some platforms or software suites are indispensable to organizations and are therefore at the top of the list of priorities. For many organizations, things like ERP, CRM, HR, ITSM fall into this category. Does a collaboration platform like Webex belong here too? “In a hybrid working world, this should definitely be high on the list of priorities for organizations,” Roggeveen immediately responds when we ask this question. Of course, it is necessary to integrate it into the existing environment, whether that is software or physical buildings. This is necessary because remote working and participating in conversations, meetings and other types of calls simply require this.
Based on what we ourselves have experienced during the forced period of remote working over the past year, we certainly agree with the view that, in general, it still needs to improve a lot. It is now up to Cisco – and others – to ensure that collaboration platforms actually move up the priority list with decision-makers within organizations. And that they are actually seen as vital for the business processes and workflows within organizations. The time is certainly ripe for this.