Cisco Collaboration - New Faces, New Energy
There was lots of energy and enthusiasm on display at Cisco’s recent Collaboration Analyst Summit with several new team members, new announcements, and new messaging. Amy Chang, Executive Vice President, Cisco Collaboration, put together a top-notch team of professionals who shared their vision of workplace transformation during the three-day event (which included a bonus Contact Center Day) held at Cisco headquarters in San Jose.
When she kicked off the event, Amy noted that the team has incredible passion and enthusiasm, but I didn’t quite believe her – until I heard from and spoke with many of them, and their enthusiasm came through loud and clear.
Not unlike what we’ve heard from other cloud providers, Cisco is focused on a unified platform and single user experience for calling, messaging,team collaboration and meetings. As Amy told the attendees, Cisco is focused on a single unified portfolio and bringing together disparate pieces with a unified application and user experience to help businesses experience the benefits of improved collaboration and interoperability. This is all tied in with AI capabilities throughout the portfolio. Throughout the event we heard that “Cognitive Collaboration,” which maximizes the employee experience with data-driven insights, will be threaded through the Cisco portfolio, including Webex Calling, Webex Meetings, Webex Teams, and Webex Contact Center.
Until now, Cisco customers had to navigate through a number of different user interfaces, creating challenges for users, IT staff, and Cisco itself. The company worked hard to develop a single application and modularized user experience on top of a single platform. The experience is now consistent and all of Cisco’s collaboration capabilities, including Webex Calling, Webex Teams, Webex Meetings, Jabber, etc. are delivered in a single, well-integrated solution, with Webex as the “connective tissue across all workspaces and business processes.” All of this comes together with the Webex Control Hub, a single pane of glass providing insights and a view to analytics within the customer’s organization.
Enabling Workplace Transformation
After a nice shout-out to BCStrategies’ Jim Burton, thanking him for helping bring Cisco and Microsoft together to enable better interoperability between their collaboration solutions, Sri Srinivasan, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Team Collaboration, discussed Cisco’s strategy and the new Webex experience. The collaboration team is focused on: simplification, building bridges not islands, and winning hearts and minds. We heard loud and clear that Cisco’s strategy is to be cloud first, not cloud only, ensuring that Cisco customers take advantage of their investments and maximize the power of the cloud data center and network. Another big focus area is security, with a large portion of Cisco engineering dollars being spent in this area. It was reassuring to hear that Cisco’s strategy is focused the same strategic pillars as last year, with an increasing emphasis on security and cognitive capabilities.
The overarching theme of the event was “Enabling Workplace Transformation.” As Sri explained, “Every enterprise is focused on maximizing the value of the employee. Every CXO is looking to bring their brand forward and have the best employee experience possible.” Cisco is working to ease the burden on employees and make sure they can get on with their work without having to focus on technology. He reiterated that Webex is the connective tissue providing a consistent user experience.
Calling – A Range of Options
Javed Khan, VP and GM, Cloud Calling, provided an update on Cisco’s Calling Business, which includes three calling franchises and two commercial models. The three franchises include:
- On-premises, with 90 million endpoints shipped
- Partner cloud infrastructure, which includes Cisco BroadWorks and HCS
- Cisco-hosted, SaaS cloud services that are operated and run by Cisco, which includes Webex Calling (iCisco BroadCloud is part of Webex Calling) and Cisco UCM Cloud
The two commercial models include:
- Partner-led, where Cisco sells wholesale to partners who have their own ecosystem and do the bundling
- Cisco sales-led
Javed made it clear that Cisco is going forward with both HCS and Cisco BroadWorks, which was reassuring as there was some confusion last year as to the future of these offerings. Cisco is committed to Cisco BroadWorks and its Cisco BroadWorks customers, and Cisco BroadWorks and Cisco BroadCloud will have essential full end-user feature parity going forward.
I spoke with Javed about Cisco’s calling portfolio and the various options for businesses and service providers.
Cisco has done a notable job of simplifying its portfolio, and the company states that it offers a wide range of options when it comes to calling in order to maximize it’s market coverage by meeting the needs of specific customer segments and leveraging channel partner competitive advantages. Their marketing messaging is focused on Webex Calling, with other options meeting unique use cases, and the next generation Cisco BroadWorks offers will offer the full Webex suite with the option to brand by the SP or co-brand. As noted, Cisco calling offerings include on-premises, Cisco-hosted, partner-hosted, and hybrid options, as well as two commercial models – partner-led and Cisco sales-led. The Partner cloud infrastructure business includes Cisco HCS (multi-instance platform) and Cisco BroadWorks (multi-tenant platform). The Cisco-hosted cloud services, which Cisco operates and runs, include Cisco UCM Cloud (multi-instant platform with CUCM-based call control available in a resale model only via the Cisco Collaboration Flex Plan) and Cisco Webex Calling (native SaaS multitenant platform) which is aimed at all market segments and is available in a resale and wholesale model. As you can see, there’s still room for simplification.
In this video interview, Mark Straton, Senior Director, Collaboration Group Product Marketing, expands on Cisco’s cloud portfolio, including Cisco BroadWorks, Cisco BroadCloud, Cisco Webex Calling, etc. Mark also discussed the modularization of the unified client to enable customers to use the various functions and modules that they need.
Devices for Rooms of Every Size
Room devices are a key part of Cisco’s strategy and portfolio, and it was nice to see the progress the company has made in the past year. Under Sandeep Mehra, Vice President and General Manager, Webex Rooms, Cisco has done a great job of covering its bases in all types of meeting rooms. For the huddle room, it offers the Webex Room Kit, Room USB, and the 730 headsets. For the meeting room, Cisco offers the Webex Room 70 Dual and Webex Board, and for the “Jump Space” it offers the new Webex Desk Pro offering all-in-one HD video and voice, with unified communications features. Most analysts were very impressed with the Webex Room Panorama, a newer and more user-friendly version of Cisco Telepresence, providing an immersive user experience.
In this video interview, Sandeep discusses Cisco’s various devices and meeting rooms options.
It’s Like Unicorns & Rainbows – Marketing Gets Fun and Aggressive
We also heard from Aruna Ravichandran, CMO of Collaboration, who described Cisco Collaboration’s brand campaign to boost Webex awareness. Hoping to make Webex appear as a cool, fun brand for all generations, the campaign looks at what kinds of combinations actually work, with the tag line “The best collaborations happen on Webex.”
As part of the Webex branding and marketing, Cisco initiated a Webex Combo Contest, where people can submit their favorite combinations. Anyone who knows me will not be surprised by my favorite collaboration combination:
Webex Contact Center Day
Cisco spent a full day focused on its contact center offerings, which have come a long way in the past year. It was great to hear Amy Chang discuss the importance of contact center, noting that it’s one of Cisco’s highest growth areas as it’s central to customer experience (CX). She noted that CX has been elevated over the past few years and is now a board-level conversation.
Omar Tawakol, former CEO of Voicea and Vice President and General Manager of Cisco's Contact Center Business, gave an overview of the Cisco Contact Center momentum. He described Cisco’s core tenets and new execution model, including:
- Public cloud first and all-hands on cloud
- AI super agents
- Collaboration embedded
- API first to enable a programmatic future
- Outcome-driven customer success.
As Omar told the analysts, “We’re here to transform, and we’re growing very rapidly in the cloud.”
Cisco’s cloud contact center portfolio includes Webex Contact Center (a microservices, API-first CCaaS offering) and Webex Contact Center Enterprise, a new offering aimed at – you guessed it – enterprises, or contact centers with thousands of agents and complex contact centers. Webex Contact Center Enterprise is hosted and managed by Cisco, offering the scale, quality, and security that large enterprises require, as well as open APIs for customization. Rather than just talking about how easy it is to provision a new contact center, Cisco demonstrated how it could set up and provision a full contact center based on Webex Contact Center Enterprise in a day – and it worked!
AI is key to any contact center vendor’s strategy, and Cisco is forging ahead in this area. Omar discussed AI-Augmented Super Agents, noting that “AI is the most overhyped yet underestimated technology out there,” adding, “We want to do more augmenting of human capability rather than replacing,” which requires agent assist capabilities to bring in the collective wisdom of an organization’s agent base in AI.
When it comes to AI, Cisco’s strategy is to work with partners such as Google Contact Center AI and not try to do it all themselves. Omar noted, “We’re open to other technologies and investing in our own proprietary technologies and mixing them in interesting ways.” Cisco acquired several companies touching core areas of AI and will bring these capabilities to market. Voicea brought Cisco impressive voice transcription capabilities, while Cloud Cherry is now the foundation of the new Webex Experience Management, providing customer journey, survey builder, and analytics capabilities in a standalone or integrated way.
I spoke with Omar about Cisco’s contact center offerings, where AI fits into Cisco’s contact center strategy and how it can help agents do their jobs better, as well as Cisco’s premises-based products.
I had the fortunate opportunity to speak with Zack Taylor, Director, Contact Center Business Development about Cisco’s cloud contact center offerings, including Webex Contact Center and the new Webex Contact Center Enterprise. In this video interview, Zack also discusses Finesse, the common agent desktop for the Cisco contact center portfolio, and advanced capabilities including Voicea for real-time transcription, as well as Cisco’s contact center roadmap and what to expect down the road.
During the event, what resonated the most with me was the discussion around the Collaborative Contact Center, which I’ve been writing and talking about for years. By integrating its Webex Teams collaboration capabilities into its contact center offerings, Cisco can help agents and subject matter experts better collaborate to more quickly resolve customers’ issues. While not discussed, I hope to see a productized offer in the future.
Cisco in some ways is playing catch-up to pure cloud companies like RingCentral and 8x8, and is increasingly competing with companies like Zoom, which now offers its own cloud calling capabilities in addition to its conferencing services. While Cisco has a tougher job due to the need to maintain its legacy, on-premises installed base, the company has many competitive advantages. As a key differentiator, Cisco relies on its own QoS and security managed network rather than third-party cloud infrastructure providers such as AWS, Google, and Azure, helping Cisco ensure performance and reliability. While the company will use third-party cloud services in some cases, it uses the Cisco Webex cloud for real time media processing and related tasks to provide the highest level of quality and security.
Devices is another area where Cisco is distinguishing itself from its competitors. Cisco develops and builds a range of devices, including phones, headsets, video room devices, and more, and can provide enhanced user experiences based on the tight integration between its applications and devices. The company can also leverage its expertise in both hardware and software as the company drives further into front-line worker (non-knowledge workers) use cases.
AI is an important area, and Cisco has acquired tremendous AI talent and technologies that are helping it to innovate in both the collaboration and contact center arenas. I expect to see the Voicea technology used in a number of exciting ways.
All in all, it was great to see the new energy and focus throughout the event, with a truly impressive executive and management team. While I’d still like to see more simplification on the calling side of things, the company has made a lot of progress.
I look forward to seeing more innovation in the collaboration and contact center areas over the coming months, and it will be an exciting time for Cisco and its customers and partners.