My journey with Cisco and its Webex product began when I established Techaisle. At that time, Zoom was not even on the horizon. Initially, GoToMeeting was my go-to platform for presentation collaboration, but we eventually transitioned to Webex. However, we switched as the Techaisle team grew and MS Teams was introduced. In the past two years, I have expanded my toolkit to include Webex, the Webex Desk Pro, Webex Desk Mini, Webex camera, and most recently, the Bang & Olufsen Cisco 950 wireless earbuds. Besides Webex, I have used these devices with various platforms, including Zoom, Teams, and Google Meet. The interoperability has been impressive, and the performance of the Webex devices has been outstanding.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
The recent WebexOne event marked a significant shift and showcased a transformed platform. Webex has shed its old skin and emerged as a rejuvenated entity steered by a team of exceptional executives.
The digital revolution has reshaped the business landscape, with hybrid work becoming a cornerstone of modern corporate culture. Yet, the transition to hybrid work models is not without its challenges. Many organizations struggle to foster a consistent work culture and build high-performing teams in this new environment. Technological disparities, such as inconsistent internet connectivity, further complicate matters, impacting workforce productivity and inclusivity. This digital divide can lead to a sense of exclusion among employees facing connectivity issues, undermining the inclusivity of hybrid workplaces.
Webex is dedicated to helping organizations overcome these obstacles. By integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into its platform, Webex has enhanced its efficiency, user-friendliness, and audio, video, and language processing capabilities. The platform now boasts advanced noise cancellation, speech-to-text conversion, automatic camera framing, facial recognition, and real-time automatic language translation, making meetings more accessible and productive. These AI-driven enhancements were unveiled at the WebexOne 2023 event.
AI in the Webex Suite
The Webex Suite, a comprehensive collaboration solution, offers a range of tools for meetings, messaging, and calling. Cisco’s new AI strategy for this suite includes the Webex AI Assistant and other AI-powered features designed to enhance communication and collaboration for businesses and their employees. The AI Assistant, in particular, is set to boost productivity and efficiency by automating routine tasks and providing quick answers to queries.
Some other AI-enabled features, such as meeting and message summaries, enable users to instantly get up to speed on missed segments of meetings, entire meetings, or unread messages. Webex also sends a ‘be right back’ (BRB) message, blurs the background, and mutes the audio when meeting participants temporarily step away. The BRB message is automatically cleared once the participant returns, and a BRB summary is also provided. The suite also offers real-time translation into over 30 languages during live events. Some of these new features are already available, and the rest are expected to be rolled out before the end of 2023.
What distinguishes Webex is its innovative use of AI, which involves the integration of industry-first real-time media models (RMMs) with large language models (LLMs) to enhance effectiveness. This approach allows the platform to utilize visual and audible cues, such as gestures, facial expressions, and participant departures from meetings, to enrich human interactions in real time.
Cisco has introduced a new AI Codec in Webex to ensure crystal clear audio and video, even under challenging network conditions. This ensures effective communication, even in areas with unreliable connectivity. The AI Codec enhances audio clarity with noise removal and bandwidth extension features and employs machine learning to improve video quality. Moreover, it is highly efficient, requiring up to 16 times less bandwidth than traditional audio codecs. This innovation significantly elevates the overall online meeting experience.
The launch of the Webex AI Assistant is slated for December 2023, with a version featuring enhancements from Real-Time Media Models (RMMs) set to be released in early 2024. The AI audio codec is also expected to be available in the first half of 2024.
AI in Cisco Devices
While the rise of hybrid work offers benefits such as flexibility and reduced commute times, it also presents challenges. These include communication difficulties and a potential sense of isolation due to a lack of team connection. Cisco’s primary goal is to achieve ‘Distance Zero,’ providing organizations with the necessary tools to negate the impact of distance on employee experience and productivity.
Cisco has unveiled its latest innovation, the “Cisco Room Kit EQX,” as part of its ongoing partnership with NVIDIA to deliver AI-driven devices for hybrid work environments. The Cisco Room Kit EQX utilizes the NVIDIA Jetson Xavier Edge AI platform, equipping it with a suite of advanced capabilities for video, audio, and speech intelligence. It also employs AI to facilitate immersive virtual meeting experiences, seamlessly transitioning between cameras and tracking presenters. This ensures that attendees can clearly see and hear the individual speaking or presenting, thereby enhancing the overall meeting experience.
Cisco has introduced many new features in its devices to enhance meeting and presentation experiences. These include adaptive AI-directed framing, which uses multiple cameras to display participants from various angles, and roundtable setups for boardroom discussions. A multi-streaming feature allows users to view active speakers and in-room participants separately. The “people focus” feature gives participants control over how the camera displays individuals in a meeting. These solutions are compatible with Microsoft Teams, facilitating seamless collaboration workflows. Cisco is the only company with both the devices and meeting rooms for Microsoft.
AI in Cisco Contact Centers
Cisco’s application of AI extends beyond its devices and suites, reaching into the realm of contact centers to enhance customer-agent interactions. The aim is to eliminate customer wait times and repetition. Integrating the AI assistant in contact centers introduces many features, including suggested customer responses, conversation summaries, wrap-ups, and coaching highlights. The latter automatically identifies top-rated calls, enabling supervisors to identify successful strategies and train all agents accordingly. These features are designed to increase agent efficiency and enhance customer interactions.
Moreover, a standout feature is AI-powered agent burnout detection, which enables businesses to proactively support their agents by suggesting automated breaks. Webex has broadened its collaboration with Thrive Global, a behavior-change technology company, to integrate the Thrive Reset program into the workflow of contact center agents. Thrive Reset offers 60-second videos on stretching, breathing exercises, and mindfulness designed to help agents unwind between customer interactions. Webex’s AI technology identifies situations that could lead to burnout, prompting agents to take a break and recharge with a Thrive Reset video.
Additionally, Webex is enhancing its contact center capabilities for Webex Calling users by introducing Webex Customer Experience Essentials and Standard / Premium versions. The announcement's highlight is the inclusion of Webex Customer Experience Basic in the Webex Suite at no extra cost. This is ideal for the needs and budgets of small to medium-sized businesses.
The Webex Customer Experience solution options are tailored for customer service-oriented industries and empower employees outside the contact center to act as specialized agents. This leads to faster issue resolution and improved customer satisfaction. It also helps organizations identify customer issues that need attention beyond the scope of traditional contact centers. This package is set to be generally available in early 2024.
AI for IT Management
Webex is committed to enhancing the experiences of both employees and customers within organizations. As remote and hybrid work arrangements become increasingly prevalent, the seamless implementation and effective management of tools have become critical for organizations aiming to successfully transition to these new workplace models. IT is pivotal in this transformation, handling various tasks from security and compliance to providing remote employee support. Efficient IT management facilitates the smooth integration of multiple tools and promotes cost efficiency.
For streamlined IT management, Cisco provides the Webex Control Hub, a unified interface that consolidates multiple functions such as user management, licensing, configuration, monitoring, and troubleshooting of IT services. This solution simplifies and optimizes the management of these services, ensuring both convenience and efficiency. Cisco Webex Control Hub is an excellent collaboration management platform that offers a wide range of benefits to businesses of all sizes. The seamless integration of Meraki Insight and Webex Control Hub provides a unified perspective on network performance and collaboration usage. This synergy ensures optimal management of both network and collaboration environments, guaranteeing a smooth and superior user experience.
Moreover, Cisco has introduced an AI assistant for the Control Hub. This allows IT professionals to easily ask questions, with the AI assistant quickly providing answers by searching through comprehensive product documentation and support articles. The AI assistant empowers IT professionals by offering actionable insights derived from extensive datasets, further exemplifying how Webex is revolutionizing IT operations.
Final Techaisle Take
Cisco’s integration of AI into hybrid workplace solutions positions it as a frontrunner in the pursuit of efficiency, inclusivity, and seamless collaboration in the ever-evolving work landscape. AI enhancements have been incorporated across the Webex suite, devices, and contact centers. The Webex suite is leading the hybrid work revolution, offering various AI-driven solutions that effectively address the challenges businesses face today. It enhances user experiences by overcoming noise and language barriers and proactively engaging users in meetings. Introducing an AI Assistant further empowers users by streamlining meeting updates, swiftly generating meeting summaries, and facilitating the resolution of customer issues.
The WebexOne 2023 event showcased the latest enhancements and innovations within the Webex portfolio. Introducing new devices, features, and upgrades is expected to fuel innovation and maintain Cisco’s competitive edge in collaboration.
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