Hybrid and AI: two words that sum up much of the buzz in the tech industry this year. Last week Cisco hosted WebexOne23, their flagship collaboration event, and for the first time the event included both in-person and remote attendees. Hybrid work and artificial intelligence were all the talk, and while these are not exactly new themes, Cisco breathed new life into them with some exciting and innovative announcements. The four key pillars of the event were Reimagine Work, Reimagine Workspaces, Reimagine Customer Experiences and Reimagine IT. Across these pillars, Cisco is embedding AI at every level.
Large Language Models (LLMs) have captured much of the AI attention this year, and they have achieved amazing results, but these models are focused on text. Cisco’s new Real-Time Media Models (RMMs) will enhance audio and video quality and enable new features you’ll need to experience to believe.
Let’s explore how Cisco’s announcements and its adoption of LLMs and RMMs will change workplaces everywhere:
It’s no secret that the way we work is changing, and Webex is leading the charge. This week Cisco announced several new AI powered features designed to bring meaningful improvements to our lives. As a seasoned voice engineer, one of the most exciting announcements for me was the new Webex AI Codec which is perhaps the biggest advancement in transmitting voice over IP networks in decades. Now, it may be that only an engineer would get excited by a new codec, but this codec will bring improvements we all will appreciate.
It may seem basic, but audio is by far the most critical component of a virtual meeting. You can live with video, or even the content, freezing briefly; but if the audio is poor, it’s almost impossible for the meeting to be productive. Now, our networks have come a long way, but even so it’s not uncommon for mobile workers to encounter packet loss, the nemesis of quality voice. The new Webex AI Codec leverages AI to overcome packet loss while ALSO significantly reducing bandwidth. Cisco touts the new codec is up to 16 times more efficient than current industry standard codecs and can provide excellent voice quality on as little as 1 kbps of bandwidth.
As if that is not enough, the new codec can use generative AI to reconstruct missing packets, allowing Cisco to maintain excellent audio quality with up to 90% packet loss!
Webex will similarly apply machine learning techniques to improve video quality using Super Resolution, delivering meetings with amazing video quality even in poor network conditions.
Along with improvements in call quality, Cisco announced major changes coming to Webex Assistant. The Webex Assistant, largely based on technology from the 2019 acquisition of Voicea, has been around for a while, but this assistant, now known as the Webex AI Assistant is getting significant upgrades. It’s gaining new functionality and being embedded across the entire Webex platform, allowing users to leverage its capabilities whether they’re collaborating with their team, customers, partners, or even administering the solution. Ever send a message and later wish you had worded it differently? Change Message Tone uses generative AI to recommend changes to tone, format, or phrasing in Webex Messaging and Slido.
In addition to helping employees collaborate one on one, Webex AI Assistant also will come equipped with the ability to generate Meeting Summaries. Meeting Summaries will help users catch up on missed meetings, or portions of meetings, in real-time, with an easily digestible summary of what was missed. Summaries will be organized into chapters and highlights allowing you to skip directly to topics or sections of interest. Webex AI Assistant will even create a brief video that summarizes the highlights of the entire meeting. Finally, Message Summaries will help you get caught up quickly by weeding through the noise to identify and summarize the unread messages that are most important.
Cisco has been beating the hybrid work drum for a few years now, but it’s no secret that hybrid work is here to stay. Countless organizations have recognized the productivity, engagement, recruiting and retention benefits of allowing their employees the flexibility to be wherever they can do their best work. This is why studies show that 98% of meetings today will have at least one remote participant, yet only 15% of conference rooms are video enabled. At the same time, both employers and employees recognize the benefits of teams coming together in an office for some tasks.
To address these challenges, Cisco wants to help you make the office a magnet, not a mandate. Cisco makes the best video conferencing devices in the world, bar none. They have devices for every space and budget. It’s been nearly two years since Cisco announced the end of life for the all-in-one Room series systems, focusing more recently on bar and codec-based systems. These systems are great, but in larger rooms they do require quite a bit of effort to integrate. To address this gap, Cisco has announced the Room Kit EQX. Based on the powerful Room Kit EQ codec, the EQX integrates the codec, cameras, speakers, amplifiers, and mounting system all in an attractive and easy to deploy package. All you need to add are the displays of your choice.
In addition to making it easier to set up an in-office collaboration space, Cisco has been investing in ways to improve the lives of mobile and remote workers. It’s been two years since Cisco partnered with world renowned audio experts Bang & Olufsen, which married B&O’s premium audio experience with Cisco’s enterprise feature set to produce the Bang & Olufsen Cisco 980 headset. The 980 is an incredible headset for all day use, but for mobile workers, its size can be a bit unwieldy. To address these users Cisco has partnered with B&O once again to develop the new Bang & Olufsen Cisco 950 earbuds. These new earbuds once again combine enterprise features, premium materials, superior audio quality and comfort, but this time in a minimalistic and highly portable design for professionals on the go.
Of course, the Webex AI Assistant is embedded into both new devices. Cisco also showed off more details on their evolving Cinematic Meetings feature set, as well as several newly supported room layouts and features providing enhanced experiences and more flexibility for room designs than ever before.
Along with new products, there was also welcome news about Cisco’s partnerships. Ilya Bukshteyn, Microsoft’s VP for Teams Calling and Devices was on hand to discuss the continued evolution of the Cisco and Microsoft partnership. They discussed how Cisco’s devices have dramatically improved customer experiences with Microsoft Teams. For customers who have chosen to deploy Webex Calling but remain on Microsoft Teams for messaging, Cisco and Microsoft recently announced bi-directional presence sync, a welcome addition for organizations that leverage both platforms. Additional devices have been certified for Microsoft Teams and Microsoft Teams Rooms (MTR), and more features are added to MTR mode almost every month. Additionally, the partners reaffirmed their commitment to both VIMT and Direct Guest Join, both means of joining Microsoft Teams meetings from Cisco Room OS devices.
Cisco also announced two new features out of their partnership with Apple. First, Webex will be coming to Apple TV, allowing Apple users to leverage the new Continuity Camera feature in tvOS 17 to join Webex meetings from the comfort of their living room. Additionally, the Webex app will come to Apple Watch, allowing users to view their upcoming meetings, and join in audio-only mode with just a tap.
Finally, AT&T was on hand to discuss their new integration with Webex Go, allowing customers to seamlessly integrate their Webex Calling cloud PBX line with their AT&T cellular device providing a superior experience for mobile users with corporate managed devices.
Reimagine Customer Experiences
As the pace of digital transformation accelerates, one of the most popular booths in the Solutions Expo was the Coffee Bar powered by Webex Connect. Attendees could simply scan a QR code to launch a digital interaction with a virtual agent that would prompt you to customize your coffee order, provide an estimated wait time, and notify you once your order was ready. It was a delicious way to show off the power of Webex Connect and illustrate just one of the countless use cases where Webex Connect can improve customer experience. In a world where 40% of customers prefer digital self-service options to a live agent, if you are not digitizing your customer interactions, you are missing out.
Along with automating some customer service functions, Cisco is rolling out tools to help customer service professionals improve their performance. Stress is a huge issue for Contact Center Agents, and can hurt their ability to deliver the customer experience your organization wants. This stress takes its toll not only on the agent’s mental wellbeing, but also on their productivity. To help combat this, Cisco invited Thrive Global founder and CEO Ariana Huffington to the keynote stage to announce their partnership to integrate Thrive’s mental wellness technology with the Webex AI Assistant in Webex Contact Center. The Webex AI Assistant will monitor the agent for signs of stress, such as a particularly irate customer, and automatically trigger a Thrive Reset, a short 60 second video with music, images, and a breathing exercise designed to reduce stress and refocus the agent’s mind. It’s a little thing that has the potential to make a huge impact on agent wellness, productivity, and retention.
Of course, as great as all of these end user features are, one of the best things about the Webex platform is the industry leading Webex Control Hub, possibly the best administrative interface in all of IT. As promised, the Webex AI Assistant is embedded across the platform, and that includes Control Hub. The new Webex AI Assistant will be able to assist administrators and support personnel with a wide variety of administrative tasks. Whether locating a seldom used feature, updating configurations, monitoring usage, or troubleshooting issues, the Webex AI Assistant allows admins to interact using natural language.
Cisco also announced an integration between Webex Control Hub and another beloved Cisco administrative portal, the Meraki Dashboard. For customers using both platforms, network performance insights from the Meraki Dashboard will be integrated Control Hub, and call quality statistics will be integrated into Meraki Dashboard, allowing both the collaboration and networking teams to quickly identify and troubleshoot when network performance issues may be impacting call quality.
The entire event was run on the new Webex Events, formerly Socio. This hybrid event platform provides a seamless experience for both in-person and remote attendees, and the best part is it is included as part of your Webex Suite subscription!
In conclusion, WebexOne23 was a spectacular event and painted a compelling and exciting future for the world’s best collaboration platform. If you want learn more about anything Cisco announced, or how Hammer Tech can help you adopt this game changing platform, contact us.