Cisco Webex Furthers Hybrid Work With New Features; Apple, Microsoft Partnerships

‘From a networking standpoint, from a collaboration standpoint, from a hardware and devices standpoint, from an artificial intelligence standpoint — we’ve made billions of dollars of investments in building one of the most comprehensive [collaboration] stacks,’ says Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s EVP and GM of security and collaboration.


Cisco Systems is addressing the next stage of hybrid work by building in more security and manageability into its popular Webex platform.

The tech giant kicked off its WebexOne event on Tuesday by introducing a handful of new Webex features, including integration between Webex Control Hub and Cisco Spaces, audio watermarking to protect confidential meeting content, and launching validated designs so partners can have a repeatable design guide for customers that are re-thinking their office spaces.

“Cisco is all-in on hybrid work. From a networking standpoint, from a collaboration standpoint, from a hardware and devices standpoint, from an artificial intelligence standpoint — we’ve made billions of dollars of investments in building one of the most comprehensive stacks,” Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration, told an audience of analysts and reporters ahead of its WebexOne event in San Jose, Calif.

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[Related: Move Over Webex: Microsoft Teams To Be Available On Cisco Meeting Devices]

Cisco has teamed up with Apple for Mobile Camera Share, a feature that lets iPhone and iPad users share content from the rear-facing or front-facing camera via the Webex Meetings app and annotate over what they’re seeing through Mobile Camera Share. It’s a first for the industry, said Patel.

Joining the physical whiteboard device Cisco already has, the new Whiteboard App embedded in the Webex suite gives meeting attendees an easy-to-use whiteboarding experience regardless of where they’re working. Any attendee can start or join a whiteboard and work together from a browser, the Webex App, or a Cisco device. Whiteboards can also be combined with Slido polls or saved and shared in a Webex space for later, Patel said.

Vidcast, Cisco’s asynchronous video offering it introduced last year, now includes an AI-powered editing capability and integration with Slido for audience polling and surveys.

On the security front, Cisco unveiled Audio Watermarking, a feature that can uniquely tags audio streams to every participant in a meeting with a marker that cannot be heard by the human ear. If an employee were recording a confidential meeting with their phones, for example, the recording could be traced back to the individual regardless of how the audio was shared, Patel explained.

“It’s a feature I’m really excited about,” he said. “If I tried to leak the video, you could easily track it back to me. “This is like having a magical set of capabilities around security and privacy where people cannot go out and steal content and throw it out [there] without having any consequences.”

Cisco is offering a repeatable Hybrid Workspace Design Guide based on its own New York City office deployment that will help customers and channel partners design reimagined hybrid workspaces as many employees return to the office. The validated designs include Cisco’s Smart Building Solutions, as well as its collaboration, networking and security technology.

“I think there’s opportunity for us to go even further so I think of this as phase one, because there’s an opportunity to provide turnkey solutions in a much more thoughtful way with the channel partner community,” Patel told CRN. “They will have access to all of the validated designs and ideally, we want [partners] to make money by adding value to customers on this because it’s such a daunting task to go out and reimagine a workspace.”

The validated designs will include Webex’s more recent features, such as embedded camera and audio intelligence, automatic noise cancelation, and the option for users to switch to their own devices, Cisco said.

On the hardware side, Cisco’s new device for large videoconferencing rooms is called Cisco Room Kit EQ. The new device is powered by the Cisco Codec EQ, an AI-based computing appliance, which can help enable more realistic and inclusive meeting experiences, Patel said.

The Right Environment For Collaboration

If the pandemic taught employers and employees anything, it’s that the office isn’t just a place people go. It’s a place to collaborate, share information, and even, at times, celebrate. But as people return to the office, these spaces need to be smarter, sustainable and more seamlessly connected, said Jonathan Davidson, executive vice president and general manager of Enterprise and Cloud and Mass-Scale Infrastructure Teams during the pre-WebexOne event.

That’s why Webex Control Hub, Cisco’s central management platform for all collaboration services and devices, is now integrated with Cisco Spaces, a cloud platform that digitizes spaces to make them safer, smarter and more sustainable, according to the tech giant. The combination will give employees and decision makers more information about their workspace, such as real-time occupancy, air quality updates and electricity usage to make sure hybrid work “actually works,” Davidson said.

Cisco Spaces also integrates with existing Cisco products that businesses might have in their environment today, such as Catalyst switches, Meraki gear and Webex. “These all are now sensors inside of your infrastructure,” he said. “All of these things together create this visual experience for IT teams.”

Davidson said that Cisco has more than 10,000 IT administrators using Cisco Spaces right now.

Cisco is also introducing IT Digital Coach, which lets Control Hub act as a coach to improve hybrid work experiences. Control Hub can now guide IT administrators or MSPs step by step in setting up, adoption, and ensuring efficiency for managing and supporting workers, Cisco said.

Native Interoperability With Microsoft Teams

Cisco also took to the pre-WebexOne event to discuss its partnership unveiled earlier this month with Microsoft that now allows videoconferencing users to choose between running Cisco Webex or Microsoft Teams natively on their Cisco Meeting devices and cameras. Cisco said it is also becoming a partner in the Certified for Microsoft Teams program.

Webex by Cisco already integrates with the “big three” videoconferencing players: Google Meet, Microsoft Teams and Zoom, and interoperability was a great “first step,” Patel said.

Patel said Cisco wants to make sure it has an open collaboration ecosystem because users shouldn’t have to jump between multiple platforms to get their work done. Native integration eliminates the need for users to switch between platforms to locate content shared during meetings and without having to reboot room systems when moving from one platform to another, he said.

“It’s completely game-changing,” Patel told CRN of the new integration. “You get the full Microsoft team’s experience and from there, you can launch your Webex meetings as well. You have to give a lot of kudos to Microsoft because we’re actually working together on this one, and both of us are looking at the customer’s interest is first and we’re going to work backwards from there, rather than actually getting caught up in pushing our own individual technologies first.”

The ability to launch Webex natively from Teams is something that’s never been done before, Patel added.

“This in this industry is actually evolving in a very similar way that the entertainment industry evolves. Sometimes, you watch a movie on Netflix, sometimes Amazon Prime Video, sometimes you go to Hulu. About 85 percent of companies use two or more [collaboration] platforms. You cannot have those be single platform devices — they just won’t work.