Video and other collaboration tools have been perhaps the defining technology of the COVID-19 pandemic era, and one of the biggest points of demand for many solution providers as their customers have rapidly moved to distance working. And Cisco Webex has been one of the platforms that has seen explosive usage as the result of that focus.
Cisco’s collaboration tools have seen usage triple in recent months, said Cherie Caldwell, global director of collaboration strategy and business development at Cisco, with some 500 million participants in April taking part in over 25 billion meeting minutes on the platform.
“Our partners jumped on the need for their customers and provided Webex meetings to allow continuity and work-from-home,” Caldwell said in a conference with channel press last week connected to Cisco’s virtual version of its Cisco Live conference.
Two big takeaways – more than 70 percent of companies will retain at least some degree of remote working even after the pandemic crisis has long passed, and the events of March, April, and May pressed fast forward on companies’ innovation strategies in a big way.
“Digital transformation has jumped two years ahead” as a result of the pandemic, Caldwell said. And now, Webex and its peers are getting more attention from higher up the food chain than ever before.
“Video-first is the new standard for business, and secure collaboration is now a top CEO priority” she said.
Some of those gains, though, have come from new customers to the platform who are enjoying a free preview. Like many cloud-based services, Cisco made more of Webex available for free in the short term as a result of the surging demand.
Now solution providers have the opportunity to turn those new customers into an annuity stream, and last week Cisco introduced some new and upcoming features to help keep those new faces showing up to Webex sessions in the future.
At Cisco Live, Javed Khan, vice president and general manager of Cisco’s collaboration business debuted some new features, including enhancements to the company’s personal assistant AI that can listen in to meetings to take notes and offer follow-ups, and showed off the new DeskPro collaboration unit, which he touted as an “instant office” offering available now on a hardware-as-a-service basis for those who need a more dedicated collaboration experience than their computer, tablet or phone can provide.
Khan noted the company has seen”a surge in demand for devices” including desktop devices, smart whiteboards, and even headphones.
Khan also outlined enhancements to security that are sure to be of interest to customers and partners alike as collaboration becomes more and more standard as a way companies do business. Khan detailed extended compliance solutions, including adding data loss prevention and e-Discovery support built into Webex meetings, both of which Caldwell identified as significant opportunities for the company’s partners.
In making enterprise-grade security and compliance even more front and center in Webex, Khan aimed to differentiate from its competitors, most notably the video-centric but largely consumer Zoom platform. Over the last few months, Zoom has become extremely popular, but remains on the consumer edge in terms of its feature set, and it has faced widespread attention for security challenges.
As a contrast, Khan emphasized Webex’s integration into Cisco’s overarching security strategy. And while he didn’t name his suddenly-popular rival, he did fire some shots at Zoom. Khan said Webex was devoted “to making sure all those meeting minutes are done securely,” Zoom remained more consumer-grade and “better used for leisure activities like happy hours or yoga.”
But perhaps the biggest change coming to Webex for partners is the launch of Webex Control Hub, a management tool for Cisco’s collaboration tools.
Caldwell called the control hub “an amazing opportunity for partners” that allows them to see in a single pane of glass all of the business trends and analytics built into Webex. Caldwell said partners could then sell add-on services around analysis and designing for companies’ collaboration goals.
Control Hub will also be a key ingredient in helping solution providers provide upsell opportunities around data retention, e-discovery, and meeting transcripts, Caldwell said.