Smarter Collaboration: Where AI meets Webex, and what it means

Mar 18, 2019 | Collaboration

The media seems abuzz with terms like artificial intelligence and machine learning, and there’s a stream of articles predicting that these new technologies will affect everything we do- from playing games, to shopping, and even the way we work. It may sound like science fiction, but companies like Google and Apple are exploring new frontiers in the consumer technology space today. But what does it look like when AI meets your collaboration tool? Cisco is trying to answer that question with its latest enhancements to the Webex platform- let’s take a look at what that means for regular users.

Cisco posits that we’re at the tipping point of a market transition in the collaboration arena centered on bringing intelligence and context into the platform. In the past, we saw very similar transitions- how point calling and messaging solutions, available on-premise only, gave way to the mobile, BYOD & SaaS solutions to let people collaboration anywhere. This era likewise evolved into the current generation of team collaboration platforms, like Webex Teams and Slack, which serve to deliver more user-centric experiences- based in part on the expectations set by consumer applications. In short, the experience of collaboration matters, and vendors like Cisco are betting that the next wave of collaboration tools need to smarter to accomplish that.

You may have seen Cisco’s recent big announcements, but at MMITC we wanted to unpack what regular users should be looking forward to from “Cognitive Collaboration.”

First up- the Webex Assistant. The Assistant has been a regular appearance at trade shows for the last couple of years, but it’s finally being released. You’ll surely recognize the concept from consumer virtual assistants available today- the idea of asking “Hey Alexa- what’s the weather forecast?” has become commonplace and familiar! The idea behind the Webex Assistant is to enable this functionality for many of the Webex video endpoints, like the Room Kit series. The secret sauce powering the Assistant is the wireless pairing technology that enables an automatic handshake between a Webex user and the video endpoint- this means that when I say “Hey Webex, join my next meeting,” Webex knows that I’m John, my next meeting is a metrics review, and joins it automatically. The hands-free functionality extends into changing settings on the video endpoint and placing & making call as well. You’ll also see facial recognition making an appearance on some of these endpoint- we’re all used to seeing a crowd of people on the video screen, but unless you know who they are, it can be tough to tell who’s who on the other end of your meeting. Adding nametags powered by facial recognition makes larger meetings, or meetings with people you haven’t met a lot smoother. Making those video endpoints smarter has additional benefits for IT admins and building administrators too- those video endpoints will gather metrics on how those rooms are used, from the number of meetings held, to how many people are using the room at any given time.

Cisco calls the next enhancement being delivered People Insights and it has the potential to be a big shift in the way people collaborate. Cisco is taking aim at some of the biggest challenges of the way we work today- how do we build trusted relationships within distributed and often changing teams? It feels like every day we’re working with coworkers we haven’t met, people we haven’t seen in a while, or who might be outside your organization. What does People Insights do to solve that? First, using AI, the Webex platform gathers publicly available information on users and builds profiles for them- those profiles are then displayed inside of Webex Meetings (coming later to Webex Teams) to provide a much richer context to who is in the meeting! The platform keeps those profiles updated dynamically as well, ensuring attendees always know who they’re meeting with. Companies can also plug their directory into the service as well, to provide internal company details to those profiles- as someone who’d worked in large companies before, it’s commonplace to be in a meeting with people you’ve never worked with before, and understanding who they are and where they work can decidedly improve that collaboration. It also sounds like Cisco has build this into the Webex platform with good forethought- users own their own profiles, and can edit, trim or disable them altogether. Further, Cisco has built in some robust privacy controls in, with organizational and user level opt-ins needed for a lot of this functionality. At the end of the day though, I think that this will be a welcome addition to the Webex platform, as we work in an ever more connected world.

It’s clear that Cisco views intelligent collaboration as the future of the Webex platform, and at MMITC we’re excited to see the Webex platform continue to evolve to increase productivity and improve the collaboration experience. Let us know how we can help you take the next step in your collaboration journey!

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