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

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

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!

Huddle Spaces: Passing Trend, or Smart Investment?

Huddle Spaces: Passing Trend, or Smart Investment?

What Are Huddle Spaces?

First, we saw old-school “cube farms,” and then the pendulum swung all the way to airy, open plan office spaces. Now all the buzz is around huddle spaces! Before you jump on the bandwagon it’s essential to understand what that term means.  Huddle spaces are designed to accommodate small working groups- typically five people or less. These spaces are typically used for ad-hoc working sessions, when teams need to escape the noisy environment of the open office. And critically- they are enabled with technology (whether it’s video conferencing, digital whiteboarding or something else), with the end goal of making collaborating across time and space a seamless task.  Whether it’s ease of use, privacy, courtesy or efficiency, workers are demanding those spaces to huddle more than ever now.

In a recent study conducted by Dimensional Research, 93% of huddle space users, facilities managers, and IT professionals state the current open office environment is driving the need for huddle spaces.  The dynamic nature of many work tasks makes huddle spaces the perfect solution.  Today’s workers expect their environment to not only support, but also enhance their daily work routines.  The business value and flexibility of the work space make huddle spaces worth consideration, if not a necessity.  This is an admirable goal, but one of the most critical challenges with building effective huddle spaces is the mix of technologies from different vendors within a huddle space- or even across various huddle spaces within the same office! Once you overcome the hurdle of interoperability, the advantages can quickly help you sing a new tune.  At MMITC, this is one of the biggest reasons we enjoy the Webex platform, especially the portfolio of hardware that can flexibly support huddle spaces of any type!

Why Huddle Spaces?

According to the study, the top value of huddle spaces is the ability to have a quick meeting.  Imagine walking into a huddle space on your floor and simply clicking a couple of buttons to instantly be connected via audio and video for a collaborative meeting. This is where the technology underpinning those huddle spaces becomes the make-or-break factor in how useful they are- that same study also noted how fragmented or unintuitive technology gets in the way of effective “huddling.” However, when properly set up with the end-user experience in mind, huddle spaces are a great way to facilitate everything from long brainstorming sessions to a ten-minute impromptu meeting to get clarification on a project task.  Users in the study noticed a higher rate of productivity and saw huddle spaces as a more effective information sharing medium than what they were traditionally using.  Probably most telling was that of those surveyed 99% indicated they saw value in huddle spaces. One of the goals of any workspace should be to remove hurdles that hinder work.  When you eliminate or at least ease the complexity of collaboration technology infrastructure you help people concentrate on getting work done- and that’s really the heart of collaboration technology. For example, I personally love being able to duck into an open room, wirelessly share some content up onto a Webex Board, get some work done, and take it back with me in Webex Teams.

Who Uses Huddle Spaces?

It sounds a bit glib, but do you work on things with people at your job? It’s virtually guaranteed that you’d have a use for a huddle space. In the study, one most telling was that of those surveyed 99% indicated they saw value in huddle spaces.

  • A marketing team might get together to review and mark up the latest website layout during a redesign.
  • Customer Success management could huddle and discuss their customers’ health and usage metrics as they’re building a presentation for their quarterly business review.
  • An Agile development team might cluster around a Webex Board to check on the delivery status of the next feature release, and then bring in some remote participants to check on the latest code.
  • A live events team might gather to review the latest booth layout for a tradeshow, and then conference in a vendor to confirm logistics.
  • A sales rep might duck into a huddle space for a customer call, just so they don’t disturb their colleagues in the office.

As our teams, partners and customers are growing more geographically distributed, and the nature of work overall shifts to smaller teams working more closely together, work isn’t just happening in conference rooms anymore. Having well-equipped conference rooms is important, but building “virtual” huddle spaces is the other side of that coin- and team collaboration platforms like Webex Teams are great for meeting that need.

Setting Up Your First Huddle Spaces

So you’re sold on the concept of huddle spaces- how do you equip them so they’re most useful for the people using them? Collaboration is about people- so when thinking about how to equip them, consider who will be using them, and for what. Huddle spaces aren’t one-size-fits-all in terms of what users need, and on top of that there’s the budgetary and support considerations.

From the study:

  • Technology needs to be easy to use (and support) and reliable
  • Top technology needs are for audio/video conferencing, content sharing and digital whiteboarding
  • Whatever technology is implemented, it needs to be consistent across the office

From a technology perspective, as I mentioned in the beginning, we’re fans of Cisco’s hardware portfolio- we like the easy content sharing enabled by Webex Share devices, and the all-inclusive Webex Board makes digital whiteboarding (in-meeting or not) a snap. Any huddle space is only as good as the technology that supports the work that gets done in it. That’s why we love how Webex Teams works seamlessly together with Cisco’s video endpoints- so that collaboration within the room is easy, and it’s seamless to bring together remote teams.

At the end of the day though, choosing to build out huddle spaces is a “people” deployment- and at MMITC I like to think we’re experts at helping organizations find better ways of working, and managing that change in the ways people work. Let us know how we can help you get the most out of your collaboration technology!

 

New Solutions To Meet The Growing Demands Of An Accelerating World

New Solutions To Meet The Growing Demands Of An Accelerating World

Our team at Meet Me In The Cloud is excited and proud to announce a significant expansion of our services, along with the launch of our new website. We have introduced several scalable solutions developed to make it as easy and painless as possible for companies of all sizes to successfully adopt and integrate new collaboration technologies.

In addition to our already highly-regarded adoption, migration and training services for Cisco Webex, Meet Me In The Cloud now also offers:

Lifecycle Management & Customer Success Services. The adoption of any new technology involves more than simply putting it in place—it’s all about engagement. Successfully onboarding users of new technology is critical and requires training and ongoing support. Our Customer Success Managed Services (CSMS) approach enables a company to manage the entire customer lifecycle—from pre-sales activities to kickoff, adoption and training, and beyond – through the term of their collaboration use license.

Project Management. For a project to be truly successful the focus must be on much more than keeping the budget and schedule in check. Meet Me In The Cloud has developed a proven, five-step process that applies our team’s deep expertise to create a unified vision for success. This objective approach has resulted in the successful delivery of projects with minimized risk and maximized value.

Change Management. We understand how challenging it can be for people to adopt new processes, accept redefined job roles, or embrace expanded responsibilities. Our proven framework was developed to prepare, equip, train and support an organization’s team members as they embark on these changes.

Event Assist Services. Choosing the right provider is just the first step in hosting online events. Whether you’re using Cisco Webex, Adobe Connect, Zoom, or another online meeting platform, the success of any online event rests largely on it being professionally planned and executed. Meet Me In The Cloud offers three different Event Assist packages that ensure the delivery of technically flawless productions.

Consulting Services. Driving adoption of a new collaboration platform requires technical proficiency and creative problem solving. Our consulting services leverage Business Intelligence and Data Analytics to drive the strategy behind every engagement.

Practice Builder for Cisco Partners. This program accelerates the time to market by helping Cisco Partners build and strengthen their collaboration practice through the development of frameworks for action plans, training, and onboarding customers.

Meet Me In The Cloud’s newly designed website features in-depth descriptions of all our solutions, as well as details on our Live Learning Courses, available Onsite Training, and our extensive Microlearning Library.

Our new website provides a clear message of who we are, what we stand for and where our value lies when developing, delivering, and supporting the adoption of collaboration technology. Over the next several months, we will introduce a wide range of new content, including white papers, guides, and case studies, all designed to help you make the right decisions on your digital transformation journey.

We’re here to help you implement your cloud-based collaboration services. If you have questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please use the form on our Contact Us page to send us a message, or give us a call at 323-486-3367.

Communicating Virtually:  Five Challenges Addressed

Communicating Virtually: Five Challenges Addressed

How the Webex suite of products meets your virtual communication needs.

Tools to communicate are being developed and enhanced on a daily basis. Day-in and out, we use email, text, social media for groups, a document sharing site, and videoconferencing. As an employee tries to utilize the best technology for the task at hand, the task might morph, and a different platform might be sought throughout the life cycle of the task. Every time the platform shifts, there’s the risk of that thread of communication being cut. You search your text to find contact information, move to your email and search the thread for lengthier project information, share a document to the document sharing site, then hop on a video conference to explain it all. When work performance depends on how people use technology, it stands to reason that having too many tools can make work harder, not easier. All these communication platforms serve a purpose, but then it is up to the user to determine which method of communication best suits the task. Technology should be built in a way that works the way we do, it should be a vessel that is able to adjust to our collaboration effort, and not get in the way or waste time. When a platform like Webex pulls multiple communication methods together, the technology can enhance collaboration instead of hindering it.

We recently saw an article written by the MIT Sloan Management Review on Five Ways to Improve Communication in Virtual Teams where they listed the following five behaviors to better communication:

  1. Match the technology to the task.
  2. Make intentions clear.
  3. Stay in sync.
  4. Be responsive and supportive.
  5. Be open and inclusive.

We wanted to see how, as a virtual team here at Meet Me In The Cloud, our ability to communicate virtually matched up to these five recommendations, and we wanted to give you a peek into how we use the Webex suite to address some of the challenges of working virtually.

Our team is spread out across North America, when they are not traveling, and some of us enjoy working out of our home offices. Our clients are spread out across multiple time-zones (and sometimes continents)! Like most companies, a lot of our communication occurs in scheduled meetings, but because of the nature of our team and work, much of our collaboration happens on the fly- especially during engagements.

Challenge #1:  Matching the technology to the task.

The article states that leaner, text-based media such as email, chat, and bulletin boards should be used when communication is one-way, where videoconferencing tools should be used for richer forms of communication.

Webex Teams is our tool of choice whether we need to send off a quick message to one person, gather a group together, setup bulletin style communication, share a file, or hop on a quick face-to-face call. For us, Webex Teams is really a collaboration toolbox; and that makes it so much easier to determine what tool to use because however we need to communicate, we can do it in Teams.

Challenge #2:  Make intentions clear.

One of the most difficult parts of working virtually is that much of the communication is text-based. People write things that they wouldn’t tend to say in person. As the article suggests, this leaves a lot of what is said up for interpretation and usually it is received negatively, especially when so much of communication is non-verbal. Emoticons & emojis can help to augment the spirit of the message, but there’s no substitute for being face-to-face.

Webex Teams makes it simple to add those emoticons to your messages, and if a picture is worth a thousand words, a GIF is even better! And even better, ask if your teammate has a moment, and press the call button. Voilà – you’re on a video call together, regardless of what device you’re using, or where you are in the world.

Our team has saved precious time by hopping on a two-minute call to clarify project details, instead of sending a lengthy email and waiting for a response.

Challenge #3: Stay in sync.

As the article states, it is important to interact face-to-face for a couple of reasons. One is that it is difficult to tell when messages have been received or read. Another is that there’s the risk of team members being left out of the loop when a lot of collaboration tools are in play- we see this often just in sprawling email chains!

Webex Teams allows us to see when our co-workers are online, when they are busy in a meeting, or when they are out of the office. Read receipts let us know who in a space has seen the latest message. The Teams platform makes it easy to reply quickly even if it’s to let colleagues know we will get back to them soon. Teams can be created based on project, task, etc. so nobody is ever missed or left out. The persistent nature of spaces means that they don’t even need to be “online” to send them a message- they’ll see it as soon as they open the app again.

Challenge #4: Be responsive and supportive.

The article also notes one of the cruxes of dispersed teams- trust is crucial to effective teamwork, but it’s much harder to develop. The key is building habits of responsive and supportive communication that is timely and appropriate. Everyone should make extra effort to respond quickly, and with an effective response. During onboarding, employees should be made aware of the challenges remote employees and teams face. This will help the team build effective collaboration tactics and help them succeed together regardless of location. Helping onboard those new team members using Webex will both save on travel costs, and give them a running start on using them to collaborate virtually!

Challenge #5:  Be open and inclusive

Remote teams can span different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. Be cognizant of the diversity your team brings and think of ways to help the team feel closer together, despite geographic distances. We’ve found that by building a video-centric working culture, you’re similarly able to build an inclusive team culture.

After working virtually for 8 years, we like to think we have the expertise to help other dispersed teams work best together! To learn more about how you can implement the Webex product suite to better your communication contact sales@meetmeinthecloud.com.

Three Steps To Success: How to Build an Innovative Team Online

Three Steps To Success: How to Build an Innovative Team Online

Creative ideas discovered by the water cooler are a thing of the past, or are they?

I’ve been in the work world for a number of years and seen the evolution of collaboration technology change and morph the way we work in many ways, particularly how we work. Few experiences quite match the collaboration we had at the proverbial water cooler. You know, the place where you walk past a co-worker or two and stop to discuss the latest project. Your casual meeting turns into the next step you need to keep a project moving. For better or for worse, we don’t live in that world anymore. Our teams are geographically dispersed. Even when we’re in the same state, it’s likely we’re in different offices, or on different floors. Because of this, the meeting by the water cooler doesn’t just happen. It takes a lot more to orchestrate these chance encounters than just walking past someone’s cube, or to the breakroom for another cup of coffee.

Currently, I work at Meet Me In The Cloud as a Collaboration Specialist. Meet Me In The Cloud is a global leader in collaboration adoption services. We exclusively focus on Cisco’s cloud collaboration suite, Webex (you might have heard of it?). We help organizations large and small get the most value out of their collaboration services. Every day I work with folks around the world, to help them use their Webex services to get stuff done better, faster, more efficiently, and sometimes- with more fun. After all, that is what collaboration is: the action of working with someone to produce or create something!

What if we could recapture that innovation and spontaneous collaboration, using the power of Webex? To get there you need to lay the groundwork.

1. Get your team excited about collaboration.

Before I came to Meet Me In The Cloud I was the Lead Spark Evangelist in Cisco’s Customer Success organization (back when Webex Teams was named Cisco Spark.) I traveled around the world to spread the good word about the power of team collaboration. It was exciting to see how this powerful tool enabled people to work in new ways. I’ve been immersed in Cisco’s collaboration ecosystem since the debut of Project Squared and have been at the tip of the spear as the platform evolved into Cisco Spark. It’s been an exciting journey as they added an award-winning hardware portfolio, and the platform finally became united under the Webex banner.

End-users often want to know, “will this new technology get in my way, or will it help me do my job more easily?” I’ve seen this collaboration technology fully implemented, and the answer is, it will enhance your workflow without a huge learning curve. Often, we see that adoption stumbles when a new tool is deployed without a clear message answering, “what’s in it for me?” There are tremendous capabilities within the Webex platform, especially in Webex Teams, to enable a wide range of work styles. Challenge your teams to look at what they do every day, and what they wish could be improved. There is a good chance the Webex Teams collaboration technology will change the way they get things done, for the better.

For example, has your weekly project report email ever turned into a conversation? Fractured threads and attempts to keep people in the loop can make email painful all while you search for a specific file buried deep in that thread. You end up pinging the original sender on IM, wasting value time. Collaboration has become more complex. Using a tool like email has its place, but when you use a tool like Webex Teams, designed specifically for today’s workplace, your work is streamlined.

2. Make the implementation of the technology seamless.

The best way to do this is to work with a team of professionals who are as passionate and excited about collaboration as you are. When deploying collaboration tools, it’s crucial to understand that this is a “people” deployment as much as it is a technology deployment. Cisco likes to say that it’s changing the way you work using the Webex suite- Meet Me In The Cloud is changing the way you train on it! Meet Me In The Cloud is the only Cisco Indirect Channel Partner and certified Webex Lifecycle Advisor, focused exclusively on the Webex family of services. Every day we apply our deep knowledge of working with the Webex platform to help our clients solve business challenges, find more value in their services—and get things done! We’ve been doing this for a long time, and we like to think few know Webex better than us. Take a look at our adoption methodology to see how we can partner with you to lay the groundwork for a better way to collaborate.

3. Be a collaboration leader.

It is said that if you build it they will come, but often it takes an influencer or leader to model behavior in a new environment. Sketch out a plan of some of the collaboration interactions you would like to see on your new platform and note the benefits you’re expecting to realize.

An important initial step is to understand how your organization communicates today! Think about how groups and teams utilize email lists and IM services to collaborate. This is easy, low-hanging fruit to pick as you map ways of working to a new platform like Webex Teams.

Most organizations create a few “organizational level” teams and spaces to get started. These organizational spaces are a good starting point, to help your people get used to the new environment! You are modeling for other users how they can start their own spaces and teams as they wish, for their functional working groups, projects, and even virtual “water cooler” spaces!

As you gain momentum, it is vital that you recruit other leaders. Bring other leaders and managers in early to ensure robust adoption occurs at all levels of your organization. This way, users will get organizational announcements from their leaders in the pre-setup spaces. In addition, they will be able to work in customized spaces they set up. Get started today by using the Webex Power Pack to bring your team into Teams!

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