Javed Khan

Three years ago, many people would’ve written of Webex as a languishing asset in Cisco’s portfolio. After all, how sexy is collaboration? How much growth is there in the market? IDC’s research said the worldwide Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) market grew 29.2% year over year from 2020 to 2021. Meanwhile, Reportlinker estimates the global enterprise collaboration market size will grow from USD 47.2 billion in 2021 to USD 85.8 billion by 2026, representing a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 12.7%.

Clearly, collaboration tools are the foundation for work, education, and even our personal lives. You only need to witness the addition of emojis as a way of expressing yourself as one example of humanizing a business application for both work and play.

Over the past month, Cisco’s made two major collaboration announcements. The first announcement with Lockheed Martin and Amazon showcases how communication and collaboration tools will support science. These companies teamed up to integrate human-machine interface technologies into NASA’s Orion spacecraft, providing an opportunity to learn how future astronauts could benefit from far-field voice technology, AI, and tablet-based video collaboration. It brings a new meaning to that old Star Trek line, “Space, the final frontier.”

What’s interesting to me is not that we’re bringing collaboration to space. The average enterprise doesn’t care. What matters is that space communications represent the ultimate latency use case challenge. Finding a way to optimize collaboration to a destination with a minimum distance of 33.9 million miles (54.6 million kilometers) from Earth means that Webex collaboration will be highly optimized for all types of connections.

Accessibility takes center stage

Collaboration software and broadband services enabled people worldwide to meet and share ideas. Yet, there’s still room for improvement. Cisco’s second announcement shared advancements in the accessibility field. Many organizations are designing strategies to improve inclusivity, but fewer companies are evaluating how technologies such as Webex can improve the lives of employees with speech, hearing, and visual impairments.

A blog by Cisco’s Javed Khan shared research from the World Health Organization, which stated 15% of the global population – over a billion people – live with some form of disability. In the United States alone, that number increases to 1 in 4 adults.  For example, nearly 300 million people are color blind. Khan shared advancements that Cisco was delivering on the accessibility front. A few highlights of these include:

  • Hosts, participants, and interpreters can customize simultaneous interpretation solutions, so each can participate more fully. For example, you can customize the stage to always keep a sign-language interpreter visible. It also supports assigning channels to interpreters for up to 110 languages– before and after the meeting starts.
  • The Webex admin console was updated to improve accessibility for users who are color blind. While we might not think of this, most administrator-based products and presentations rely heavily on charts and other visual cues to relay information.
  • The team decoupled closed captions from the Webex Assistant so all attendees will get closed captions without having to turn on the Assistant
  • Cisco now delivers isolation techniques within Webex that allow participants to hear more clearly by using AI to single out and boost the clarity of an individual’s voice.

One area that I admire in Cisco’s strategy is how the company infuses the concepts of creating inclusive software throughout various job functions within the company. Khan said, “At Webex, our design, engineering, and product management team members are required to take accessibility education and hands-on training. It’s even built into the onboarding process for our designers, who recently won an award for Accessible Colors in Data Visualization for Webex Control Hub.”

The changing face of Webex will fuel longer-term software growth. 

Cisco’s long-term growth relies on expanding its recurring software subscription such as Webex collaboration services, cybersecurity services, and network management services. Intense competition in the sector means partnerships, innovation, and addressing new markets are crucial elements to helping Cisco expand its collaboration footprint. However, it’s challenging to convince enterprise buyers to purchase video collaboration solutions in addition to existing collaboration tools from Microsoft and Google.

In recent months, Cisco’s been working hard to introduce innovations faster. In the fall of 2021, it launched a portfolio of communications products, including an integrated asynchronous camera feature, AI-powered sound, video enhancements, and services for hybrid in-person and virtual events. Vidcast, its asynchronous video messaging tool,  is now in beta. The company also updated its hardware portfolio with Webex Mini and luxury headsets.

Online events continue to grow and show no signs of stopping. According to a survey by Kaltura, 92% of organizers switched to virtual events in 2021, 94% plan to continue with digital events in 2022, and 48% plan to increase how many they organize. Cisco includes Socio, its all-in-one event platform, as part of the Webex portfolio and suite pricing, providing significant savings over standalone event solutions from Hopin and Zoom. As hybrid events continue to grow, Cisco has the potential to grow with the market as companies look for new event strategies. Offering better event support also provides an opportunity to showcase Webex collaboration improvements to non-Webex users.

In the past, collaboration suites acted as islands of productivity. Collaboration software worked wonderfully if you stayed within that island. Today the world is a different place. Organizations use a myriad of collaboration and communication tools to accomplish work. Collaboration suites must support integrating with other solutions, and Webex has embraced this trend. For example, the Cisco Webex Meetings integration with Slack enables users to invite contacts to a Webex scheduled meeting or Personal Room from within the Slack environment. Integrations like this are necessary to improve productivity and reduce misaligned teams’ risk.

Business reliance on collaboration technologies will only grow, providing headroom for Webex to grow, even in the face of stiff competition. If Webex continues to innovate and rapidly release new features to market, it will remain relevant and has the opportunity to thrive as companies embrace a world of distributed hybrid work.