One of the lasting impacts of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic will likely be the accelerated migration to a truly hybrid workforce model for many businesses. Enterprises will need to support their employees with equal access to opportunities and resources, whether in the office, working from home, or on the other side of the world.
Increasingly, open collaboration and productivity tools are at the heart of this global paradigm shift and have been the lifeblood for many businesses forced into remote work models by the pandemic.
Google Meet and Cisco Webex are two of the biggest names in the video collaboration game. Given that the companies compete for the same pie, it may have caught some by surprise last week when both announced their intention to make Cisco Webex and Google Meet more interoperable. Let’s look closer at the announcement, which I believe makes sense on many levels.
Mr. Gorbachev, tear these silos down
With more businesses operating in the digital world than ever before, everybody has their collaboration software and hardware of choice. Video conferencing platforms have been duking it out since before the pandemic began to be the preferred option for corporations headed the hybrid direction. The dust is beginning to settle and revealing a world with multiple, popular videoconferencing solutions.
One problem is that many older conference rooms are outfitted with videoconferencing equipment that will only function when paired with a specific software suite. This focused and somewhat proprietary approach brings unnecessary burdens to video call customers when communicating with end customers or suppliers that may not have that service in their rooms. Customers will commit to a video call service and, in doing so, transferring the video call service’s burden of competition.
In other words, while I may use video call service X and my client uses video call service Y, since X doesn’t work with Y, my client and I have taken on the burden that video call service X and Y should be taking. The biggest factor going into this is that businesses are using proprietary hardware to use service X and Y, so compromising on another service leaves the hardware unusable. This approach won’t fly for future video call solutions.
You see, during Covid-19, we were all trained and used any service that our customers or suppliers preferred. This was because, at home, we were all PC-based and it takes maybe 5 minutes tom add another video service that the enterprise may not fully support.
Situations will arise when your business must communicate with entities that have standardized its operations on a different platform. As it stands, it takes time and energy to figure out how to best communicate across these silos. It’s a simple equation: reduce friction, save time and improve productivity—isn’t that what these tools were made for in the first place?
Video call solutions that implement interoperability become more attractive to the enterprise. However, this is a two-way street—when Webex decides to be interoperable with Google Meet, Google Meet likewise must meet in the middle. Otherwise, it becomes a standoff where one side becomes interoperable at the cost of giving an advantage to the other. At that point, the interoperability becomes convenient only to the side that isn’t interoperable, ultimately counterintuitive.
Google + Cisco = best friends forever?
Google and Cisco, together, are hoping to usher in a new era of cooperation that enables both to retain their current customer base and reduce the headaches of platform incompatibility. Starting in Q4, both companies’ videoconferencing hardware will be able to connect to the other’s videoconferencing software platform.
Google says it has removed steps that will make it easier and more intuitive for customers to join Google Meet using Cisco Webex hardware natively. Webex devices will flash a “One Button To Push” (OBTP) prompt when a meeting is about to start, featuring the Google Meet logo. All it takes is (you guessed it) one push of the button, and you can join the Google Meet with your Webex device, bypassing the need to enter meeting IDs, passwords, or any other steps for validation.
Thanks to WebRTC technology, Google Meet’s media and signaling can travel directly from the Google Cloud to any device registered to Webex, whether that be directly or via Webex Edge.
Conversely, Google says that users of its Google Meet video hardware will now easily access Webex meetings. To join a scheduled Webex meeting, all a user must do is add the Google device, or conference room, to the Webex meeting invite and then wait for go time. When the meeting is about to begin, the invite will appear on the device’s agenda accompanied with the tag “via Webex by Cisco.”
Customers should enjoy the Webex meeting with the same seamless joining experience, Google Meet UI, and call controls that they’re accustomed to. This interoperability will come embedded on all Google Meet hardware devices, in addition to the Google Meet Series One Desk 27 and Board 65.
Most video call services—Zoom, Teams, Meet, Webex—all have interoperability features integrated into its services, but I have yet to see one integrated into proprietary hardware. I think this strategy will be a win-win-loss. It will be a win for both Google Meet and Cisco Webex and at the same time being a loss for competition like Zoom. It essentially puts Webex and Meet on another level of interoperability between parties.
From my experience with video calling, it is convenience and reliability that win the day. When businesses use specific hardware to do all-day video conferencing, this interoperability will be all the difference.
I also see businesses believing that they are getting their money’s worth in its hardware. Rather than using the service and hardware it paid for every other video call, the service and hardware are used all the time. I say “all the time” because I imagine other video call solutions will jump in on this hardware interoperability in the near future. The difference will be Google and Webex are the first to do this for their hardware, and it is an appealing feature for businesses obtaining new video call hardware.
The biggest kicker for this interoperability is that Cisco’s Webex will not support E2E encryption. Connecting Cisco devices to Google devices will not bring over the E2E encryption. I think it is a compromise that Cisco users should keep in mind since the E2E encryption is a big seller for Webex.
The last 18 months have been a slugfest between videoconferencing platforms, all vying to be the platform of choice for corporate America during this time of workforce upheaval. That said, I believe both Google and Cisco understand fundamentally that the future is open and collaborative. Nobody currently has (nor can achieve) a total monopoly on collaboration hardware and software. Acknowledging this reality allows joint customers to spend less time troubleshooting and more time collaborating.
Google, for its part, says it intends to reduce friction with other major productivity platforms (Zoom or Teams both come to mind), and I expect we’ll see other collaboration suites following suit (forgive the wordplay). It’s time to give “playing nice” a try.