Cisco Systems officials are saying that the company's revamped WebEx platform will clean up the "confusing mess" that collaboration technology has become.
The enhanced WebEx offering, which was introduced Oct. 6 and enables audio, video and Web conferencing in a single solution, removes a lot of the time-consuming and headache-inducing aspects of collaboration technologies now in use, including Cisco's previous WebEx tools, according to Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco's Collaboration Technology Group.
Audio, Web and video conferencing have developed at different times over the years, and they tend to sit in silos, making them difficult to work together, Trollope said during a recent online conference to demonstrate the new WebEx solution. In addition, joining a meeting usually involves finding and then using lengthy dial-in, meeting, access and attendant ID numbers. At the same time, 10 to 15 minutes can be eaten up at the beginning of meetings while all the participants dial in, are authenticated and then get settled in to the meeting.
And that's after planning the meeting, and having to figure out how many people will be attending, where they're located, what devices will be used and how to connect everyone, he said.
"It's a big, confusing mess to bring all this together," Trollope said, adding that it's such challenges that are keeping collaboration technologies from reaching mainstream adoption. "Joining a conference is creating a lot of wasted time. What we really need is to have a single conferencing [solution]. … We don't want to have three separate technologies anymore."
Cisco is solving those problems with its new WebEx platform, which includes what the vendor is calling Collaboration Meeting Rooms cloud service, which gives users their own "personal room" that they can use whenever they want to start or join a meeting. Employees are given their own URL for their own personal Collaboration Room, which becomes a persistent meeting location that is their own.
They can join via their Collaboration Room regardless of the device they're using, and it doesn't matter whether the meeting is video, audio or Web, Trollope said. In addition, users can do away with the various lengthy dial-in and access numbers; instead, the verification is done by the system based on their personal URLs.
"It's all one meeting," he said.
The new WebEx includes a new user interface, and joining meetings is 30 percent faster, according to Cisco officials. It also includes high-definition video, and meetings can be scheduled in Outlook for Apple Macs and Windows systems. Plus, it will support collaboration solutions from other vendors, such as Microsoft and Polycom, and Trollope said other innovations will be added to the WebEx platform—both by Cisco and third-party developers who will be able to leverage the more open platform—including support for HTML5 and WebRTC.
During the WebEx conference, John Maass, manager of conferencing technologies at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Florida, said collaboration platforms that are complex, time-consuming or unwieldy can keep people from using them. Doctors at the center in the past have complained about the difficulty in using conferencing technologies and have walked away from them.
"If it is too cumbersome or time-consuming or just one more thing they have to learn to use, adoption drops significantly," he said.
However, the technology is getting better, and doctors and other employees are embracing collaboration more, Maass said. The capabilities in the new WebEx platform are particularly exciting, he said.
"The idea that you could be doing this anywhere in the country on any device really opens up ... what you can do in the future," Maass said.
Cisco and Microsoft, with its Lync platform, are competing closely in a collaboration space that is increasingly focused on software- and cloud-based solutions over hardware offerings. Synergy Research Group analysts last month said in a report that while Microsoft may have overtaken Cisco for the top spot in the market in revenue in the first quarter, in the second quarter Cisco regained the lead, though narrowly.
"In Q2 Cisco bounced back from a poor start to the year in the enterprise voice segment and also saw strong growth in WebEx, though telepresence revenues remained soft," Jeremy Duke, Synergy Research's founder and chief analyst, said in a statement at the time. "One issue that Cisco faces is that a substantial amount of its collaboration revenue comes from mature markets which are flat or declining. In contrast Microsoft achieved sequential growth in all ten of the segments in which it is active, and grew year on year in nine of them."