Cisco unifies its collaboration tools on one platform

Cisco also announced new collaboration devices and enhancements to its cloud calling solutions.
Written by Stephanie Condon, Senior Writer

Cisco on Wednesday announced it's providing a more cohesive, unified communications experience, with a single platform for managing collaboration and communications workloads. It's also bringing its communication tools -- including call, message and meet tools -- together in one app for end users.

"Today's UC experience tends to be disjointed," Sri Srinivasan, SVP and GM of Cisco's team collaboration group, said to ZDNet. As the ways to communicate and collaborate grow, IT management can become more complex. That only amplifies the need for secure, compliant environments. 

"It slows things down within the enterprise," Srinivasan said. 

Cisco is aiming to solve that with what it calls the "single platform advantage." IT admins can manage all of their workloads -- from calling, messaging, meeting, contact center and devices -- from a single pane of glass. Delivered over Cisco's global backbone, comprising 29 data centers, they're protected by end-to-end encryption and Cisco's multilayer security features. Through the Webex Control Hub, admins can get real-time analytics and management capabilities for all collaboration tools. 

For end users, Cisco is unifying its call, message and meet tools under one app that applies to mobile, desktop and other devices. This means, for instance, users will have the same host controls regardless of whether they're joining a meeting from Webex or Webex Teams. If a user is attending a meeting on their smartphone, they can seamlessly transition to a meeting room device when they get into the office. 

The app can also be configured to meet a user's personal needs. Some users, for instance, may only want messaging and calling tools without virtual meeting tools.

Cisco on Wednesday also announced updates to its cloud calling solutions. 

With the new Webex Edge for Calling, IT teams can use Webex cloud services on top of existing PBX (private branch exchange) systems -- whether it's a system from Cisco or a third party. This means they can leverage services like global dial plans, least-cost routing, centralized IVR (interactive voice response) or centralized voice mail. 

It's common today for organizations to have multiple PBX systems, Srinivasan said to ZDNet. With Webex Edge for Calling, "their investments are protected and they can change [to the cloud] at a pace they set," he said. 

Webex can also now be connected to an enterprise's own carrier, with no local gateway required.

Additionally, Cisco on Wednesday announced new collaboration hardware. The Desk Pro is a 27-inch, 4K touchscreen device with a USB-C connection. It is web-app enabled, eliminating the need for another screen or charging station, and it works with Webex or any other conferencing service. It offers meeting capabilities such as whiteboarding, noise suppression and the ability to blur out your background or add a virtual background. 

Cisco characterizes the device as an "all-in-one, purpose-built, AI-driven instant office device."

Meanwhile, the Room Panorama offers rich content collaboration, integrations and AI-powered features for large meeting rooms. It offers tools like facial recognition with name and title labels, meeting summaries and the ability to connect additional Webex Board screens into the room for touch experiences. 

Cisco also announced the Cisco Headset 700 series, a new Bluetooth headset series designed for both work and personal use. The headsets block background noise, and they can be paired with any personal device or Cisco device. They can be managed by IT via the Control Hub and are deeply integrated with Cisco's collaboration app and devices. 

Lastly, Cisco on Wednesday announced that in the US, it's offering phones, desk- and room-sized video systems as a service. Organizations can renew a three-year subscription to get the latest hardware. 

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