Cisco is ramping up AI features in Webex, but in a market dominated by Google, Zoom, and Microsoft, it may struggle to boost user uptake

Webex by Cisco logo on an ad board at ISE 2023 and IOT Solution World Congress at Fira Barcelona on January 31, 2023 in Barcelona, Spain
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Cisco announced a slew of new AI capabilities for Webex, its business collaboration suite, at the company’s EMEA-facing conference Cisco Live 2024 in Amsterdam this week.

The AI assistant for Webex, first announced at WebexOne in October 2023, now offers a number of new features within the Webex App, including language translation per message or in real time, message summaries, meeting recaps, and message rewriting functionalities.

The meeting recap feature leverages generative AI to summarize the content of the meeting with hyperlinks to exactly when each item was discussed in the meeting.

These summaries are currently generated using a recording of the meeting, but this requirement will be removed very soon, according to Cisco.

Webex’s Rewrite Message feature allows users to rephrase, change the tone, and even translate an outbound message, tailoring the message according to the context and intended recipient.

Travis Pouliot, senior business development manager at Cisco, told ITPro the application of Rewrite Message he is most excited about lies outside instant messaging in the Webex App, but in Slido, Cisco’s polling and Q&A platform, where questions need to be carefully formed according to the audience..

“In Slido sometimes I don’t know how to articulate the question that I want to ask so we are using message rewrite to tailor that question” explained Pouliot.

“It’s about how to ask that question, especially if it's a meeting with Javed or Jeetu (Javed Khan, SVP and general manager of Cisco Collaboration and Jeetu Patel EVP and general manager of Security & Collaboration).”

These products are now available in beta, and are expected to be rolled out to general availability in the first quarter of 2024.

Webex Control Hub, its administration and performance management platform, is also gaining Ai capabilities that will help admins troubleshoot network and application issues, as well as carry out configuration tasks.

Admins will no longer have to click through a series of dialogue boxes when troubleshooting problems of this nature, with the traditionally arduous process being replaced with a natural language interface.

Speaking at the Executive Q&A following the opening keynote at Cisco Live 2024, Jeetu Patel said the power generative AI can bring to customer support solutions hinges on its ability to remember key information and carry context across a number of communication channels.

This means customers will no longer have to repeat key information throughout the troubleshooting process as they are transferred across different support channels.

“So if I start my issue that I had with a brand on their website, and then I move from the website to a voice call, when the call comes in the agent will know the context of what had happened prior to the call,” Patel explained.

“The only way you can do that is by having a unified platform across multiple channels, where you can carry context right through.”

Cisco has the right idea with its Webex AI integration

Speaking to ITPro, CCS Insight’s chief of enterprise research Bola Rotibi praised Cisco’s work on integrating AI across its Webex platform as an important step in improving the end user’s understanding of how AI can help them in their role. 

“What I like about their approach is that Cisco has made sure AI is integrated within all of their Webex pieces so it's not just Webex AI, it’s the contact center, administration and more”.

By connecting AI-enabled products across the collaboration suite, Rotibi said users are more likely to get the most value out of their AI tools.

“Putting these features in people’s hands is one thing, but actually getting them to use these features and really understand the value they are getting is the real power of AI in action.”

Rotibi did raise questions around how much this will strengthen Webex’s user numbers, however, reporting that their latest research found Webex’s market share remains low, facing stiff competition from rival unified communications as a service (UCaaS) platforms from Microsoft and Zoom.

“It’s a smart move but the question is how much this will raise Webex’s footprint in the market is still a long way behind Teams and Zoom”.

Recent figures show that Webex boasts around 39 million cloud calling users, and 650 million monthly meeting participants.

The platform’s popularity pales in comparison to Microsoft Teams and Zoom, however. Both report over 300 million daily active users, and maintain somewhat of a stranglehold on the UCaaS/productivity platform space.

It’s been tough going for some platforms in this industry in recent years, as the closure of Verizon’s BlueJeans platform in 2023 showed.

Verizon announced the closure of the BlueJeans platform in August 2023, citing poor user uptake and a “changing market landscape” that made the continuation of the app simply untenable.

The announcement brought to a close more than 13 years of operations for BlueJeans, which first launched in 2011 and was acquired by the telecoms giant in April 2020 as part of a bold attempt to tap in on the growing demand for video conferencing tools in the early days of the Covid pandemic.

Analysis from Global Data at the time of the closure announcement pointed specifically to the challenging conditions created by the market dominance of Google, Microsoft, and Zoom in the UCaaS space.

Gary Barton, research director for enterprise technology and services at Global Data, said the industry had become stifled by larger providers, all of whom had been investing heavily on integrating a wider array of AI-powered features within their respective platforms.

Webex, however, has managed to weather the storm thus far, and Cisco appears confident that the roll-out of its own AI features in the platform could provide ample opportunity capitalize on a lucrative market.

Solomon Klappholz
Staff Writer

Solomon Klappholz is a Staff Writer at ITPro. He has experience writing about the technologies that facilitate industrial manufacturing which led to him developing a particular interest in IT regulation, industrial infrastructure applications, and machine learning.