Cisco has recently announced their intention to acquire Socio Labs, a US-based event technology platform – the latest in a series of acquisitions. Cisco’s Webex Events provides meeting, webinar and webcast capabilities, including polling, Q&A, chat and real-time translation. This acquisition will allow Webex Events to cater to large-scale, hybrid events and conferences. Solution capabilities will include live streaming, sponsorship, networking, and advanced analytics – including for pre-event and post-event activities.
Collaboration Platforms are Here to Stay
2020 was the year video conferencing and collaboration finally became mainstream. With the exponential rise of remote and hybrid working, the investments in collaboration technologies has increased – and Ecosystm research shows that the trend is continuing well into 2021.
The other aspect that has been impacted by the pandemic is the Events business. With social distancing regulations, Events and Marketing teams are being challenged in their outreach and go-to-market initiatives. Even when countries allow in-person events, it is becoming increasingly difficult to get people to attend events. With most organisations allowing remote working many attendees are away from the CBD/ commercial areas and are reluctant to commute to attend events. This has seen the rise of a hybrid event model that caters to both in-person and virtual attendees.
While some countries are beginning to bring back in-person events, they will remain largely virtual. Event organisers will have to cater for those who are happy to attend in-person and those who want to access the event virtually. Providing a better experience for hybrid events, will require richer features using video and collaboration platforms to allow live streaming, chat, feedback, analytics – to gauge audience engagement – polling and other interesting ways to retain audience attention. Additionally, it will be important for these platforms to facilitate sponsorship, registrations and even ticketing capabilities directly from within the platform. These new dimensions to step up engagements for both virtual and in-person events have become necessary for the world we are living in.
Cisco Strengthening Collaboration Capabilities
Cisco is enhancing the virtual/hybrid meeting and events experience they provide and this has been evident from their recent acquisitions. They clearly see the need to enhance audience participation and engagement from pure static video and collaboration environments. Socio Labs’ business accelerated during the pandemic and they built a platform that offers a deeper engagement with the audience. Their customers include Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo and Hyundai.
Last year Cisco acquired BabbleLabs, a noise removal technology provider and the product has been integrated into their Webex platform, to improve the audio experience. Earlier this month Cisco also completed their acquisition of Slido. This means that Webex users can now leverage Slido’s capability of gathering real-time audience feedback, rather than just asking questions via text or chat. The solution can also enhance the learning experience during team training sessions and offers built-in analytics to gauge audience participation and where the gaps are. These acquisitions are an indication that Cisco is serious about their market presence in the video and collaboration space – and is keen on making a mark in the Events market.
Last week AT&T announced a partnership with Fortinet to expand their managed security services portfolio. This partnership provides global managed Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solutions at scale. The solution uses Fortinet’s SASE stack which unifies software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) and network security capabilities into AT&T managed cybersecurity framework. Additionally, AT&T SASE and Fortinet will integrate with AT&T Alien Labs Threat Intelligence platform, a threat intelligence unit to enhance detection and response. AT&T has plans to update its managed SASE service during the year and will continue to bring more options.
Talking about the AT&T-Fortinet partnership, Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Ashok Kumar says, “This move continues the trend of the convergence of networking and security solutions. AT&T is positioning themselves well with their integrated offer of network and security services to address the needs of global enterprises.”
Convergence of Network & Security
AT&T’s improved global managed security service includes features such as secure web gateway, firewall-as-a service, cloud access security broker (CASB) and zero-trust access, which provides security teams and analysts with unified capabilities across the cloud, networks and endpoints. The solution aims to enable enterprises to create a more resilient network bringing the core capabilities of the two companies that will reduce operational costs and deliver a unified offering.
Last year AT&T also partnered with Cisco to expand its SD-WAN solution and to support AT&T Managed Services using Cisco’s vManage controller through a single management interface. Over the past years multiple vendors including Fortinet have developed comprehensive SASE solution capabilities through partnerships or acquisitions to provide a unified offering. Last year Fortinet acquired Opaq, a SASE cloud provider to bolster their security capabilities through OPAQ’s patented Zero Trust Network Access (ZTNA) cloud solution and to strengthen SD-WAN, security and edge package.
The Push Towards Flexible Networking
Kumar says, “The pandemic has created a higher demand and value for secure networking services. Enterprises experienced greater number of phishing and malware attacks last year with the sudden increase in work-from-home users. The big question enterprises need to ask themselves is whether legacy networks can support their evolving business priorities.”
“As global economies look to recover, securing remote users working from anywhere, with full mobility, will be a high priority for all enterprises. Enterprises need to evaluate mobile SASE services that provide frictionless identity management with seamless user experiences, and be compatible with the growing adoption of 5G services in 2021 and beyond.”
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This announcement comes on the back of several wins for BetterUp. To boost employee performance and organisational growth NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) partnered with BetterUp to support new ways of coaching and preparing a workforce for change. The world’s largest brewer, AB InBev has partnered with BetterUp to strengthen diversity and inclusion through BetterUp’s coaching platform.
The Need to Improve Employee Experience
The pandemic changed the working arrangement of millions of employees and industries across the globe who are now working remotely or in a hybrid environment.
Ecosystm Principal Advisor, Audrey William says, “Driving better employee experience (EX) should take centre stage this year with enterprises putting employees at the centre of all initiatives. We will see EX platforms get integrated further and deeper into workplace collaboration and HR applications. In the last 12 months, we have seen apps monitoring wellness and sleep, training and coaching, meditation, employee motivation, and so on sit within larger collaboration platforms such as Slack, Zoom, Microsoft, Cisco and others.”
While the primary focus has been on optimising the work environment, it is time for organisations to start focusing on employee well-being. Ecosystm research shows that organisations implemented several measures to empower a remote workforce last year when the pandemic hit. But there was not enough focus on employee well-being (Figure 1).
William says, “A hybrid work environment may have negative impact on your employees. You may face issues such as longer working hours, employee burnout, lesser social engagements and connection, loneliness – and mental and emotional issues and depression”.
“Organisations that place an emphasis on the employees will see their revenues grow and also see less attrition. The more you invest in your people, the more you will get back in return. It is as simple as that! You can see that now in some organisations where employees are being given more flexibility, employers are not dictating how they should work, diversity and inclusion efforts have become mainstream, and efforts are being made to make employees feel like they belong.”
William adds, “However, Ecosystm research finds that organisations have gone back to putting customers and business growth first – losing focus on their employees. Only 27% of organisations globally say that they have improving employee experience as a key business priority in 2021. It is time for this culture and mindset to change. And solutions such as BetterUp can make a difference.”
Transform and be better prepared for future disruption, and the ever-changing competitive environment and customer, employee or partner demands in 2021. Download Ecosystm Predicts: The top 5 Future of Work Trends For 2021.
From a CX point of view there is going to be far more interaction with brands and products through online channels. This is not just about eCommerce and buying from a portal. It is also about using tools like Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms more widely. It is about learning to interact with the customer in multiple ways and touching their journeys at multiple points, all virtually using the web – mostly the mobile web.
Ecosystm research shows that almost three out of four companies have decided on accelerating or modifying the digitalisation they were undergoing (Figure 1). It is fair to expect that this gives a further boost to moving to the cloud. For the customer it will mean being able to access information in many new ways and connect with products, services, brands at multiple points on the web.
Since interacting with the customer at multiple points is new for most services, I foresee a lot of missed opportunities as companies learn to navigate a completely different landscape. Customers pampered by digitally native organisations often react harshly to even a small mistake. It will become critical for companies to not just become a bigger presence online but also to manage their customers well.
New solutions such as Customer Data Platforms (CDP), as opposed to CRM will become common. Players who are into Customer Experience management are likely to see huge business growth and new players will rapidly enter this space. They will promise to affordably manage CX across the globe, leveraging the cloud.
#2 Virtual Merges with Real
AR/VR has so far been seen mainly in games where one wears an unwieldy – though ever-improving – headset to transport oneself into a 3D virtual world. Or in certain industrial applications e.g., using a mobile device to look at some machinery; the device captures what the eye can see while providing graphical overlays with information. In 2021 I expect to see almost all industrial applications adopting some form of this technology. This will have an impact on how products are serviced and repaired.
For the mainstream, 2020 was the year of videoconferencing – as iconic as the shift to virtual meetings has been, there is much more to come. Meetings, conferences, events, classrooms have all gone virtual. Video interaction with multiple people and sharing information via shared applications is commonplace. Virtual backgrounds which hide where you are actually speaking from are also widely used and getting more creative by the day.
Imagine then a future where you get on one of these calls wearing a headset and are transported into a room where your colleagues who are joining the call also are. You see them as full 3D people, you see the furniture, and the room decor. You speak and everyone sees your 3D avatar speak, gesture (as you gesture from the comfort of your home office) and move around. It will seem like you are really in the conference room together! If this feels futuristic or unreal try this or look at how the virtual office can look in the very near future.
While the solutions may not look very sophisticated, they will rapidly improve. AR/VR will start to really make its presence felt in the lives of consumers. From being able to virtually “try” on clothes from a boutique to product launches going virtual, these technologies will deeply impact customer experience in 2021 and beyond
In the immortal words of Captain Kirk, we will be going where no man has gone before – enabled by AR / VR.
#3 Digital CX will involve Multiple Technologies
AI, IoT and 5G will continue to support wider CX initiatives.
The advances that I have mentioned will gain impetus from 5G networking, which will enable unprecedented bandwidth availability. To deliver an AR experience over the cloud, riding on a 5G network, will literally be a game changer compared to the capabilities of older networks.
Similarly, IoT will lead to massive changes in terms of product availability, customisation and so on. 5G-enabled IoT will allow a lot more data to be carried a lot faster; and more processing at the edge. IoT will have some initial use cases in Retail, Services and other non-manufacturing sectors – but perhaps not as strongly as some commentators seem to indicate.
AI continues to drive change. While AI may not transform CX in 2021, this is a technology which will be a component of most other CX offerings, and so will impact customer experience in the next few years. In fact, thinking of businesses in 2025 I cannot believe that there will be a single business to customer (B2C) interaction which will not feature some form of AI technology.
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the technologies which will impact CX in 2021 – Connect with me on the Ecosystm platform.
Businesses need a new way to manage the devices and applications of their remote employees. They need to be able to extend the benefits of the WAN to them without the downsides of VPNs. Every business we interviewed saw benefits of bringing devices, locations and offices inside the WAN. Turning every device and office into a Branch of One.
A few security and network technologies have promised this capability – SDNs can offer a similar service, but they require client software to be installed. 78% of businesses we interviewed are using VPNs to bring devices inside the WAN – but again, they require client software, and can be inconsistent (and insecure!) on mobile devices.
Companies that embrace the Branch of One can provision new users in a few clicks. No software to install, no cables to connect, no hardware to provision – it makes life easier for technology and security professionals. The Branch of One gives your employees the systems and data they need to get their job done – delivered securely across the mobile network.
Download the report based on ‘The Global CxO Study 2020: The Future of the Secure Office Anywhere’, conducted by Ecosystm on behalf of Asavie. The report presents the key findings of the study and analyses the market perceptions of Office Anywhere and the need for a ‘Branch of One’, which will be the foundation of enterprise mobile security in the future.