Cisco taps Apple, Nvidia to achieve distance zero and propel collaboration in new workspace

Cisco has revealed its roadmap to support the next age of collaboration, which will lean on technology partnerships with firms such as Nvidia and Apple, in the latter case realising the potential of its recently launched Vison Pro device for the Webex collaboration solution.

Speaking at Cisco Live! EMEA, and putting the company’s collaboration strategy into context, Jeetu Patel, Cisco executive vice-president and general manager for security and collaboration, said one the company’s missions in addressing the needs of the hybrid workspace was to reimagine the workspace and ways people can make best use of the properties in which they work.

He revealed a key statistic that was driving its work in the field of collaboration: 98% of meetings in the future will have at least one participant not in the same physical location as everyone else, but only a third of the conference rooms in the world support video applications. This brought about the concept of achieving what he called “distance zero” between connected workers.

“We want to take away the distance between two parties when they’re not in the same physical space as everyone else”
Jeetu Patel, Cisco

The aim, explained Patel, is to make separation a thing of the past: “What we want to do is take away the distance between two parties when they’re not in the same physical space as everyone else. This notion of distance zero is a big kind of principle for us, as we think about innovating in this new world of collaboration as a whole. How do you get to this to zero?

“It’s not just about putting a video and a screen in every room. It’s much more than that. We have to architect the room in such a way that it takes away the distance. So we’ve provided blueprints for every industry to our customers – whether it’s the boardroom, huddle space, style rooms, conference rooms – to make sure there’s a level of distance that can be taken away and people feel like they’re immersed right there with each other.

“We also have the ability to deliver workspace optimisation to Cisco spaces, and people can take telemetry from Meraki Wi-Fi access points, and IoT [internet of things] devices, and all those pieces, and give you a schematic of exactly what your [work]space looks like, what spaces are available, and it also takes the telemetry from the devices. So that’s reimagining workspaces themselves. Everything from how you walk into a space to how you might engage with people when you’re in the space.”

Being in the space is very much the desire of employers these days. At the event in Amsterdam, Cisco revealed study data showing that 79% of employers are mandating a full or partial return to the office. Why? Principally because of the need for better team collaboration, optimised productivity and to build a better workplace culture.

Yet there is a disconnect between management and hybrid workers. As many as two-thirds of employees regard their available office environment as being equipped to support hybrid work. Moreover, the data also showed that offices are not yet set up for collaboration, with more than half of office space still dedicated to personal working.

The study found existing conference rooms were also not working. Nearly three-quarters of employees do not feel current meeting rooms are enhancing productivity in the office and 71% believe there is an inconsistency in the experience of remote and in-office participants in meetings.

As a result, the survey showed that 65% of employers were planning to redesign workspaces over the next two years. Investment would be in upgrading meeting spaces; deploying hybrid work technology and infrastructure; modernising office layouts and settings; and building sustainable and eco-friendly features.

Patel regarded his own company as one of the key target customers for this concept. Since 2022, Cisco has been building hybrid work experience centres at its offices in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and Paris. Patel told the conference that the meeting experience should be enriched enough that “sometimes you don’t even remember if you’ve met someone in person or not”.

He added: “We have a portfolio of devices for every single space that we want to equip [to remove] this kind of notion of distance. We’ve completely changed our mindset. A few years ago, we said, ‘Rather than just having devices that work with only the Webex platform, why don’t we have devices that work with any platform that customers are using?’ So we have opened up our devices to work with Zoom, with Google. And we’ve inked a partnership with Microsoft on Teams rooms running natively on our devices.

“The second big change was a decision we made about five or six years ago around making sure that every one of our devices would have Nvidia chipsets so that we could pack up the capabilities with AI [artificial intelligence]. That’s turning out to be extremely valuable because we have capabilities where AI … integrates with our devices. So if you use Microsoft Teams, you will get the benefit of noise removal, noise cancellation and video intelligence because that’s baked into devices.”

These capabilities are being enhanced through the partnership with Nvidia, taking place at an engineering level, and designed to help businesses deploy and manage secure AI infrastructure. The collaboration will see firms offer enterprises what they say will be a simplified cloud-based and on-premise AI infrastructure, networking and software, including infrastructure management, secure AI infrastructure, observable end-to-end AI solutions and access to Nvidia AI Enterprise software that supports the building and deployment of advanced AI and generative AI workloads.

The other major partnership that aims to take collaboration to a new level is that with Apple. Patel, a self-confessed “fanboy” of the consumer electronics giant, noted the launch of the Vision Pro device, with the aim of furthering the companies’ existing relationship to enrich applications running on the Webex collaboration suite.

“Apple has been a long-standing partner of ours on the networking side and Johnson side of the house. Over the past few years, the Webex partnership with Apple has been fantastic. Part of [the collaboration] is them pushing us to do better. The commitment is very strong on both sides. And you should expect us to have a tremendous amount of innovation. Webex now runs on Apple TV as a native app, featured on the App Store, and then the Vision Pro,” said Patel.

“I think spatial computing is going to be a cool area. That’s going to develop rapidly, [providing] an infinite canvas where you don’t have limits because of screen real estate and [allowing you to] do video conferencing calls in a very immersive way. It’s an exciting space to be in and we built our application from the ground up with Apple over the past several months.”

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