Cisco Systems Envisions the Future of Voice Calling

Voice calls are dead, correct? That’s what people have been predicting for almost two decades, but the reality is that calling is still quite healthy. Much of the media’s focus on collaboration tools–particularly since the pandemic–has been on video and artificial intelligence, and that has promoted the perception that calling has become obsolete. In the consumer world, this might be true as we have become reliant on texting, chatting and FaceTiming, but calling is still a core enterprise tool.

It’s true that some conversations have moved to chat, video and email, but there are many instances where voice calling is hard to replace. Phone call-dependent workflows still exist in which continuous ringing must take place until someone picks up because of the urgency of the matter. What has changed is the technology that enables calling.

I recently interviewed Lorrissa Horton, Vice-President and General Manager of Webex Calling and Online, to get a sense of how calling is evolving and how Cisco Systems is driving change across its Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) portfolio. Highlights of my ZKast video with Horton, done in conjunction with eWEEK eSPEAKS, follow.

The lines are blurring between calling and meetings

Workers today conduct both calls and meetings, and they are similar. I could communicate with someone using a meetings platform, sometimes with audio-only and other times with audio and video. Other times I might call using the same platform. Is there a difference? The answer is yes, but it’s very subtle.

An easy way to think of the difference is that meetings are typically scheduled where a call is ad hoc. With meetings, attendees usually know with whom they are communicating and what the topic of conversation is. With calls, someone might want to speak to someone about a problem but isn’t sure who–or even when–that person might be available and will make a call. I understand that this isn’t always the case, but generally speaking, this holds true.

Calling needs to evolve

Even if one agrees that calling is still critical, it’s easy to think that there isn’t anything to innovate in this area, but that’s another myth. The fact is, there is still a lot of room for calling to evolve. For example, in many cases, such as in a sales bullpen, many people would share a single number. Now that these people are working from home, and the single number needs to ring across multiple locations.

Also, working from home has created the need to create consistency of experience in a distributed environment. Whether an employee is working from home, full time at the office or coming in a few days a week, the experience needs to be simple and consistent for every user. How users communicate and what they’re doing as part of that communication is the change.

Moving to the cloud comes with challenges

Everyone wants to get value from the cloud, even if they’re not ready to move to the cloud. The pandemic is a perfect example of an instance where organizations rushed to the cloud in a short time period, eliminating desk phones and shifting employees to unfamiliar work environments.

For many types of workers, making that kind of change so quickly negatively impacted their overall efficiency. This forced organizations to revert back to calling, but it became much more expensive to add one phone number at a time and much more difficult to manage. These organizations created a business impact that was unintended, not realizing that certain workflows still depend on calling.

Hence, having some sites retain on-prem calling and some sites in the cloud, then moving them at a different pace might make sense for organizations with extensive external communications. Sometimes organizations change things simply for the sake of change, but they should really focus on changing employee behavior before they anticipate a successful outcome. The minimal cost savings aren’t worth it–if it means creating an overly complex environment for the user.

Cisco is driving change in calling with Webex

Cisco continues to innovate calling with new and enhanced capabilities that make the transition to the cloud easier for organizations while keeping the user experience consistent for employees. Here are some recent examples Horton shared during the interview:

  • Cisco’s on-prem customers are now using cloud analytics through the Webex Control Hub. So, when an organization decides to move its Private Branch Exchange (PBX) from on-prem to cloud, the transition won’t impact the business in negative ways. Every user gets the same experience, whether the organization is on-prem, in the middle of moving to the cloud, or whatever the deployment may be. As long as users have their meetings, messaging and calling in one place, what happens architecturally to create that seamless experience isn’t important to them.
  • Organizations often don’t have an understanding of which features their employees use or the data to back it up. Cisco’s cloud analytics allows organizations to make a data-driven move to the cloud, so they can plan out their deployments and ensure that every end user gets exactly what they need.
  • Cisco’s latest headset allows users to login in without a PIN, so sign-in and sign-out happen automatically when connecting or disconnecting the headset to a phone. The user’s identity is recognized by the Cisco Unified Communications Manager, (CallManager) and all the phone settings remain the same, regardless of where the user connects. The experience is seamless for people who alternate between working from home and the office. The headset tracks phone settings and identity at home and in the office, providing organizations with rich data to make better decisions in a hybrid work environment.
  • Video calling is evolving. Workers became much more comfortable with video during the pandemic. When comparing video to audio-only calling, it doesn’t offer the same level of empathy or interaction as video. That’s why Cisco is adding more video features into calling, such as escalating a phone call to full video. For example, a person can pick up her desk phone and enhance it with a complimentary video experience on a laptop or a smartphone. Cisco wants to upgrade calling by using its WebEx backbone to bring these richer experiences to users.

Source: eWeek

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