Chuck Robbins: Cisco Webex Will Strike The Balance Between Security, Ease Of Use

‘You’re going to see us continue to double down on security, [and] we’re going to have to work hard on dealing with digital sovereignty issues all around the world,’ Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins tells CRN on the company‘s Webex strategy in a post-pandemic world.


Cisco Webex admittedly lost some mindshare at the onset of the pandemic as customer awareness grew rapidly around competing tools. Long-term, however, is where the popular Webex collaboration platform will shine as enterprises put more of an emphasis on security, integration, and inclusivity, Cisco’s CEO Chuck Robbins told CRN.

The last 15 months have seen businesses adopt any web conferencing and communication technology IT could get their hands on to keep their employees productive. But on the other side of the pandemic, many enterprises will be making longer-term decisions around their architectural approach to collaboration, especially as the hybrid work model evolves, Robbins said.

“I think that’s where we should show up very well,“ he said. “You’re going to see us continue to double down on security [and] we’re going to have to work hard on dealing with digital sovereignty issues all around the world.”

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[Related: Cisco Webex To ‘Regain Market Share’ Vs. Zoom Post-Pandemic, Execs Say]

San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco has been historically well-positioned within the enterprise. Last year, however, companies of all sizes -- some of which had never had a formal collaboration strategy in place -- had to quickly adopt technology to help their employees work from home. That’s where Zoom came into play, said Joe Berger, senior director of World Wide Technology’s (WWT) digital workspace practice.

“I think Zoom has done such a good job of marketing, such that when it came time for end users with their own credit cards had to go get something for collaboration, [Zoom] was sort of top of mind for them,” Berger said. “That’s why we saw the explosion of Zoom, because you had all these users who had never used web conferencing before.”

Meanwhile, Cisco was scaling Webex and making sure the platform could accommodate the influx of new capacity it was experiencing, Berger said. “Zoom became the new verb, which is funny because Webex had that brand perception 10 years ago where people used to refer to Webex as the Kleenex of conferencing.”

WWT, one of Cisco’s top solution provider partners, considers Webex a leading collaboration platform thanks to its “rock solid” security, ability to scale quickly, and enterprise-grade feature set that keeps growing, Berger said.

“I think Cisco has still kept a pretty good foothold in the enterprise space that they’ve traditionally held,” he said.

Microsoft Teams, also one of Webex’s largest competitors, has had the advantage of a large Microsoft install base. Cisco, however, is clawing back enterprise interest through a focus on security and investment in new features, said Bob Cagnazzi, president and CEO of Cisco solution provider powerhouse Presidio.

“I do think the investment and changes that WebEx has made and rolled out are beginning to capture that mindshare back,” Cagnazzi said. “Clients are looking for the combination of security, customer experience and the features, and Cisco’s really ramped up on the feature side recently.”

It’s true that enterprises and even governments around the world are leaning on Webex to continue legislating during the pandemic because they trust the security of the platform. Webex security has been front and center for Cisco, but it has, at times, come at the expense of ease of use. If the pandemic has taught the industry anything, it’s that users will default to the easier solution. The tech giant is now working to balance end users’ desire for simplicity and the importance of security, Robbins said.

“What we’ve really been working on is striking that balance of simplifying the user experience, at the same time providing that enterprise-grade security that we’re known for. And I think it’s a big differentiator that our customers,” he said. ”I hear customers say, ‘we’re going to make a long-term decision,’ I think those kinds of things are going to be very important to them.”

At the same time, Cisco isn’t fighting the fact that it has competitors anymore. The Webex team, led by Cisco’s Senior Vice President, Security and Applications, Jeetu Patel, has been pushing Webex integration via APIs into third-party platforms, such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.

“Our goal is to make sure we integrate with any application that a customer has invested in. Frankly, I don’t care if it’s a competitor, we will integrate with them,” Patel said in March. “If a customer has invested in a technology and us, it’s our job to make sure the two of those technologies work seamlessly well together.”

Long View Systems, a Calgary, Alberta-based Cisco Gold partner, works with many customers that have legacy solutions in place, including Microsoft office 385. Many of these customers don’t want to walk away from their existing investments, said Kent MacDonald, senior vice president of Strategic Alliances for Long View Systems.

“There’s more collaboration in collaboration as we go forward,“ MacDonald said. “I think, regardless of if it’s Cisco, or Microsoft Teams, it’s about how I build on what a customer has, without having to do a rip and replace. That’s the strategy the end user really appreciates.”

Webex is not only helping employees work remotely but return to the office safely and is giving businesses a hybrid strategy for the long-term, MacDonald added.

“We’ve been talking a lot about this notion of inclusion and an inclusive recovery. Frankly, as we come back, we know we’re going to be in a hybrid work world where you’re going to have people at home, you’re going to have people in conference rooms, you’re going to have people with different experiences, and we need to make sure the platform creates this notion of inclusion as they’re participating in meetings or communicating collaboratively,” Robbins said. “That’s super important.”

Customers are starting to prioritize the building of a “collaboration architecture,” or how the conferencing platform can integrate with the contact center and existing voice platforms, as well as the ability to take meetings at home or in the conference room seamlessly, Robbins said.

Integrations, coupled with Webex’s strength in helping companies develop safe, hybrid working strategies through a robust collaboration architecture, is where Cisco will stand out among the competition, Long View’s MacDonald said.

“Being able to have that integration from the meeting room to the remote user, I think WebEx really stands out in comparison in that hybrid experience,” he said.

Cisco Webex has more than 600 million monthly users globally and is connecting 6 billion calls per month, the San Jose, Calif.-based company told CRN.