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Cisco SVP says Webex users can expect 'innovation every month'

Jeetu Patel. Cisco SVP and General Manager of Security & Applications, joins Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade with Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss the latest developments and future plans for Cisco's Webex platform, what the future of the workforce may look like, privacy concerns, and much more.

Video Transcript

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: We are seeing a surge in new COVID-19 cases here in the US, which means a timeline to return to the office remains unclear for many of us. Here to discuss what the future of the workforce may look like and concerns about the security of working from home is Cisco's senior vice president and general manager of security and applications, Jeetu Patel. He also oversees Cisco's Webex platform.

Good morning, Jeetu, thanks for being with us. I actually want to start with that Webex platform. Can you give us an overview of what business is like right now?

JEETU PATEL: The business has been great for Webex for the past few months. Since COVID specifically, we've seen a big upsurge. Just in the month of October, we've had over 600 million participants that actually participated in communicating with Webex. And so we're starting to see if-- we're continuing to see a fair amount of demand, even after COVID.

You know, there was a surge in March, and you would think it would go back down, but you're actually continuing to see a level of volume increasing over time.

BRIAN SOZZI: Jeetu, a lot of the work-from-home companies are on these platforms that we have relied on for months during the pandemic. A Slack, a DocuSign, even an Okta. They're now coming out with new versions. They're trying to constantly improve their platforms for when we ultimately go back to work. What are you working on at Webex? So

JEETU PATEL: We've actually got a monthly cadence, so there's continuous innovation going on the platform. Every month, we have new capabilities and features to make our users, you know, get more and more comfortable with the platform. One of the great features that we just launched was this capability on noise reduction.

So for example, we just made a purchase of a company called BabbleLabs. And what you find in homes is there's a lot of stress when people are working from home, and there's the background noise of your kids screaming, or there's someone doing dishes, or someone's doing-- using a vacuum cleaner. And what we've done is we purchased this technology, which allows you, with machine learning, to be able to separate out the background noise from human sound and speech.

And so we amplify the speech and reduce the background noise. So starting October 31, you hopefully never have to say again on Webex, can you mute yourself?

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Right. Oh, I know. We've got-- we've had lots of guests where, you know, that has definitely been an issue, for ourselves too, all of us, you know, trying to work from home and get through it. What about some of the other issues that working from home has highlighted on your laptop or computer or what have you?

And that is when you don't realize the camera's on, and it captures things you wish it wouldn't capture. How can you sort of-- is there a default there for folks so that we see less of that happening?

JEETU PATEL: Yeah, so we've added a great feature for that. So before you get into a meeting, just like when you're going into a physical meeting, you look at yourself in the mirror, before you get into a meeting, we have a preview window. And that preview window tells you on how your sound is and how your camera is. And you can look at that before you jump into the meeting.

So it's not after you get in the meeting, it's before you get in the meeting you can see what you look like. And the defaults that you actually choose at that time are the defaults that remain in every subsequent meeting. So that's one way to go out and prevent any kind of embarrassment that might occur that you might have seen, you know, in the past few days on some other platforms as well.

BRIAN SOZZI: One thing, Jeetu, I think many would agree is we've lost that connection to the office, those interactions where you're walking into each other in the hallways. Anything Webex can do to help foster those type of interactions?

JEETU PATEL: Yeah, one of the things we've-- the future of work is definitively going to be hybrid, is one thing that we can all be certain about as we move forward, which means that there's going to be people that work at home at times, and then they're going to be people that go into the office. And we've got this unique advantage of being able to have both the hardware and the softwares to actually provide, you know, conference room equipment, as well as equipment for your home office, as well as the software that's there. And what we want to do is continually keep making sure that that gets enhanced.

So for example, as people get enabled to have a safe return back into work, we will make sure that we provide them with intelligence and data around specifically how they're operating with [? this. ?] We've got sensors in the room that can-- and we just made this-- we just released this capability, where you'd be able to even tell if people are practicing social distancing within the conference room when you go in or if they're wearing a mask.

Or if they're too many people in a room and the density is too high, the system will know that this is too many people based on the capacity of the room. Can I book you something else, and can I give you a map on how you get there? And so there's going to be a bunch of capabilities that we will continue to innovate on what happens for enabling safe return into work.

And then when you are working at home, what do you need to do specifically so that you can take away the stress and make it as frictionless as possible so that you can continue to keep, you know, you focus on the conversation and don't focus on anything else that's going on? And that's an area that we're in the very early innings right now. You can expect us to have, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars of investment over the course of the next few years on making it better and better and better.

I have an 82-year-old mother. When she becomes a power user of Webex, that's when we know that the job's halfway done.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: That's great. That's your litmus test, right?

JEETU PATEL: Our litmus test.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Those are really-- really, really fascinating and exciting enhancements there, Jeetu. In order to get there, will you be doing it all in-house? Are you going to be partnering with others, or perhaps even looking to make some acquisitions?

JEETU PATEL: There'll be a combination. But the first thing we're going to do is you can expect continuous innovation from us on a very, very regular rhythm and cadence. So on a monthly basis, we'll have more and more capabilities and features in making it simpler and simpler for users to use our-- to use the products. That's going to be the first thing that we'll be focusing on.

The second thing that we'll focus on is an ecosystem of partnerships, where we want to make sure that we're not just working with the technologies that we have, but we're working with the technologies of the industry at large. So all of the SaaS providers that you have. Because people are using multiple applications to go out and get their work done. And we want to make sure that Webex works with all of those applications.

And number three, when it does make sense and you find, you know, technology and innovation and talent that might make sense to augment our vision so that we can make Webex' experience 10x better than what it might be for an in-person interaction, we will make sure that we actually augment those as well from time to time. And, you know, Cisco has never been shy to do that. But, you know, we have to make sure that we focus on the organic innovation on an ongoing basis, and you should expect that from us moving forward.

BRIAN SOZZI: You recently came out with a survey looking at some of these work-from-home trends. Do employees trust employers to get that return to work correct?

JEETU PATEL: In fact, what we're finding is there's a fair amount of concern that employees have in, one, returning back to work, and also making sure that the privacy is maintained. So over 60% of the employees don't feel like they're-- they're either moderately concerned or extremely concerned about their privacy not being maintained as they go into-- you have to keep increasing the transparency for people as they're using these systems to make sure that you can maintain the privacy, and they feel safe about going out and using these technologies for remote workplaces. So you are seeing a fair amount of concern rise with people around both security and privacy.

And it's our job, as a tech community, to make sure that we're actually providing as much transparency as possible, as people using the technology, so that you know exactly, you know, what data is being collected, which oftentimes people don't know what data is being collected, and ideally, not collect any data. So we are, for example, obsessed on privacy, where the capabilities that we build, we are not confused about the fact that the customer is the custodian of the data, and we are just providing a great platform for them to work in.

And so we don't sell the data, we don't go out and do anything with data. We want to make sure that we actually just get a great experience with the customer so that they can collaborate and communicate as effectively as possible.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Yeah, I like that idea. Just don't collect any data. Jeetu Patel of Cisco, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

JEETU PATEL: Thank you for having me.