Today Cisco is hosting their 2018 Collaboration Summit to discuss the future of collaboration, and the tools Cisco provides to revolutionize the way we interact with our teams. The first set of news to make its way from this Summit happens to be a rather large development. Surrounded by a number of other updates, Cisco has officially announced that their collaboration platform, Cisco Spark, is to be rebranded as Webex Teams.

Along with the name change, Cisco is expanding their web conferencing solution, adding some extra functionality to both Webex and the new Webex teams, with a focus on simplifying the experience. This is a pretty interesting move from Cisco, dissolving one brand to utilize and leverage a better-known brand. But, these changes are bit more than just superficial, so let’s take a closer look.

Cisco Spark is Now Webex Teams

According to the press release from Cisco, “the name ‘Webex’ is synonymous with the word ‘meet’.” Cisco claims that Webex is the “gold standard when it comes to real-time meetings and getting things done.” While I can’t attest to Webex being a gold standard, I can admit that it is an incredibly popular solution, from a very trusted brand.

Cisco goes on to explain that “more than six billion meeting minutes happen in Cisco Webex every month,” so clearly there’s some truth to their statement. And once you being to recognize the weight that the Webex brand carriers, it makes a bit more sense that Cisco went ahead with the naming change.

This convergence of Cisco Spark and Webex platforms was done to “Make it easier for teams to meet and get great work done.” By combining the Video Meeting capabilities of Webex, with the powerful team collaboration tools of Spark — whiteboarding, persistent messaging, file sharing, and simple guest access to name a few — Cisco has created a platform that more closely rivals Microsoft’s Office 365 and Microsoft Teams.

If you are utilizing Webex, you can simply introduce the Teams add-on and receive all of the Webex Teams features mentioned above.

Webex Also Receives an Update

But beyond simply converging the two platforms, Cisco has also went ahead and updated their existing Webex solution. Cisco claims that “the first thing you will notice about the new Webex Meetings is that it is ‘video first’.” Essentially, Webex will bug (read: encourage) users to turn on their camera.

Instead of simply displaying a presentation, or slide show, Webex will now include hi-res videos of all participants within the meeting. This will work on all devices as well, whether you or your participants are using a laptop, Cisco video room device or even a mobile device. The idea is to turn Webex into a completely video first, video focused platform.

Teams, on the other hand, is the collaboration and messaging aspect of the platform. But what’s really interesting is how you can include Teams functions and features inside the Webex platform by utilizing the Teams add-on. Or, for those that don’t want the video from Webex, they can simply use Webex Teams.

New Hardware, Too

Cisco also went ahead and introduced a new piece of hardware to go along with their new converged platforms. Known as Webex Share, this low-cost device is a “super-simple way for teams to share content on the big screen” in any space. Essentially, Webex Share allows users to utilize any TV or screen for their presentation, sharing files, slides and more.

Cisco recognized that many, many huddle rooms and meeting spaces will have TVs, but these TVs are rarely, if ever, used. With the goal of making huddle rooms better, Cisco decided to introduce the Webex Share that enables teams to leverage their unused screens as powerful presentation and meeting tools.

The whole concept is really simple: just plug the really small, palm-sized, adapter into the back of your TV, pair the system with your laptop or mobile device, and users can start sharing files to the screen instantly. Webex Share can even be used to schedule meeting rooms and check on the status of reserved rooms. Cisco said the device should be available by the end of 2018.

Even More Artificial Intelligence

Back last Autumn Cisco introduced an AI powered Spark Assistant with the goal of revolutionizing the way we schedule and hold meetings. While the add-on started simple, with commands like “Hey Spark, join the meeting” or “Hey Spark, I want to start the meeting,” the potential for an AI powered assistant is absolutely huge. There’s a reason just about every major tech company is pushing smart speakers with personal assistants.

So, building off the foundation already laid out months ago, Cisco has also just announced even more updates to their AI program, leveraging the technologies from their MindMeld acquisition.

1. Wider Availability

Cisco has an end goal of injecting “AI into every meeting, every call, every conversation and every interaction that you have.” To achieve this widespread usage, Cisco is introducing the Webex Assistant (formerly the Cisco Spark Assistant) into all cloud-connected Webex Room Kit and Room Series devices.

2. Intelligent Noise Suppression

This one is really cool: The Webex Assistant will utilize AI to recognize when a distracting noise is being transmitted in your meeting — papers shuffling, background conversations, etc — identify the source, and then lower the volume of that source. This should help keep distracting noises to a minimum. The same AI will also recognize when that source is speaking, and automatically adjust the volume so they can be heard.

Its really interesting to see Cisco introduce new functionality into their promising AI assistant — I personally am really curious to see just how far they can push this technology.

A New Integrations Roadmap and Simpler Pricing

And last, but not least, Cisco has also begun to shine some light on a new future roadmap for how the Webex platform will work with tools from other providers. In their announcement Cisco specifically highlights that Webex will soon be able to work seamlessly with tools from Google, Microsoft and even Slack.

The idea is that Cisco want to provide its users with as much choice and flexibility as possible. “It’s important our customers have choices,” the announcement explained. “We want our customers to be free to choose whichever tool is right for them.” While there aren’t any specifics just yet, more integrations are always a good thing.

But beyond just the integrations, Cisco is also looking to simply their pricing structure for Webex. With what they are calling the “Cisco Collaboration Flex Plan,” organizations can simply pay a monthly subscription fee only for each active user — as opposed to just every user.

The Bottom Line

This is a really interesting move from Cisco, making a massive rebranding from Spark to the Webex name. Clearly Cisco feels that Webex is a much stronger, well known brand, enough that it warrants an entire strategy shift. In my eyes, this looks like Cisco is shifting their competitor focus away from chat focused solutions like Slack, and more towards the big platform players like Microsoft.

After all, Microsoft has Skype 4 Biz for meetings, as well as Microsoft Teams for collaboration, and this is all included within the Office 365 platform. Cisco now has the Webex platform, which includes videos, as well as Webex Teams for collaboration. Its not a direct 1:1 comparison, but its closer to how Slack simply offers their platform with other features included. Either way, only time will tell how this move plays out for Cisco.