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Cognitive collaboration: Putting AI to work in the workplace

We use facial recognition to unlock our phones, and digital assistants to play our favourite tunes or add to our shopping lists. Personalisation bots and recommendation engines are helping to curate TV shows, movies and news we are most likely to prefer. Consumer-centric technology innovations are all around us. Naturally, these high expectations extend into the workplace.

The findings of a recent survey by Cisco reveal how our expectations – that things will be easy, and just work – are playing out in the workplace:

  • 43% of workers felt frustration in the last week because they couldn’t easily join an online meeting
  • 89% see immediate value in adopting a digital assistant for virtual meetings
  • 95% of workers believe artificial intelligence (AI) can improve work tasks
  • 1 in 4 respondents spend more than half their day in meetings1

In response, organisations are feeling the pressure and on the hunt for intelligent, new ways to increase employee satisfaction and efficiency in the workplace, particularly when it comes to enhancing collaboration and teamwork across disperse geographies.

Enter Cognitive Collaboration by Cisco

Leveraging raw data from collaboration and enterprise environments, Cisco’s Cognitive Collaboration innovations apply AI and machine learning (ML) to generate insights, context, and intelligence to ultimately power high performance teams. It’s not about gimmicky AI-powered features, these are practical solutions designed to enhance the workplace experience – be it through more efficient communications, supporting deeper workplace relationships or sharing information seamlessly.

Below, I’ll talk you through the innovations recently made available across the Webex portfolio, before predicting the advanced capabilities you might expect to see in the future.

 

Cognitive collaboration – the innovations already here

Bringing context and intelligence to meetings

 

Build relationships with People Insights

Quality relationships are central to collaboration so having tools that help improve these relationships can only improve collaboration outcomes. This is what People Insights does. As you interact through the Cisco collaboration suite, you are shown contextually relevant and professionally applicable information on the people you encounter.

Examples include profile photos alongside snapshots of biographies and work histories, education, news articles and relevant company information.

Webex Assistant, the voice assistant for work

You enter the meeting room, say a few simple words – “OK Webex, start the meeting” – and you’re in. This is just one example of the hands-free options of Webex Assistant currently available on cloud-connected Webex Room Series devices. You can also use voice commands to make calls, share a screen, start a recording, end a meeting, adjust volume, mute the microphone or even speak to the room calendar to find out a room’s availability.

Proactive Join and First Match

These AI-based features of Webex Assistant take things a little further. With Proactive Join you only need walk into the meeting room when your meeting is scheduled and you’ll be asked if you’re ready to join. For users, this feature will definitely feel a little like magic. It’s actually an innovation called intelligent proximity that is able to ascertain who you are, where you are and what’s on your schedule, before putting two and two together.

First Match is another great addition. You tell the assistant to, for example, “Call Rhonda”. The system scans the company directory and Webex Teams spaces to make an informed guess of your intent and locates the “Rhonda” you seek (even with hundreds of Rhonda’s to choose from), with the highest degree of confidence.

From conferencing screen to digital signage

Signage mode gives you an even greater return from your video conferencing device. This relatively new feature – available on Webex Board and Room Series devices – allows you to make use of the displays by showing relevant customised content when they’re not being used for collaboration and conferencing. For example, in place of the default half-wake state, you can now use the screen to share internal programs, messages from HR, KPIs or even beautiful artworks to inject a burst of colour into the room.

Object recognition and room interpretation

The ability to recognise objects within a collaboration environment will allow the system to count and identify the people in a meeting room, match it up to the meeting attendees and meeting room seating. From here, meeting space utilisation can be better understood – do we need more seating? Should the meeting move to a larger, available space? Do we have repeat no-show offenders? In the future, this could develop into intelligently configuring a room, with the smart adjustment of lighting, blinds, etc.

Meg, your extra helpful marketing bot

Chatbots are popping up all over the place as they take on a range of tasks – from managing customer requests, to organising workflows or collecting data. Over at Cisco, they’ve had fun creating Meg – short for Marketing Enablement Guru – who lives virtually in Webex Teams. Simply add her as a contact and she keeps you in the loop on Cisco’s marketing news, pilot programs and training reminders. Naturally, you can ask Meg questions and she’ll respond, sometimes with a little cheeky humour thrown in.

 

What’s on the horizon for cognitive collaboration

Automatic meeting transcriptions

Taking minutes will be a thing of the past when, in the very near future, meetings will be automatically transcribed and popped right into the associated Webex Teams space. This will be made possible with AI-led voice recognition technology packed with enough smarts to convert speech to clear text for hundreds of languages and variants.

Deeper context by mining gestures

With Apple, Microsoft, and Google all leading the charge in global gesture recognition, the retail market is expected to grow by over 27% from 2018 to 2023 . Just as gestural interface products will be hitting the consumer market, so too will it impact the enterprise. The ability to recognise and interpret human gestures to add deeper context to conversations will be a vital component in improving the video conferencing experience.

The below is a gif from a Google AI blog demonstrating this:

3D hand perception in real-time

Digital assistants for better meeting outcomes

Following on from automatic meeting transcriptions, a digital meeting assistant will be able to make sense of the meeting notes using keywords garnered through Natural Language Processing, before leveraging AI and ML to interpret and execute the actions. This might include setting future meetings and sharing actions with named stakeholders.

In the future, we could see the digital assistant finding documents or references when people talk about them and presenting (or at least offering to present) the information into the room. This digital assistant could also send out reminders to people who haven’t joined the meeting (but were invited), especially if they are mentioned – or even contact them directly.

On screen identification

Facial recognition technology has been advancing in leaps and bounds. In fact, it’s already in use by law enforcement and governments to improve surveillance capabilities. There’s some fairly prickly political, legal and ethical concerns surrounding its use, however, as within enterprise deployments the user must be able to remain in control of their data. However, when these privacy issues are resolved, facial recognition will likely play a key role in making collaboration even more seamless.

There you have it. Just a few of the cognitive features that are already available in the Cisco Collaboration portfolio, as well as some future predictions. Like any communication/collaboration technology, this is just the beginning. As AI and ML advances, so too will the applications for them grow, both in our personal and work lives. We’re excited to see it!

 

Ready to realise the benefits of cognitive collaboration?

At Data#3, we can help you leverage Cisco’s market leading technology to connect culture, process, and technology to bring the collaboration experience to life in your organisation. If you’re ready to take the first steps on your cognitive collaboration journey, reach out to our expert team today.

Or, for more information on our current Cisco certifications, specialisations, accreditations and authorisations, visit our Cisco capabilities page.

1. Cisco (2019). AI Could Improve Your Next Meeting in Cisco Webex. [ONLINE] Available at: https://newsroom.cisco.com/press-release-content?type=webcontent&articleId=1974143
2. Mordor Intelligence (2018), Gesture recognition in retail market – growth, trends, and forecast (2019 – 2024) [ONLINE]. Available at: https://www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/gesture-recognition-in-retail-rfid-touchless-displays-interactive-screens-window-display-screens-industry

Tags: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Cisco, Cisco Webex, Cisco Webex Board, Cisco Webex Teams, Collaboration, The Anywhere Workplace

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