Cisco Sparks Machine Learning at Cisco Live

Cisco Sparks Machine Learning at Cisco Live

As I write this I’m on my way back from attending Cisco’s annual “Cisco Live” customer event in Las Vegas, and the corresponding “C-Scape” analyst conference.  While most of the big announcements focused on Cisco’s new intent-based  networking initiative, dubbed “The Network Intuitive,” Cisco did take some time to update analysts on its recently introduced Spark Board digital whiteboard / immersive collaboration device, and its plans for leveraging its recent acquisition of Mindmeld to leverage machine learning to bring intelligent virtual assistants into its collaboration portfolio.

On the Spark Board front, we had the opportunity to meet with several Cisco customers who have brought the device into their organizations to improve virtual team collaboration, especially for sharing content and for ideation sessions across multiple locations.  Both customers noted early successes in using the devices, especially for product design and engineering teams who use them to collectively develop plans and designs.  These use cases reflect what we saw in our 2016/17 Unified Communications and Collaboration Benchmark in that early adopters are finding the most value in providing immersive group collaboration devices to creative groups, and are not yet seeing a use case for deployment of these kinds of devices across all conference rooms.

 

With regard to virtual assistants, Cisco’s collaboration CTO Jonathan Rosenberg reinforced previous direction around how Cisco intends to use the capabilities provided by Mindmeld to enable voice-based interaction with collaboration platforms to enable meeting management and content retrieval, and to use machine learning to continually improve the effectiveness of the assistant.  Anyone who’s ever spent time trying to find relevant content during a meeting (and that would be all of us) will appreciate any assistance that a virtual assistant can provide in saving time and effort.  Longer term, Cisco could potentially enable its virtual assistant to pull in data from other business applications during a meeting.  AI/ML-driven virtual assistants continue to gain momentum thanks to success of consumer products and services like Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri, and Google Home.  With Microsoft bringing its Cortana VA into the enterprise, one potential issue that enterprises are likely to face is the prospect of multiple voice agents, potentially creating confusion (as well as opening an opportunity for someone to develop a meta-agent that uses ML to take spoken requests and communicate them with the appropriate vendor-specific agent).
IT leaders should continue to evaluate digital white boards / immersive group collaboration systems, as well as virtual agents, as they develop their digital workplace strategies.  Given the ability of both technologies to improve collaboration, I expect both to become critical components of a digital workplace strategy.

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