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Webex Meetings integrations let you work and play from wherever you are

Webex integrations to keep connected and productive

At the beginning of the pandemic, I introduced my family to Webex Meetings for our Sunday get-togethers. It was fun to see the grandparents, cousins, grandkids all using our amazing collaboration platform.

In the past months, we have shifted to getting things done completely remotely and have relied on Webex more than ever to keep us connected and productive with the highest level of security in the industry. We haven’t been in the office in over six months, but we have not missed a beat — whether it’s attending large conferences, team meetings, classes, virtually visiting our doctor or having family reunions, we have been able to carry on with our life and business, while socially distancing.

Webex has been at the center of all of these activities, but we’ve also had help from our partners. We’ve worked to integrate Webex with some of the most popular productivity tools on the market today and that has been instrumental in bringing great Webex meetings to broader audiences.

Remote Life on Webex

Nearly everyone is now using multiple collaboration and other types of apps during their daily life to stay connected and get work done. But if they want to have great meetings, the most popular apps are integrating with Webex, for scenarios like the ones we featured in this video:

Our kids may use Slack for messaging with their teacher and classmates and then have the need to jump into a Webex session to get clarification on a specific problem.

Our doctor could be chatting with colleagues on Microsoft Teams about a medical issue, and then escalate into a Webex instant meeting to continue the conversation in more detail.

A CEO may decide to livestream a company-wide townhall from Webex into Workplace from Facebook.

ZenDesk ticket open with Webex Meetings Integration

 

Streamlining daily workflows

Features within our deep integrations include real-time notifications that alert us at various parts of the process to ensure that we remain productive throughout our workday. For example, a Zendesk support agent can start an instant Webex meeting with the incident ticket submitter who will be notified to join the meeting and discuss the issue in more detail. These types of real-time communications empower workers to take action and speed up incident resolution time.

These types of interactions are made possible by deep integrations with our most trusted partners. We have been creating and improving our integrations with the goal of empowering frontline workers, streamlining workflows, and making transitions between apps seamless. We have many more great examples of how Webex integrates with your favorite tools. Webex continues to enhance integrations with other tools we use every day including CRM, learning management systems, software management, and productivity to provide the most efficient workflows. By improving workflows, we become more productive and are empowered to work smarter!

Get started with a free plan on Cisco Webex today!

Learn More

Webex Meetings August 2020 update: Increased security and media enhancement, custom background and music mode

Secure, first-party recording transcripts in Webex Meetings

Just say no to conference calls, and yes to collaborative meetings

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Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

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The impact video has on company culture
The impact video has on company culture

Demonstrating culture with video and communication

A company’s culture plays a major role in how engaged employees are, how successful the company is, and the way in which clients or customers view the organization as a whole. But this can be challenging to build and maintain when employees and other stakeholders aren’t able to easily work together.

The key to cultivating a strong and consistent culture throughout an organization is clear communication. Every employee should have a sound understanding of the core values of their company. Further, everyone should feel connected to those values as well. See how virtual backgrounds to inspire remote work culture: the Cisco Webex artist series

But there can be many barriers to good communication throughout an organization, and succumbing to those obstacles can weaken the company culture. The use of technology that keeps everyone on the same page can help immensely when building and maintaining these values.

Video conferencing tools for company culture

Specifically, here are five ways video conferencing tools can support company culture:

  1. Connect remote workers

Remote work has been on the rise and today, even more, people are working remotely. Now, companies are planning their return-to-work models, that will likely look different any employees will continue to work remotely even after the pandemic is over; 53.9% of respondents to a survey from the Institute for Corporate Productivity said they would likely increase flexible work arrangements on a more permanent basis.

Though remote work is becoming more popular, there are definite drawbacks to this sort of arrangement. One of the biggest challenges is loneliness, cited by 20% of respondents to Buffer’s survey. Making an effort to connect with workers through technology like video conferencing can help to bridge gaps between widely dispersed co-workers.

As remote teams become the new normal, it’s essential that companies establish processes to keep employees connected to one another. Video conferencing makes communicating with others simple, allowing them to converse about their projects and goals.

  1. Effectively collaborate on ideas

Team members must seamlessly collaborate on projects and ideas. However, discussing details of a project via email and phone can be difficult, especially when the topic at hand is visual in nature, such as slide shows, graphic design projects, and visual representations of data.

Another 20% of respondents to Buffer said collaboration is a major hurdle when working remotely. Video conferencing tools allow workers to share their screens so everyone can be on the same page. By enabling all team members to view the materials being discussed, everyone has the opportunity to weigh in on the discussion.

  1. Speak face-to-face with clients

When communicating with clients, discussions should flow smoothly. The relationship between client and vendor should be strong to continue a positive relationship. However, when obstacles like misunderstandings or difficulty connecting come up, it can be challenging to ensure the relationship is on the right track.

Video conferencing allows account managers and other stakeholders to clearly communicate with their clients. This software allows vendors to share important information such as slide shows, charts, imagery, or other data by using screen-share features.

Additionally, teams can invite all stakeholders to join discussions easily, no matter where they’re located, giving way to better cross-team collaboration. See how to share real-time data with customers through video conferencing

  1. Reduce work-related commute and travel

While much of business travel has been put on hold lately, it is something that has an impact on culture. Business travel often involves coordinating with various stakeholders, paying for transportation, lodging, and food, plus dedicating many hours to the requirements of traveling: waiting in line at an airport, renting a vehicle, and finding the way to a hotel in an unknown city, to name a few.

Instead of traveling, video conferencing allows people to hold important meetings without the hassle or expense of travel. Plus, it reduces instances of people not being able to make it to a meeting due to obstacles that don’t allow them to make the trip.

Beyond the type of long-distance travel that professionals may have to engage in to meet with far-away clients or stakeholders, the everyday commute into the office can also take a toll on workers. A Robert Half survey found that nearly one-quarter of employees have quit a job because of their commute, and 21% of respondents to Buffer’s survey said not having to make the trip to the office is the biggest benefit of remote work.

Leaning on video conferencing technology allows offices to improve morale and decrease unnecessary commutes without sacrificing productivity.

  1. Promote work-life balance

Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is important for keeping employees engaged and satisfied in their jobs. That balance will differ for individual employees, who have unique home lives and priorities.

Remote work is an excellent tool for promoting a healthy work-life balance, no matter what that may look like for each unique worker. By allowing them to complete their work in their own homes, or on the road while they travel to visit loved ones or new places, they can maintain productivity during the workday and engage in their favorite activities once they sign off.

Video conferencing supports strong company culture

Organizational culture is critical to the success of a business and the happiness and productivity of employees. Being able to support worker and customer needs, such as work-life balance and ability to collaborate on important tasks, are primary components of this.

Video conferencing tools bring everyone together, no matter how far apart they are. Keeping everyone connected helps immensely in supporting a strong company culture.

Get started with a free plan on Cisco Webex today

Sources

News Release Bureau of Labor Statistics

The 2020 State of Remote Work

Nearly One-Quarter Of Workers Have Left A Job Due To A Bad Commute, According To Robert Half Survey

Understanding and Developing Organizational Culture

Learn more

Virtual backgrounds to inspire remote work culture: the Cisco Webex artist series

How to quickly create a company culture in a growing business

Screen sharing how-to-guide: Tips for better real-time collaboration

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Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

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Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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Desk Pro and partners sitting in an office
RoomOS September update

It’s September, the leaves are turning, and we have been hard at work making your collaboration experience the best it can be.

Manual camera control for Desk Pro and Board

The Cisco Webex Desk Pro and Board automatically frame the person that is speaking, a feature called PresenterTrack. However, there are times where this is less desirable, for example while showcasing physical items. To solve this, we have released manual camera control. This allows the user to turn off the automatic framing and instead focus on a point of choice through the use of a software joystick. Check out the help article.

Music mode

In video meetings, we don’t want traffic noise or music from the radio in the kitchen to be transmitted. Therefore we use filters to filter out unwanted noise and transmit only your voice. For streamed concerts or video guitar lessons, however, we want to process the audio as little as possible for the most natural listening experience. This is why we’re introducing Music Mode. With Webex Music Mode, you can hear the dynamic range of the different instruments through your device. This is also available for Webex Meetings. Read more about Music mode.

Two people, man guitar teacher working with little boy on guitar lessons.

Call information in recent calls

This new feature will make it easier for admins to troubleshoot calls. Simply click on the calling tab to get a list of your recent calls, and you will be able to get a breakdown on the information about those calls, making troubleshooting that much easier. Learn more here.

Device configuration API for RoomOS

We are all about making customized collaboration seamless, and it is now possible for customers and partners to set configuration via API’s without needing direct access to the device, or even the device being online! The API allows admins to bulk configure devices registered to the cloud or with Webex Edge.

That’s it for September, but I promise we have a lot more in the pipeline. Stay tuned!

See how you can take your meeting experiences to the next level

Learn more

See all the Webex RoomOS releases

Room cleaning macro with Cisco Webex Rooms

Returning to work with Intelligent Room Capacity

Webex Device Management— The power of search!

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Confident Workspace
How to create a more confident and connected workplace

Truly connect with interpersonal interaction

Remote work has a significant and complicated impact on individuals and businesses.

The ability to work from home allows employees greater freedom over how they organize their days and manage their personal lives. At the same time, without a physical separation between the workplace and the rest of an employee’s day, work-life balance can begin to feel like a blurry concept that’s hard to define.

In this environment perhaps more than ever, it’s important for businesses to emphasize the human connection that ties team members together.

Instead of viewing one another as unrelated individuals quietly working by themselves to check off a string of disconnected tasks, companies need to help people come together. Learn How to launch a community with Webex Teams

Interpersonal interaction improves workforce well-being and boosts collective confidence

The answer for a more confident and connected workplace is greater interpersonal interaction.

Because of the greater flexibility provided by telework opportunities, colleagues may be based in locations far away from each other, limiting opportunities for them to chitchat in the break room, grab lunch together, or even just to say hello in the hallway.

Finding new opportunities for interpersonal interaction among geographically separated employees can lead to a wide range of positive outcomes.

Benefits for health

Summarizing a study originally published in Personality and Social Psychology Review, an article in Science Daily claimed that “health at work is determined to a large extent by our social relationships in the workplace – and, more particularly, the social groups we form there.”

The authors went on to note that health benefits seemed to be more significant when a greater number of people at the organization shared a feeling of connectedness.

This research indicates that, while one-on-one relationships are important, organizations need to do what they can to develop a greater sense of inclusion for everybody.

Improved productivity

There’s a huge difference in performance between workers who have strong connections with their colleagues and those who don’t.

It seems like common sense that greater interpersonal connection in the workplace could translate into better productivity. When people know, respect and value their colleagues, they’re naturally inclined to feel like they share responsibility and accountability with their peers. Why remote work can be more productive work

There’s evidence to support this claim.

For instance, Gallup found that people who reported having a best friend at work were “seven times more likely to be engaged.” Other positive performance indicators included better work and fewer workplace injuries.

Greater self-confidence and team morale

Feeling connected to teammates may have benefits for self-esteem and collective confidence, too.

Interacting closely with colleagues can help individuals develop greater self-confidence and improve a team’s sense of cohesion and shared accomplishment.

On the other hand, without the affirmation provided by close relationships, it can be difficult to achieve higher levels of self-esteem. Self-doubt can begin to take the place of mutual support.

The American Psychological Association highlighted a study first published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that claimed self-esteem and positive relationships go hand in hand, with one factor boosting the other. The study indicated that these results seem to hold true across a person’s life, even into advanced age.

To create this feedback loop between self-esteem and positive relationships, businesses need to cultivate greater personal interaction.

Techniques for encouraging interpersonal interaction

To achieve greater interaction between colleagues and associates, there are many strategies that businesses can use. The thoughtful application of telework technologies can help drive stronger human connection.

Promote virtual presence

Videoconferencing is a simple solution for enhanced communication. By enabling meeting participants to pick up on nonverbal cues from each other, attendees can more fully appreciate what their colleagues are saying. Using video for client meetings can also help establish a more personal connection with prospects and customers. Screen sharing tools can facilitate more thorough communication, assisting with collaboration, and allowing contributors to truly feel heard.

Another significant benefit of videoconferencing technology is the ability to record and archive demos and tutorials in their entirety. Sharing these resources can be a great way for colleagues to help keep one another informed about business operations.

Provide tools for work-life balance and interactivity

Employees feel more connected to their workplaces when they know they have the tools they need to adequately balance work responsibilities with their personal lives.

Remote work technology that enables workers to spend less time on their commute will help their personal interactions feel relaxed and natural.

Encouraging workers to use videoconferencing and collaboration tools also allow them to be more present with one another when they tackle projects together. When colleagues connect over a video chat line, their attention remains focused on the conversation at hand, not divided among other communication channels. Get the most out of work-life balance

Create digital communities

Collaboration tools and scheduled meetings are one component of a multifaceted approach to shared, community-based platforms that encourage interpersonal communication.

Standalone multifunctional groups, such as Webex Teams, enable greater interaction between colleagues and teammates. With limited outside distractions and a more relaxed atmosphere, online communities can serve as a virtual watercooler for impromptu check-ins and spontaneous chats.

There are many opportunities available from Cisco Webex to help you improve interpersonal interaction and nurture a more confident, connected workplace.

Reach out today for more information or a free trial.

Sources:

Your Friends and Your Social Well-Being

Health determined by social relationships at work

Positive Relationships Boost Self-Esteem, and Vice Versa

Creating Human Connection

Learn More

5 tips for connecting with remote colleagues

Delighting remote workers: Why user experience is important

Using technology to create work-life balance

Read more
graphic classroom and
Bridging hybrid classrooms with the Cisco Webex Board

Easy deployment and super friendly interface

Technology can be unnecessarily complex. Whether the screen was left on the wrong video input or the camera wasn’t connected – these kinds of disruptions that take valuable time away from teaching and learning. With Cisco Webex Rooms devices, technology isn’t an inhibitor to education – it’s the conduit.

Video device

There are plenty of touch screens in the market for education, but they sacrifice the most important factor of all: communication. With hybrid learning models on the rise, we need to ensure that the distance between the teachers and students doesn’t become a barrier to learning. According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian*, communication requires more than verbal interactions. It is made up of 7% of spoken words, 38% of voice and tone, and 55% of body language. If the students can’t hear or see the teacher, then some of the most important parts of the lesson can be lost. Capturing the teachers movements and tone of voice is essential to an engaging lesson.

Teachers, on the other hand, need to be certain that students can hear and see them without fault so they can focus on giving the class, not on managing the technology that enables class. The 4k camera of the Webex Board plus its 12 microphone array ensures that wherever the teacher is, they can be heard, seen, and understood.

Works with your favorite online education platform

For some time now, education has relied on digital platforms to distribute home assignments, review projects and homework, and store class material. The Webex Board can be set up with tools like Blackboard CourseSites and Canvas as Webapps so the teacher and student can interact with them directly on the Webex Board while on a call. Webex can also be integrated directly into the institution’s Learning Management System.

Annotate on all!          

In the case that the teacher feels more comfortable sharing material from their computer, Touch Redirect allows the teacher to interact with the computer as they would with a tablet by using touching the Webex Board. While using PowerPoint, for example, the teacher can go through slides by swiping their finger on the screen. When showing a 3D model, they can zoom in and rotate the model on the screen. Any content shared on the board can be annotated on by the teacher using the board or the students from their home devices. This encourages students to participate freely, while keeping their attention on the class, not on handling the tech. At the end of the class, all written notes are stored as whiteboards in spaces where teachers and students can access them.

The power of the Webex Assistant

Webex Assistant for Webex Meetings gives the teacher the option to record the lesson for future reference. Recordings may also include a transcript of the lesson and a selection of highlights. So, the teacher can help students find critical parts of the lesson faster and relate them to other lessons.

The Webex Board makes learning easy for teachings and students by providing the correct set of tools in video conferencing and interaction that modern hybrid learning requires.

Learn more about the all-in-one device for team collaboration 

Reference

Dr. Albert Mehrabian*

Learn More

Top 7 Webex Assistant Device commands to enhance your meetings!

Webex for Education: Technology for collaboration in and out of the classroom

Experience the new Webex for Education — Simple and secure out-of-the-box

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What would you like to do?

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Woman on Cisco Meeting
Room cleaning macro with Cisco Webex Rooms

Cisco Webex Rooms in a new normal

Cisco Webex Rooms are not only fantastic collaboration devices, they enable you to bring intelligence to your meeting rooms, helping you utilize your meeting rooms effectively and safely. You may have read a recent blog from Cisco that discusses how a device can count people in a room and create alerts if the maximum capacity limit of the room is exceeded. The people count mechanism was created with the idea that you could optimize the efficiency of your rooms, but in this new normal it can be repurposed to help keep users aware of capacity limits.

Macros

One way the intelligence in a meeting room equipped with Webex Room devices can be harnessed, is through the use of macros. Macros are created on the device using standard JavaScript, providing access to the Application Programmer Interface (API) of the device, standard JavaScript functionality and even the ability to send or receive arbitrary HTTP(S) requests. This is how the functionality of counting people is transformed into an alert, when an administrator’s defined threshold is exceeded, and a macro performs an action. Taking this macro as inspiration, I asked myself what other functionality could add value to a room for both an administrator and a user?

One thing we know is that we have to adhere to strict cleaning schedules as we journey back into the office. How could a Webex Room device help advise and keep track of this? I thought that a way of helping administrators monitor room cleaning would be a good start. I used the User Interface Extensions Editor available from the web interface of the device and created a new button that appeared on the User Interface (UI).

Room cleaning macro

I created a macro (available here) that knows when the new button is pressed and records the timestamp of the cleaning event. I record this timestamp to a secondary macro so it is not lost if the device is shutdown, but this could easily be extended to send the timestamp via HTTP to a central database for administrators to monitor. Sounds great, but what happens if a user presses the button by mistake? The macro detects the button press and before recording the cleaning event it triggers a PIN dialog, the cleaner must enter a valid PIN before the macro will record the event.

This information on its own is valuable but I decided to extend it further. As discussed earlier, the device knows when people are in the room, meaning it knows when the room is vacated too. Using this information, it is possible to create a message on the screen that informs users how long it has been since the room was last used, of course this can also be sent to a central location too. Now it is possible to inform the administrator or user about how long the room has been vacant, when the room was last cleaned and how many times the room has been used since it was last cleaned.

Room available macro

Taking this approach, administrators are empowered with information to ensure their rooms are safe and users can have access to information that gives them peace of mind. The best part is, this can all be achieved with a Webex Room device and a little custom code. Macros and UI Extensions enable countless opportunities for enhancing the meeting room experience, have a go yourself and see what you can create!

Check out the room cleaning and usage micro

Learn More

Returning to work with Intelligent Room Capacity

Webex Device Management— The power of search!

Working smarter anywhere – Working remotely 

How to launch a community with Webex Teams

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What would you like to do?

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Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

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Human face and mouth and sound waves - 3D illustration
Applied natural language processing— Using AI to build real products

Arushi Raghuvanshi – Hear an overview of key concepts for leveraging NLP in production applications like voice assistants, question answering, search, topic summarization, and more.

This is a companion blog post to my talk at the Women in Big Data event on August 20, 2020. The talk slides are available here

There are different challenges between academic or theoretical NLP and practical or applied NLP. There are quite a few online resources on the academic side, including published papers, lessons on AI and NLP theory and fundamentals, blog posts breaking down the latest and greatest models, etc. There is less information online about using all of this in practice, in real-world, customer-facing applications, which is what I’ll cover here. I will outline some key differences between academia and industry, introduce core NLP concepts that are applicable to a variety of applied use cases, go through best practices and tools for collecting data and building an application, and discuss how to securely improve deployed models over time.

Academia vs industry

The first key difference between academia and industry is data. The data available to build a production application may be very limited in quantity compared to standard research datasets. For example, SQuAD, a popular question-answering dataset, has over 100,000 questions, but developers may only have a couple hundred representative question-answer pairs to build a production system. Production data may also be noisier or have different characteristics than standard data sets. For example, it could contain a lot of domain-specific terms like product names. Because of this, pre-trained or out of the box models might not work well.

The second difference is the need for reliability and interpretability in user-facing applications. There has been a trend towards deep learning models that perform well on large amounts of data, but they may pick up on unintended or undesirable data trends because real-world data naturally has bias. For example, many companies have shown up in the news for accidentally building sexist or racially biased models. When building models in practice, it’s important to think about bias and design models that are easy to evaluate, consistent, and only rely on intended features.

Next, academic papers tend to focus on a single, well-defined component. While these components may work well individually, they often break down as part of a larger pipeline. For example, to build a voice assistant you may need a pipeline of speech recognition, natural language understanding, and question answering components. If the speech recognition is off, it makes it more difficult to understand what the user is asking, and even more difficult to answer their question or complete the task.

speech recognition icon and sound waves

In academia, accuracy tends to be the main metric that researchers are trying to improve on, but in practice, developers also care about usability and scalability. In production, device constraints, inference time, interaction design, and other factors play a role in the overall success of an application. Often, these factors that contribute to usability are more important than minor accuracy improvements, requiring a different approach to model optimization.

Finally, security is an important factor in real-world applications. AI is a data-driven field. More data leads to better models, but developers must be careful about keeping this data secure and not violating customer trust. There have been many recent news articles about data breaches and a general sentiment of users feeling like companies are spying on them or not respecting their privacy.

These are some of the fundamental differences between AI theory and practice. Next, I’ll share some best practices and tools to solve NLP problems for production systems.

Applied NLP overview

The solution to many of the problems outlined above is to break down complex problems into a series of models that can be evaluated well. Instead of training a single, deep, end-to-end, black box system, train multiple, simpler, more well-defined models. Since each of these models is solving a simpler problem, they require less data to achieve high accuracy and less compute power to train. It is also easier to evaluate each of these subcomponents quickly and thoroughly, which makes it easier to efficiently deploy fixes to issues like picking up on unintended data trends.

With that in mind, we’ve found that most practical applications of NLP can be modeled as the following four general categories, and more complex problems can be handled with a pipeline of these models:

Text classification

For all NLP models, the input is a piece of text. With text classification, given a query or piece of text, the model outputs a single label.

One example application of this type is sentiment analysis. Given some text, the model can output a label of positive, negative, or neutral. Another example is topic classification. Consider an application with pre-defined topics of weather, news, and sports. Given a user query, the model can output the appropriate label. Third, extractive summarization or highlight extraction can be modeled as a text classification problem. For each sentence in the text, the model can output a binary label of whether that sentence is a highlight (included in the summary) or not.

example of text classification using inputs and outputs
Examples of sentiment analysis, domain classification, and highlight extraction.

Some models that can be used for text classification are logistic regression, support vector machines, random forest, decision trees, and neural networks (of which there are many network architectures available).

Some features that can be used to train these models include:

  • N-grams, which are sequences of n words or tokens in the order they appear
  • Bag of words, which is a count of all the words in the text (without paying attention to the order)
  • Word shape or orthographic features that consider if there are capitalizations, punctuation, numerics, etc.
  • Length of the text
  • Gazetteers, which are indexes or dictionaries containing domain-specific vocabulary and their frequencies – the feature is whether words or phrases in the input text appear in the domain gazetteer
  • For NN models, the input can be a character, word, or sentence level embedding or vector representation

While it’s good to be aware of these models and features, there are many libraries, toolkits, and frameworks with implementations of these models and feature extractors. Most of the work you’ll do for AI in practice will be framing the problem and collecting data. The model itself will often be a few lines calling a library. When starting out, it’s more important to focus on collecting the right data and framing the problem than getting caught up in the details of the model implementations.

Sequence labeling

The next model category is sequence labeling. Now, given a piece of text as input, the model will output a label for every word or token in the text. One application of this is entity recognition, which is extracting key words or phrases and their labels. Another application is part of speech tagging.

Entity recognition with IOB tagging input and output
Example of entity recognition with IOB tagging

Models that can be used for sequence labeling include maximum entropy markov models (MEMM), conditional random fields (CRF), long short-term memory networks (LSTM), and more complex recurrent neural network architectures (bi-LSTM, bi-LSTM + CRF, etc.).

Good features to use are the same as for the text classification model described above.

Sequence to sequence

When given some text input, sequence to sequence models output a sequence of tokens of arbitrary length. Some applications for this are machine translation or natural language generation. MT requires a lot of data to get right, so in practice it is generally better to use a pre-trained model or one available through an API. NLG generally doesn’t reliably work well enough to be used in production. In practice, developers usually use rules-based or templated responses instead. Given that most developers aren’t training these models from scratch, I won’t go into architecture details on this type here.

Information retrieval

The last category is information retrieval. IR is the problem of retrieving a document from an index or database based on a search term. Some applications of this are Question Answering, Search, and Entity Resolution. For example, say someone wants to know which artist played the song Bohemian Rhapsody, and you have an index that contains songs and artist names. You can search that index with the song title Bohemian Rhapsody to get the document with the artist field populated as Queen.

Example of structured question answering for conversational interfaces
Example of structured question answering for conversational interfaces.

Note that this is more complicated than a simple database lookup because it incorporates fuzzy matching. Some relevant features that can be used to get optimal rankings include:

  • Exact matching
  • Matching on normalized text
  • N-grams for phrase matching
  • Character n-grams for partial word matching and misspellings
  • Deep embedding based semantic matching, leveraging models such as BERT, GloVe, or sentence transformers
  • Phonetic matching, which can directly use phonetic signals from the speech recognition model, or generate phonemes from the transcribed text using models such as double metaphone or grapheme to phoneme

Note that there are some areas of NLP that I didn’t cover. I didn’t touch on unsupervised models at all. But the majority of practical NLP applications can be modeled as one of these four categories, or for more complex problems, a combination of them.

Example application

To make this more concrete, let’s walk through an example application that uses the concepts we’ve discussed so far. More specifically, I’ll be giving you an example of building a food ordering conversational interface with the MindMeld platform. This is a complex problem, so it involves a pipeline of multiple models shown here:

Natural Language Processor and knowledge base

Let’s consider the example query “I’d like a hummus wrap and two chicken kebabs.”

  • The Domain Classifier is a text classification model that assigns an incoming query into one of a set of pre-defined buckets or domains. The given query would be labeled as the food ordering
  • Intent Classifiers are also text classification models that predict which of the domain’s intents is expressed in the request. In this case, an intent classifier could label the query as the build order
  • Entity Recognizers discern and label entities — the words and phrases that must be identified to understand and fulfill requests — with sequence labeling models. For our example query, this would extract hummus wrap and chicken kebabs as dish entities and two as a number
  • Entity Role Classifiers add another level of labeling a role when knowing an entity’s type is not enough to interpret it correctly. These are also text classification models. The number entity two can be further classified as the quantity role (to differentiate it from a size role, e.g. 16 drinks vs a 16 ounce drink).
  • An Entity Resolver maps each identified entity to a canonical value using Information Retrieval. For example, hummus wrap can be mapped to the closest canonical item of Veggie Hummus Wrap, ID:‘B01CUUBRZY’.
  • The Language Parser finds relationships between the extracted entities and groups them into a meaningful hierarchy using weighted rules. In this case, two and chicken kebabs would be grouped together.
  • The Question Answerer supports the creation of a knowledge base, which encompasses all of the important world knowledge for a given application use case. The question answerer then leverages the knowledge base to find answers, validate questions, and suggest alternatives in response to user queries. This is an Information Retrieval model. Since the user has not specified a restaurant name, the question answerer can be used to find restaurants that carry the requested dishes.
  • The Dialogue Manager analyzes each incoming request and assigns it to a dialogue state handler, which then executes the required logic and returns a response. This is a rule-based system. In this case, it would use a template to construct a response like “I found veggie hummus wrap and two chicken kebabs available at Med Wraps and Palmyra. Where would you like to order from?”
  • Finally, the Application Manager orchestrates the query workflow — in essence, directing the progress of the query between and within components.

MindMeld implements all of these models for you with some reasonable defaults. Once you’ve added your data, you can simply run the following in the command line to train all of these models and start testing them:

mindmeld blueprint

If you would like to further experiment with one of the models, let’s take an intent classifier for example, you can do so with the following syntax in python:

mindmeld components

To download the code and try it out yourself you can make a copy of this Google colab notebook and follow the commands. More information is available in the MindMeld documentation.

Now that you understand some fundamental NLP concepts and how to frame an NLP problem, the next step is to collect data.

Data collection

Before jumping into data collection, it’s always a good idea to check if there are any pre-trained models you can use. Hugging Face is a popular platform that has implementations of many state of the art models. CoreNLP, spaCy, and NLTK are platforms that have implementations of many NLP fundamentals, such as named entity recognition, part of speech tagging, etc. And you can always do a simple Google search to look for additional models. Even if these pre-trained models don’t perfectly fit your use case, they can still be useful for fine tuning or as features.

Example of using pre-trained sentence transformers found via Hugging Face
Example of using pre-trained sentence transformers found via Hugging Face
Example of using pre-trained Named Entity Recognition from spaCY
Example of using pre-trained Named Entity Recognition from spaCY

If you are training a model, first check to see if there are any existing datasets available. There are a lot of open-source datasets that can be used as a starting point. There may be data within your organization that you may want to use. Or you might be able to scrape or compile data from a website or publicly available API.

While it’s good to check for existing models and data, don’t hesitate to build a new dataset if one doesn’t already exist that accurately represents your use case. Representative data is essential to building a high-quality application. Crowdsourcing tools can be useful for generating initial data.

Example platforms for crowdsourcing data collection.
Example platforms for crowdsourcing data collection.

When leveraging crowdsourcing tools, it’s important to define your task well. If the task description is too specific, you will get lots of very similar looking data, but if it’s too general, a lot of the data may be irrelevant or not useful. To strike the right balance, iterate. Work in small batches, see how the results look, and update your task description accordingly.

Some data collection platforms help match you with workers who are trained in your specific use case, which is really useful if you want clean, consistent data. For cases where you want more variation or generally want to see how the public responds to certain prompts, it may be better to go with tools that anyone can contribute to. You can also do things like target specific geographic areas to get a variation in slang and regional language that people might use.

Whatever approach you take, consider implementing validation checks to automatically discard any excessively noisy or irrelevant data. You can target workers with better ratings to help reduce noise, but even then, you should implement some automated validation like checking length, removing whitespaces, and making sure at least some words appear in the relevant language dictionary.

In addition to collecting the text itself, remember that we want to collect labels for our models. It’s incredibly important for these labels to be clean, because without clean data our models can’t learn. If you use crowdsourcing tools or data teams for this, you should give contributors some training and evaluation before they start labeling. You can have multiple people label the same queries, and only accept labels with a certain level of agreement. Once you have an initial model, you can help speed up labeling time by using model predictions to bootstrap labels. This transforms the label generation task into a verification task, which is generally faster and easier.

Finally, if you don’t have any other resources, you can create and label your data yourself, in house. This can be a great way to bootstrap an initial model. It gets you to think more closely about the data you are trying to collect, and you can add data over time from user logs or other sources as resources become available.

Toolkits and frameworks

Once you’ve framed your problem and collected data, the next step is to train your model. Scikit-learn is a popular toolkit for classic models that we talked about like logistic regression, support vector machines, and random forest.

linear regression

For neural networks, you can use libraries like PyTorch or Tensorflow. Here’s a great tutorial on using a PyTorch LSTM for part of speech tagging, and here’s one for Tensorflow.

Some more NLP specific toolkits are CoreNLP, NLTK, spaCy, and Hugging Face. I mentioned these toolkits before in the context of pre-trained models, but they are also very useful as feature extractors. These toolkits can be used to generate features from text, like n-grams and bag of words. These feature vectors can then be fed into models implemented via, for example, scikit-learn.

generating ngrams

For more complex problems involving multiple NLP components, namely conversational interfaces, you can use a variety of platforms  including MindMeld, Dialogflow, Amazon Lex, wit.ai, RASA, and Microsoft LUIS. These platforms have a lot of preset defaults for feature extractors and models and have the whole pipeline set up, so all you have to do is provide your data and implement any custom logic. Even if you’re not building a full conversational interface, these platforms can be really useful for their subcomponents, like question answering or custom entity extraction.

Finally, there are tools on the infrastructure side that can be particularly useful for AI. Elasticsearch is useful because it is not only a database, but also a full-text search engine with a lot of IR capabilities built-in. AWS, Google compute engine, and other similar platforms are great for cloud compute to train heavier models efficiently. Kubernates is a platform for easy deployment and scaling of your systems. And DVC is a tool for data versioning, so that if you have multiple people training models, they can be synchronized on the data they are using.

Improving models in a secure way

The key to intelligent ML systems is to improve them over time. All of the leaders in the AI space have become so by leveraging usage and behavior data from real users to continually improve their models. As an organization, it is essential to do this in a secure way.

The most important thing to start with is communication. It is important to clearly communicate if any user data will be stored, how long it will be stored for, who will be able to access it, and what it will be used for. Even if you are abiding by data policies, if users are unaware of these agreements, it may come across as ‘spying.’ This communication can be done at onboarding, with user agreements, through an FAQ section of a website, via a published white paper, or any other accessible location.

In order to define these data policies, some things to think about include what data needs to be stored to improve your system. Can you store only some extracted trends or metadata, or do you need to keep the full raw logs? You should only store what is absolutely necessary to add value to the end user and always remove any extra sensitive or personally identifiable information. Think about how long this data will be stored. Will it be deleted after a set amount of time, say one year, or is it crucial to store it indefinitely until the user requests it to be deleted? Who will be able to access the data? If the data is never read or inspected by humans, people may be more comfortable with their data being used. If that is not possible, it is good to make the data available only to a small team of analysts who have a high level of data security training. Finally, what will the data be used for? If it provides value to the end user, they are more likely to allow you to use it. When possible, it is beneficial to provide useful reports to end users or customers and measurable accuracy improvements on models.

Once you’ve defined a data policy, you need to build a secure data pipeline that can enforce this policy.

example data pipeline
Example data pipeline. User queries and model outputs are stored in a secure temporary cache until they can be processed and saved in a more permanent data store with relevant access permissions.

For example, you need to keep track of information like from which user each piece of data came from, so you can delete it if they ask for it to be removed. The platform needs to be able to enforce permissions, so only authorized individuals are able to access data stores. You can also build models to remove sensitive information. For example, if you don’t need to store person names and those exist in your data, you can use an entity recognition model to recognize those person names and replace them with a generic token.

Once you have data, an efficient way to improve models is with Active Learning. In production, raw data is cheap, but labeling data is not. We can use model uncertainty to select which queries to label first to improve models quickly.

model performance vs queries added

To help do active learning on a regular basis, you can build out a semi-automated pipeline that selects logs from the data store, bootstraps annotations, which can be verified by a human labeler, and checks to see if the accuracy increases with the new data. If it does, the new model can be deployed, and if not, the data can be sent to the developer team for further inspection and model experimentation. In addition to increasing the training set with this pipeline, it’s good to add to the test set. For the test set, it’s better to randomly select queries to get an accurate distribution of user behavior.

You can further speed up this pipeline by using auto labeling. Tools like snorkel enable labeling data automatically, with an algorithm or model, rather than manually with a human labeler. The auto labeling system can abstain from labeling queries for which there is low confidence. These can be sent to human labelers or ignored. Either way, it allows for some model improvement without a human-in-the-loop, which is beneficial for security reasons and time or resource constraints.

About the author

Arushi Raghuvanshi is a Senior Machine Learning Engineer at Cisco through the acquisition of MindMeld, where she builds production level conversational interfaces. She has developed instrumental components of the core Natural Language Processing platform, drives the effort on active learning to improve models in production, and is leading new initiatives such as speaker identification. Prior to MindMeld, Arushi earned her Master’s degree in Computer Science with an Artificial Intelligence specialization from Stanford University. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree from Stanford in Computer Science with a secondary degree in Electrical Engineering. Her prior industry experience includes time working at Microsoft, Intel, Jaunt VR, and founding a startup backed by Pear Ventures and Lightspeed Ventures. Arushi has publications in leading conferences including EMNLP, IEEE WCCI, and IEEE ISMVL.

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Webex Community members bring Linux support for Webex to life

Linux support for Webex

Here at Webex, we understand that innovation can come from anywhere, whether it’s from our engineering team, our partners, or passionate users like yourself. We created the User Community Feedback Portal for our community members to provide feedback on new features or give suggestions on how we can make our product even better. Ever since launching the Webex Community in May, you have made good use of the feedback portal, resulting in innovations and changes that matter most to you.

Users have been asking us to support Webex on Linux, but after reviewing the idea, it didn’t appear that there was a substantial need for Linux support. However, users in the Webex Community highlighted that there indeed was a need—in fact, users wanted support on Linux far more than we knew. See the idea here

The vote is in!

The community came together using the User Community Feedback Portal to make it known that there was indeed a need for support on Linux and just how much it mattered to those who matter most to us: our users.

“My ‘Linux colleagues’ laughed about it when I started my request in May, but I couldn’t understand why Cisco was not supporting this key group in the DevNet population. It’s good to hear that Cisco is listening and [I’m] looking forward to the first release,” explained Wim van Moorsel from AnyWeb, which is why he submitted the request.

This project became so popular that it is now the second most popular (by vote) idea in the Webex Community. Nearly 800 people voted from 318 different companies with an additional 100 partners asking for the Linux support, too.

the feed for Linux support for Webex request

After seeing how many votes this idea received, product managers once again reviewed supporting Webex on Linux and considered how valuable this update is to our community members. Needless to say, we are now moving forward with supporting Webex on Linux. The product manager leading the upcoming project:

Thank you so much for your feedback and the numerous votes on the request to support a Linux version of the Webex Teams client. The wait is finally over and Cisco Collaboration team has started working on a Linux client. There are numerous questions in terms of what flavors will be supported, what features will be available, etc. Our goal is to get it to you as soon as possible and are releasing the core workflows (targeted for Q1 CY2021) with a roadmap to ultimate parity with the Windows client. The team is working through defining the phases and finalizing the initial flavors of Linux that we will support. Taking your requests on flavors into consideration for sure. We will share more on this in the upcoming weeks so please watch out this AHA for more details. Thank you your patience.”

– Manali Dongre, Product Manager

With the completion of this project, Webex will be supported on nearly any operating system.

User Community Feedback Portal

We aren’t too proud to admit that we don’t know everything. This is in part why we created the User Community Feedback Portal—to learn from our community members, to get insights into what actually matters to our users, and to improve both our product and experience for all users. It is because of feedback and the power of community that we are able to give our users what they want. We’re excited to start the Linux project and receive more feedback once it launches.

Have another idea you want to see brought to life? Or do you have feedback on features, projects, or want to submit a new idea? Visit the Webex Community and use the feedback portal to make your voice heard. Access the User Community Feedback Portal in the community by clicking on the “External Links” dropdown and selecting “Share a Product Idea.” We can’t wait to hear about your ideas!

Make your voice heard and submit a new idea!

About the author

Cole Callahan, Webex Community Manager

About Cole – Cole manages the Webex Communities, including the IT Admin, Adoption Champions, and User Communities. He’s a kayak fanatic, and proud father to his incredible Foxhound, Daisy. He’s passionate about connecting customers, users, and admins with Webex.

Cole is a recent Ball State graduate and award-winning documentarian (seriously!) who has previously launched online communities for other organizations. As the Community Manager here at Cisco, Cole launched our community spaces, engages with members, encourages conversations, and is your go-to guy for everything relating to Webex Communities. Feel free to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Robust NLP for voice assistants

Karthik Raghunathan – How to understand your users despite your Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR)’s bad hearing.

This is a companion blog post to my talk at the L3-AI conference on June 18th, 2020. The talk slides are available here. The talk recording is here.

NLP machines
Image credits: Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

The MindMeld Conversational AI Platform has been used by developers to build text-based chatbots as well as voice assistants. While text-based chatbots certainly have their place and utility in today’s world, voice interfaces are a lot more intuitive and natural when they work well.

It’s been encouraging to see the general population become more comfortable with voice assistants in recent years. An early 2020 survey by Voicebot found that more than a third of US households now have a voice-enabled smart speaker.

Map of the United States from Voicebot showing the graph of US households having voice-enabled smart speaker

Another survey found that 35% of the US population are regular voice assistant users.

A graph of UC Voice Assistant users and penetration

These numbers are expected to grow even faster in this era as users start preferring touch-free interfaces. This presents a great opportunity for developers of voice user interfaces everywhere. However, anyone who’s worked on one of these systems knows that it’s no easy feat to build a production-quality voice assistant that delights users.

Several active research areas in natural language processing explore more complex and deeper neural network architectures for conversational natural language understanding, natural language generation, and dialog state tracking. But all of that great work can still get undermined by the simple fact that voice assistants often suffer from bad hearing. In real life, even simple voice commands get easily misunderstood because the assistant didn’t hear you clearly.

Alexa Voice Fails

In more technical terms, this means that the accuracy of your Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) system has a huge impact on the overall quality of your voice assistant. This ends up being the Achilles’ Heel for most voice assistants, and if you want to see a significant improvement in user experience, focusing your efforts here will give you the most bang for your buck.

Challenges with speech recognition

Modern voice assistants are built using a complex pipeline of AI technology. At a high level, three steps are common to all voice user interfaces:

 

Source: Nvidia
  1. First, we use Automatic Speech Recognition to convert the user’s speech to text. Since building your own ASR requires prohibitively high amounts of data and resources, it’s common for developers to use an off-the-shelf cloud service like Google Cloud Speech-to-Text, Azure Speech to Text, or Amazon Transcribe.
  2. We then use Natural Language Processing to understand the transcribed text, take any appropriate actions, and formulate a text response. This can be accomplished with a platform like MindMeld that encompasses functionality for natural language understanding, dialogue management, and natural language generation.
  3. Lastly, we use Text To Speech to synthesize human-like speech for the generated text response to be “spoken” back to the user. This is commonly done using cloud services like Google Cloud Text-to-Speech, Azure Text-to-Speech, or Amazon Polly.

Since ASR is the first component in this pipeline, errors introduced at this step cascade to downstream components, causing them to make errors as well. You can use all the transformers you want in your NLP system, but if the input is garbage, you’ll still get garbage out.

In the last five years, there have been many headlines like these which may lead one to believe that ASR is an already solved problem:

Microsoft reaches ‘human parity’ with new speech recognition system

The system’s word error rate is reported to be 5.9 percent, which Microsoft says is “about equal” to professional transcriptionists asked to work on speech taken from the same Switchboard corpus of conversations.

www.theverge.com

Google’s speech recognition technology now has a 4.9% word error rate

Google CEO Sundar Pichai today announced that the company’s speech recognition technology has now achieved a 4.9 percent word error rate.

venturebeat.com

While we’ve undoubtedly made large strides in speech recognition accuracy over the last decade, it’s far from being a solved problem in the real world. In many of our production applications, we see word error rates (the metric by which ASR quality is measured) to be far higher than the ~5% numbers reported on well-studied academic datasets. Off-the-shelf ASR services like those from Microsoft, Google, or Amazon still make many mistakes on proper nouns and domain-specific terminology. When deployed in the real world, these errors are further exacerbated when dealing with users with diverse accents or non-ideal acoustic environments.

Examples of ASR mistranscriptions in Webex Assistant

Below are a few examples of ASR mistranscriptions we’ve seen in Webex Assistant, our MindMeld-powered voice assistant for enterprise collaboration.

ASR mistranscriptions

As you can see, the ASR often confuses proper nouns with common English words (e.g., Prakash’s vs. precautious or Mahojwal vs. my jaw). On other occasions, it mistakes one named entity for another (e.g., Kiran vs. Corrine or Didi vs. Stevie). There are also cases where it fuses named entities with surrounding words (e.g., Merriweather instead of me with Heather). Any of these mistakes would lead the assistant to take an unsatisfactory action since the primary entity of interest has been lost in the ASR output.

Clearly, we need to overcome these kinds of errors to understand the user correctly. But before we look at potential solutions, it’s worth emphasizing two things.

First, we’ll assume that the ASR we’re using is an off-the-shelf black box system that we can’t modify and have to use as is. This is a reasonable assumption because most popular cloud ASR services provide very little room for customization. However, we will assume that the ASR provides a ranked list of alternate hypotheses and not just its most confident transcript. This is something that all major cloud ASR services can do today.

major cloud ASR services

Note that the techniques covered below will be useful even if you had the luxury of using your own highly customized domain-specific ASR models. That’s because no ASR is ever going to be perfect, and having robustness mechanisms built into your NLP pipeline is always a good idea. The assumption about an off-the-shelf black box ASR is more to restrict the scope of the discussion here to the most common scenario that developers find themselves in.

Second, when talking about the NLP stack for a voice assistant, different implementations might involve different steps as part of the full pipeline. In this post, we’ll only focus on the three main steps common to all modern conversational AI platforms: intent classification, entity recognition, and entity resolution.

Next, we’ll look at three different techniques we’ve used in MindMeld applications to make our NLP pipeline more resilient to ASR errors.

1. ASR n-best reranking

The first technique, called n-best rescoring or reranking, applies application-specific domain knowledge to bias and possibly correct the ASR output.

While this description doesn’t do justice to all the complexities of a modern ASR system, at a conceptual level, it’s still useful to think of an ASR as having three separate stages:

Automatic Speech Recognition

First, the feature extractor extracts some useful audio features from the input speech signal. The acoustic model then maps those extracted features to phonemes representing the distinct sounds in the language. Finally, the language model takes that sequence of phonemes and transforms it into a sequence of words, thereby forming a full sentence. Like other probabilistic systems, ASR systems can output not just their best guess but also an n-best list of ranked alternate hypotheses.

The language model (LM) has a huge impact on how the audio finally gets transcribed. The LM is essentially a statistical model that predicts the most likely word to follow a given sequence of words. Conversely, it can also be used to score any arbitrary sequence of words and provide a probability measure for that word sequence.

The key thing to note here is that the LM used by an off-the-shelf cloud ASR service is a generic domain-agnostic model that may work well for web searches or general dictation tasks, but may not be best suited for recognizing the kind of language your users might use when conversing with your assistant. This is why these ASR systems often mistranscribe a domain-specific named entity as some other popular term on the web, or simply as a common English phrase. Unfortunately, in most cases, we cannot change or customize the LM used by a black-box ASR service. Therefore, we train our own separate domain-aware LM and use it to pick the best candidate from the different hypotheses in the ASR’s n-best list.

To train our in-domain language model, we need a large corpus of sentences that reflects the kinds of things our users would say to our voice assistant. Luckily, we should already have a dataset of this kind that we use to train our intent and entity detection models in our NLP pipeline. That same data (with some augmentation, if needed) can be repurposed for training the LM. There are many free and open-source language modeling toolkits available, and depending on your corpus size, you can either pick a traditional n-gram-based model or a neural net-based one. In our experience, n-gram LMs trained using the KenLM or SRILM toolkits worked well in practice.

Once we have a trained in-domain LM, we can use it to rescore and rerank the ASR n-best list such that candidates with language patterns similar to those found in our training data are ranked higher. The post-reranking top candidate is treated as the corrected ASR output and used for further downstream processing by our NLP pipeline.

NLP Pipeline

The above figure shows this technique in action in Webex Assistant. The original ASR output was trying marijuana’s emr, but after n-best reranking, the corrected output is join maria joana’s pmr, which seems more likely as something a user would say to our voice assistant. The ASR’s LM would have preferred a different top hypothesis originally because trying marijuana is a very popular n-gram on the web, and EMR, which stands for “electronic medical record” is a more popular term in general than PMR (“personal meeting room”), which only makes sense in an online meeting scenario. But our in-domain LM can pick the right candidate because it would assign higher probabilities to words like join, PMR, and possibly even Maria Joana if we had that name in our training data.

The advantage of this approach is that it isn’t directed at improving any one specific downstream task, but the entire NLP pipeline can benefit from getting to deal with a much cleaner input. This would help with improved accuracy for intent and entity classification as well as entity resolution.

natural language processor

The disadvantage is that this approach introduces one other new model to your overall pipeline that you now have to optimize and maintain in production. There’s also a small latency cost to introducing this additional processing step between your ASR and NLP. Even if you can make all those logistics work, there’s still a limitation to this approach that it cannot make any novel corrections but only choose from the n-best hypotheses provided by the ASR. So there’s a good chance that you’ll need other robustness mechanisms further down the NLP pipeline.

2. Training NLP models with noisy data

The next technique is a really simple one. NLP models are usually trained using clean data, i.e., user query examples that do not have any errors. The idea behind this technique is to spice up our labeled data with some noise so that the training data more closely resembles what the NLP models will encounter at run time. We do this by augmenting our training datasets with queries that contain commonly observed ASR errors.

Training data for intent and entity models augmented with queries containing common ASR errors (in blue)

Intent Classification

Let’s again take the example of Webex Assistant. The intent classification training data for our assistant might have query examples like join meeting, join the meeting, start the meeting, and other similar expressions labeled as the join_meeting intent. Now, if the production application logs show that join the meeting often gets mistranscribed as shine the meeting, or start the meeting often gets confused as shark the meeting, we label those erroneous transcripts as join_meeting as well and add them to our intent classification training data.

We follow a similar approach with our entity recognition model, where we add mistranscriptions like cool tim turtle or video call with dennis toy to our training data and mark the misrecognized entity text (tim turtle, dennis toy, etc.) with the person_name entity label.

If executed correctly, this approach works out really well in practice and improves the real-world accuracy of both the intent classification and entity recognition models. One could argue that you shouldn’t pollute your training data this way, and your model should learn to generalize without resorting to these kinds of tricks. There’s some merit to that argument. You should definitely start with just clean data and experiment with different features and models to see how far you can get. For example, using character-level features like character n-grams or embeddings can make your intent classifier more robust to minor errors like join vs. joint, and a well-trained entity recognizer should be able to recognize benny would as a name (in call benny would now) by relying on the surrounding context words even if the word would is mistranscribed. But there will always be ASR errors that our NLP models won’t be able to handle, and data augmentation of this kind is an effective way to help the model learn better.

Of course, you need to be careful not to go overboard with this approach. If you were to throw in every single way in which an ASR mistranscribes your user queries, that would probably confuse the model more than it would help it. So what we do is only add examples with ASR errors that are really common in our logs. We also only include near-misses where the transcription is slightly off, and don’t include cases where the ASR output has been garbled beyond recognition. Lastly, you need to ensure that you don’t provide conflicting evidence to your NLP models in this process. For instance, the ASR may sometimes misrecognize start the meeting as stop the meeting, but you shouldn’t label stop the meeting as an example for the join_meeting intent. That would introduce a confusion between the join_meeting intent and the end_meeting intent where that example should rightfully belong.

This technique was mainly about improving our intent and entity detection models. But we’ll now turn our focus to entity resolution.

3. ASR-robust entity resolution

Entity resolution, or entity linking, is the task of mapping a detected entity in the user query to a canonical entry in a knowledge base.

entity resolution

In the above example, the person name entity sheryl is resolved to a concrete entity Sheryl Lee who’s a specific employee in the company directory. It’s this resolution step that allows us to correctly fulfill the user’s intent because we now know the right employee to initiate the video call with.

Entity resolution is often modeled as an information retrieval problem. For instance, you can create a knowledge base by using a full-text search engine like Elasticsearch to index all the canonical entities relevant to your application. Then at runtime, you can execute a search query against this knowledge base with the detected entity text and get back a ranked list of matching results.

search acuracy

To improve the search accuracy, and thereby the entity resolution accuracy, there are several features we can experiment with.

Fuzzy Matching

We can encourage partial or fuzzy matching by using features like normalized tokens, character n-grams, word n-grams, and edge n-grams. We can also do simple semantic matching by using a mapping of domain-specific entity synonyms or aliases. Textual similarity features like these are useful for any kind of conversational application regardless of the input modality. But next, we’ll specifically look at additional features that make the entity resolver for a voice assistant more robust to ASR errors.

Phonetic similarity

First, we introduce phonetic similarity because textual similarity alone isn’t enough to deal with ASR errors. For example, when Kiran Prakash’s gets mistranscribed as Corrine precautious, relying purely on text similarity might not help us make the correct match because, at a textual level, these phrases are pretty far apart from each other. But since they sound similar, they should be fairly close in the phonetic space.

One way to encode text into a phonetic representation is by using the double metaphone algorithm. It’s a rule-based algorithm that maps a given word to a phonetic code such that similar sounding words have similar encodings. For words with multiple pronunciations, it provides a primary and a secondary code encoding the two most popular ways to pronounce the word. For example, the name Smith has the double metaphone codes SM0 and XMT, whereas the name Schmidt is represented by the codes XMT and SMT. The similar representations indicate that these two names are phonetically very close.

A more recent approach is to use a machine-learned grapheme-to-phoneme model that generates a sequence of phonemes for a given piece of text. Using this method, Smith is represented by the phoneme sequence S M IH1 TH, whereas Schmidt is represented as SH M IH1 T. Similar sounding words have similar phoneme sequences, and the detailed representations also make it easier to compute the phonetic similarity between words at a more granular level.

In our experiments, we found that these two methods often complement each other. Hence, we use phonetic features derived from both to improve our search.

Leveraging the ASR n-best list

One other technique that helps us significantly improve our search recall is leveraging the entire n-best list of hypotheses from the ASR, rather than just its top transcript. We run entity recognition on all the hypotheses and send all of the detected entities in our search query to the knowledge base.

Leveraging the ASR n-best list

On many occasions, the correct entity might even be present a little deeper in the n-best list, like in the above example where the correct name Sheetal was part of the ASR’s third-best guess. Even when that is not the case, pooling the various text and phonetic features across all the hypotheses has the effect of upweighting features which have more consistent evidence throughout the n-best list and downweighting outliers, thereby resulting in a much better overall match.

User-based personalization

The last thing we’ll discuss is using personalization features to improve entity resolution. User-based personalization is something that search engines use to better cater their search results to each user. Similar techniques can help us resolve entities more accurately by leveraging prior information about the user, such as which entities a particular user is more likely to talk about. This is useful for any kind of conversational application, but can especially have a huge impact for voice assistants where there is a larger potential for confusion due to similar-sounding words and ASR errors.

Personalization features tend to be application-specific and depend on the use case at hand. For example, for Webex Assistant, a major use case is being able to call other people in your company. Assuming that in general, you are more likely to call someone you are more familiar with, we can devise a personalization score, which is essentially a measure of a user’s familiarity with others in the company. In other words, for every user, we compute a familiarity score between that user and everyone else in the company directory. This familiarity score considers factors like how far the two people are in the company’s organizational hierarchy and how frequently they interact with each other via calls or online meetings.

familiarity score

We can then leverage this additional personalization score during ranking to help us disambiguate among similar-sounding names in the ASR hypotheses, and pick the right one.

This was just one example for a specific use case, but you can envision similar personalization features for different applications. For a food ordering assistant, you could have a list of restaurants or dishes that a particular user has favorited or ordered a lot recently. For a music discovery app, you can use a list of artists and albums that a particular user likes and listens to more often. And so on.

ASR robustness features in MindMeld

You can employ one or all of the above techniques when building a MindMeld-powered voice assistant:

  • We don’t have native support for building in-domain language models and using them for reranking n-best ASR hypotheses. But you can try this on your own by leveraging the LM toolkits mentioned above and include it as a preprocessing step before calling the MindMeld NLP pipeline. However, we would recommend starting with the other two techniques first since those can be achieved to an extent within MindMeld itself. Furthermore, they may reduce the need for having a separate n-best reranking step at the beginning.
  • Training the NLP models with noisy data merely involves adding query examples with ASR errors to your training data files and then using MindMeld to build your NLP models as usual. Just heed the warnings about not adding too much noise or confusability to your models.
  • There’s some out-of-the-box support for ASR-robust entity resolution in MindMeld, as described in our user guide. You can improve upon this by implementing personalized ranking techniques that are tailored to your specific application. For more details, read our 2019 EMNLP paper on entity resolution for noisy ASR transcripts.

It’s worth emphasizing that anyone who aspires to build a production-quality voice assistant must invest heavily in making their NLP models robust to ASR errors. This can often be the difference between an unusable product and one with a good user experience. MindMeld-powered assistants are extensively used in enterprise environments where tolerance for misunderstanding of voice commands is far lower than in a consumer setting. Robustness to ASR errors is always top-of-mind for us, and we’ll continue to share updates as we make more progress on this front.

About the author

Karthik Raghunathan is the Director of Machine Learning for Webex Intelligence, which is the team responsible for building machine learning-driven intelligent experiences across all of Cisco’s collaboration products. Karthik used to be the Director of Research at MindMeld, a leading AI company that powered conversational interfaces for some of the world’s largest retailers, media companies, government agencies, and automotive manufacturers. MindMeld was acquired by Cisco in May 2017. Karthik has more than 10 years of combined experience working at reputed academic and industry research labs on the problems of speech, natural language processing, and information retrieval. Prior to joining MindMeld, he was a Senior Scientist in the Microsoft AI & Research Group, where he worked on conversational interfaces such as the Cortana digital assistant and voice search on Bing and Xbox. Karthik holds an MS in Computer Science with Distinction in Research in Natural Language Processing from Stanford University. He was co-advised by professors Daniel Jurafsky and Christopher Manning, and his graduate research focused on the problems of Coreference Resolution, Spoken Dialogue Systems, and Statistical Machine Translation. Karthik is a co-inventor on two US patents and has publications in leading AI conferences such as EMNLP, SIGIR, and AAAI.

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K-12 e-learning video conferencing tips

Video conferencing tips for e-learning

Our daily lives experience no shortage of disruptions. Did you know that prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, studies showed the average person is bombarded with as many as 4,000 messages per day? These can come in the form of advertising, marketing, notifications, alerts, emails, calls, people, and more. Pretty crazy to think about. And now, many kids are home, distracting their parents, but also experiencing similar distractions as they navigate a new normal for what their schooling looks like.

Fortunately, limits on in-person instruction have not eliminated educational experiences for many students. A large number of districts have embraced remote learning, using technology-mediated interactions to help students stay on track. But how do you keep students engaged?

A recent article in Edutopia noted how challenging this transition is for students and teachers alike, but luckily, there are many strategies educators can employ, and resources they can use, to get the most out of remote learning for students in kindergarten through high school.*

Best practices for K-12 e-learning

First of all, if your school or district already uses an online learning management system (LMS), make sure to integrate your video conferencing tool with that platform. Administrators and teachers who are tasked with this responsibility can join Webex for live classes that explore the Webex Education Connector for Learning Management Systems.

Synchronous class time on Webex

During synchronous class time, make sure to set expectations around technology with your students, including demonstrating how to use video conferencing features. As appropriate for your students’ grade level and learning objectives, make sure they know how to mute, use chat functions and more.

Record the course, and share that you will do so. Direct students toward the archive of past lessons and make sure they’re easy to access.

As you meet with your students over a video conferencing platform, there are several best practices you can follow to help make learning more engaging:

  1. Turn your video on.

With so much changing on a daily basis, going live with your students is a simple way to add some continuity to the learning experience. Don’t worry too much about having the best lighting or perfect hair. Just do what you’d normally do for school. Try not to have too many distractions visible on camera, but sharing a little bit of your home life and personality can really help your students plug in.

  1. Use the tools at your disposal.

Videoconferencing platforms can enable highly interactive online learning. There are a couple Webex tools that you might want to leverage for remote learning:

  • Whiteboard: Pull up the Webex virtual Whiteboard to both demonstrate concepts and interact with students. This can be used for lessons or quick games during break time.
  • Polling: Do you need to do a quick check for understanding, or do you want to give students a chance to vote on how content will be delivered today? Use a snap Webex poll.
  • Find simple web-based tools for other functions. Display slide decks, shared documents, tutorials and other simple web-based tools by using screen sharing Remember, you’re not moving the class from one location to the next, so anything you can do to give students breaks and cues that it’s time to switch tasks will help keep things running smoothly throughout the day.

If you are running synchronous classes on Webex, it could still be beneficial to incorporate a little independent work time and quick opportunities for sharing into the lesson. Doing so will let students focus on tasks that will help them retain the lesson and listening to their classmates share takeaways and thoughts will give them prompt feedback about their in-class work.

Asynchronous class time on Webex

During asynchronous work time and collaboration in small groups, make sure students know how to use shared documents and set up Webex Teams and spaces so they can work together and send assignments back to you. Encourage students to utilize different online tools to get their work done, before coming to ask for help. As an example, you could have them run grammar checks on their assignments before turning them in.

Remember, if you have to change the participants in a small group, add or remove individuals instead of deleting the space and creating a new one. Students will appreciate being able to see the context so they can catch up quickly.

Most of all, remember, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for testing out techniques to see what works for your class and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to readjust as you get a better sense of how to engage your K-12 students through e-learning.

Additional resources

There’s a wealth of learning opportunities available from Cisco Webex to help teachers explore how videoconferencing and Cisco Teams can help them connect with their students.

The first stop for teachers, students and parents, as well as IT professionals and higher education faculty, should be this web page. You’ll find tips for creating lesson plans, launching group projects and more.

Like you, we know that everybody’s learning style is different. That’s why we produce video tutorials to help teachers learn how to use Webex with their students. Topics we’ve covered so far include how to set expectations with students, tips to help teachers with scheduling and advice for establishing classroom culture during remote learning.

For more about the transition to virtual learning, check out this blog post.

Lastly, one thing we’ve noticed during our current situation is that when times are tough, people step up. Today, there’s no shortage of additional resources, including those outside of what we offer at Cisco Webex. A recent rundown from CNET includes K-12 e-learning resources on topics ranging from literacy to math, science and coding, as well as languages and Advanced Placement preparation. You’ll even find opportunities to take a virtual field trip with your class.

Reach out for more information or get started with our free offer.

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Connected Education: Let Remote Learning Continue With Webex — Before, During, and After Class

Welcome to hybrid learning

 

Sources

How challenging this transition is for students and teachers alike

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Best practices for clinicians using video conferencing

Video conferencing best practices

Some situations will always require an in-person visit to a healthcare provider. But there are many instances where a stable and immersive audio and video conferencing platform can offer all of the context needed for a clinician and their staff to offer accurate advice and a diagnosis.

Medical professionals benefit from a streamlined workflow, while patients don’t have to worry about travel arrangements and other logistical concerns. Plus, everyone involved has the advantage of reduced exposure to contagious and communicable diseases.

Of course, there are best practices in terms of compliance, medical ethics, technology, and practicality that must all be considered. Let’s review some key guidance for clinicians who decide to start offering virtual consults.

Compliance and medical ethics

The medical field is held to especially high standards in terms of patient confidentiality, licensure of providers, prescription of medication, acting in the best interests of patients, and many other factors.

In general, the same compliance concerns apply to virtual consults as an equivalent visit by a patient to your office or facility. There are some issues specifically related to virtual consults to keep in mind as well, as the Telehealth Resource Centers explained:

  • Providers have to be licensed to practice medicine in the same state where their patient is located.
  • HIPAA doesn’t specifically cover the unique circumstances of telehealth and virtual consults, but physicians and other staff must follow its rules to avoid issues with patient confidentiality and privacy.
  • Some states have additional privacy and security laws, whether focused on medicine or internet commerce, that providers must follow.

The Center for Connected Health Policy pointed out that while there are no Medicare rules related to informed consent and telemedicine, many states require that medical professionals obtain this approval from patients. This may be enforced through a state Medicaid program or statutes and regulations, so a thorough understanding of the requirements of the state or states in which you provide telemedicine services is especially important.

Practicality and ease of use

Virtual consults help to reduce or eliminate the various roadblocks that can exist between patients and care. Whether it’s impossible for a patient to secure reliable transport to a facility or they can’t easily do so because of a medical condition or other factors, a virtual consult can still connect them with you and your staff. Additionally, these visits keep all patients – whether immunocompromised or healthy – away from others who may spread a disease to them.

These benefits are only accessible with a carefully developed strategy that makes it easy for patients and medical professionals to connect with each other. Scheduling is one concern to keep in mind. Physicians, nurses, and other medical staff may have to spend more time with a given patient during a virtual consult or in-office visit than was initially anticipated or budgeted for on a daily schedule.

If your next virtual consult has to be delayed, the patient should be kept in the loop with updated information. Explaining up front that the appointment time is a guideline that everyone in the office attempts to follow but can’t absolutely guarantee is an important step. So is sending a notification if an issue arises.

Delegating work related to the consult is another factor. On your side of operations, it can ease the burden to have administrative staff set up the video conference and send an invite to you. That means more time focusing on the assessment you’re qualified to provide. Similarly, your admin team can also send an invite to patients ahead of time and follow up shortly before the appointment.

Technology

A stable and high-quality video conferencing platform can go a long way toward enabling the success of virtual consults. In-depth discussions about a topic as important as personal health requires support from a dependable solution. Clinicians may also want to record their sessions with patients to provide a detailed reference that supports their note-taking and other information-gathering efforts during the consult. A recording feature is critical to support this effort to maintain detailed records.

Making sure that patients who aren’t technologically savvy have the support they need to connect is also vital. That may mean having an administrator on your staff offer assistance in some cases or connecting with a relative or care provider on the patient’s end to explain what’s needed. A video conferencing platform designed to be intuitive and easy to use can help to make the virtual consult process as simple and pain-free as possible.

Similar considerations apply for you and your staff. Administrative specialists who set up virtual consults benefit from a platform designed around ease of use, as do nurses, clinicians, and other medical staff who interact with patients through them.

The virtual consult is a powerful tool that leverages the power of modern technology to break down geographic barriers and provide a high level of care to all patients, no matter where they’re located. But to be truly successful, best practices in the areas of technology, practicality, compliance, and medical ethics must be addressed.

 

Cisco Webex is here to support clinicians with a dedicated solution for their telemedicine needs.

Check out this virtual consultation checklist to learn more or get started with Webex today.

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Cisco + Samsung, innovating healthcare

Creating moments that matter for your residents with Webex

Cleaning shared touchscreen devices

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August update of Webex Teams

It’s that time again! Here’re the exciting new features you can expect to see in Webex Teams this August…

MESSAGING & APP EXPERIENCE

An organized right-click menu (Windows & Mac)

We’ve organized the options you see when you right-click in the spaces list or on search results. Now, you can get to your favorite actions that much faster as they are ordered into intuitive groups.

Organized options in a Webex Teams window

‘Peek’ into a space on mobile (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you have an unread space and you aren’t sure if you want to open it (and mark it as read) or not, you can now long press on the space, select Peek from the menu and open the space without marking it as read or sending a read receipt. If you try to send a message while using peek in space, you will be informed that you’re now leaving peek mode.

Peek into a space on Webex teams

 

Make the most of your messaging area (Android)

In group spaces (especially larger ones), when lots of people leave or are added around the same time, your message area can get clogged up with notifications that (maybe) aren’t all that important to you. Sometimes, this can cause you to lose context of messages sent before or after these in-space notifications. You’ll see these notifications grouped and collapsed, with the option to expand if you want to see more detail. This allows users to focus on more important messages.

Make the most of your messaging area (Android) in Webex Teams

Changes to settings & preferences​ (Windows & Mac)

We’ve added a dedicated Messaging tab, this is where you’ll set your default download location and configure views for your space list. Go to Settings (Windows) or Preferences (Mac) and select Messaging to check it out.

CALLING

Webex Calling

Seamless Call Handover (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

You no longer have to worry about dropping a call when there’s a network change on your desktop or mobile. For example, when you leave the office and your mobile device switches from the office Wi-Fi to a mobile network, your call won’t be dropped.

Simplified calling options (Windows & Mac)

calls and only want to call co-workers using their work number, mobile number, or video address. Or maybe you don’t need to make calls to phone numbers, your calls will automatically go through as Webex Teams calls. Your administrator can simplify things for you by disabling the options you don’t need so that when you make a call from the app, you’re only presented with the options you want.

Control your video device from the app (Windows & Mac)

You can start or stop sharing your video on a connected video device right from the app. For example, if you’re connected to a Cisco Webex Board and you don’t want to share your video, you no longer have to walk up to the board and turn off your video. You can turn it off right from the app.

Mirror your self-view (Windows & Mac)

By default, when you share your video during a call, you can see yourself just like you’re looking in a mirror, making it easier for you to adjust your appearance (if you’re having a bad hair day). If you have text behind you and want to be able to read it easily instead of having to read it backwards, you may want to turn off your ‘Mirror my video view’ setting. This setting doesn’t affect the way other people in the meeting see you; It’s for your eyes only.Mirror your self-view from the app profession on screen with mirror self-view on

Switch between front and back camera (iPhone, iPad & Android)

Show your best side to the world! Tapping self-view in a call or meeting in Teams will switch between the front or rear camera on your device.

Man and Woman using meetings and the switch between front and back of camera feature

Know your active audio input (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you make or accept a call, you’re notified about which audio device is active on the call, such as your speaker, Bluetooth device, or headphones.

If you’re sharing your video and then put your mobile device to your ear, your video automatically turns off. If you move your mobile device away from your ear, your video turns back on.

Know your active audio input (iPhone, iPad & Android)Change the look of your keypad during a transfer (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you initiate a transfer during a call, you can change the appearance of your keypad from text to numbers if you’d prefer to search for someone by their phone number instead of their name.

change the look of your keypad during a transfer (iPhone, iPad & Android)

See how long you’ve been on a call (iPhone, iPad & Android)

Up at the top of your call window, under the name of the person you’re talking to, you can see a timer that lets you know how long you’ve been chatting.

Unified CM

More calling options (Windows & Mac)

You can call someone’s video address (for example, bburke@biotechnia.com) from anywhere in the app that you’d make any other type of call, like when you search for someone or you’re in a space with that person.

Call someone's video address from anywhere in the appPush notification for incoming call (Android)

Want to save battery life? Get notified about an incoming call in Webex Teams even when the Webex Teams app isn’t running. 

Simplified calling options (Windows & Mac)

Your administrator can set up your calling options to suit your needs. Maybe you don’t have a need to make Webex Teams calls and only want to call co-workers using their work number, mobile number, or video address. Or maybe you don’t need to make calls to phone numbers, your calls will automatically go through as Webex Teams calls. Your administrator can simplify things for you by disabling the options you don’t need so that when you make a call from the app, you’re only presented with the options you want.

Control your video device from the app (Windows & Mac)

You can start or stop sharing your video on a connected video device right from the app. For example, if you’re connected to a Cisco Webex Board and you don’t want to share your video, you no longer have to walk up to the board and turn off your video. You can turn it off right from the app.

Mirror your self-view (Windows & Mac)

By default, when you share your video during a call, you can see yourself just like you’re looking in a mirror, making it easier for you to adjust your appearance (if you’re having a bad hair day). If you have text behind you and want to be able to read it easily instead of having to read it backwards, you may want to turn off your ‘Mirror my video view’ setting. This setting doesn’t affect the way other people in the meeting see you; It’s for your eyes only.

Switch between front and back camera (iPhone, iPad & Android)

Show your best side to the world! Tapping self-view in a call or meeting in Teams will switch between the front or rear camera on your device.

Man and Woman using meetings and the switch between front and back of camera feature

 

Know your active audio input (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you make or accept a call, you’re notified about which audio device is active on the call, such as your speaker, Bluetooth device, or headphones.

If you’re sharing your video and then put your mobile device to your ear, your video automatically turns off. If you move your mobile device away from your ear, your video turns back on.

Change the look of your keypad during a transfer (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you initiate a transfer during a call, you can change the appearance of your keypad from text to numbers if you’d prefer to search for someone by their phone number instead of their name.

See how long you’ve been on a call (iPhone, iPad & Android)

Up at the top of your call window, under the name of the person you’re talking to, you can see a timer that lets you know how long you’ve been chatting.

Call Details in Your Call History (iPhone, iPad & Android)

You can find detailed information in your call history such as call time and call duration. From the Details window, you can choose to call the person back with audio or video.

INTEGRATIONS

A new way to capture Polls in Webex Teams!

Add the new Pollbot (poll-bot@webex.bot) to any group space or direct message the bot to quickly setup polls for any team. Curious what your colleagues are thinking or simply want to reach a consensus? Take an anonymous poll and share or keep the results private. Learn about the Pollbot and other Apps on the Webex App hub.

Create a poll in Webex TeamsFollowing a PollFor more information on this and upcoming updates to Webex Teams, check out our help page here.

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See all of the Webex Teams Releases here

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Financial technology concept. FinTech. Foreign exchange.
Building a banking assistant with MindMeld

Abhi Sidhu & Ritvik Shrivastava – In this post, we’ll take a look at our newest blueprint — a conversational assistant for common personal banking use cases.

 

MindMeld blueprints come with a pre-configured application structure and pre-built set of code samples and datasets. In this post, we’ll take a look at our newest blueprint — a conversational assistant for common personal banking use cases.

MindMeld provides example applications for common conversational use cases, called MindMeld blueprints, that comes with a pre-configured application structure and pre-built set of code samples and datasets. A blueprint allows you to quickly build and test a fully working conversational app without writing code or collecting training data. If desired, you can then treat the blueprint app as a baseline for improvement and customization by adding data and logic specific to your business or application needs.

In this post, we’ll take a look at our newest blueprint — a conversational assistant for common personal banking use cases.

FinTech Rank
Image Credit: FinTechRanking

Motivation & considerations

Before diving into the details of development, let’s talk about some key contributing factors behind the idea of this app.

Why banking?

With the growing popularity of FinTech, major financial institutions are looking at smarter solutions for providing their services to clients — conversational IVR, or virtual assistants, is one of the prominent targets.

The MindMeld platform, widely used for developing robust assistant applications, is ideal for the same. This serves as motivation for our new Banking Assistant blueprint: a virtual bank teller that shows off some of our amazing functionalities.

Value of time in large enterprises

Virtual assistants are efficient in terms of time spent by employees. Targeting lower customer interaction times by reducing the human-hours spent on solving previously seen issues is one of the major benefits. Also, AI-powered solutions are data-driven and can be improved with time and continuous training. This requires less time than training and re-training employees for the same.

Data security

For enterprises like banks, customers’ personal data is extremely sensitive. The MindMeld platform offers a significant advantage over cloud-based conversational AI platforms by allowing for data storage entirely on an organization’s local servers. This makes it advantageous for enterprise applications that are concerned about data privacy and security as data is never shared.

Now that we have our motivation, let’s take a look at the development steps.

Building the application

The Banking Assistant allows users to securely access their banking information and complete tasks as if they’re conversing with a teller. Below are some sample conversations for common banking tasks:

Building the application
Sample conversations — Paying credit card bills and reporting stolen/misplaced card.

Design overview

As part of the NLP component of any MindMeld app, we define a set of key use case domains or more fine-grained intents. The Banking Assistant intents include:

  • Activating a credit card
  • Applying for a loan
  • Transferring money
  • Paying off a credit card bill
  • Activating AutoPay
  • Checking account balances

For the complete description of the app’s architecture and a detailed breakdown of domains, intents, and entities, visit our documentation and refer to the illustration below:

NLP Design Overview for Banking Assistant
NLP Design Overview for Banking Assistant

Challenges & functionalities

There are a few unique challenges to building a conversational app for a banking firm, which we overcome through some of the MindMeld’s impressive built-in functionalities.

  • Client authentication through MindMeld
    In our vision for a production application, the frontend would handle user authentication and pass an immutable user token to the MindMeld application layer. This would allow the application to make calls to the bank’s REST APIs to fetch and update the corresponding user’s stored information securely. To show this, we mimic the passing of user tokens of the sample users in our database. When operating the app, one can pass the token for a specific sample user to only access data of that user and avoid leaks and cross-viewing of incorrect or mis-intended information. Find more information on the current set of sample users here and browse the data directory to find the user JSON data file.
MindmeldBankApp
Slot-filling for Money Transferring Intent

 

  • Learning about MindMeld entity roles
    As mentioned earlier, the purpose of blueprints is to exhibit a ready-made app and to allow developers to learn about using the MindMeld platform. This app showcases some unique features mentioned above, as well as some finer details that are really useful. For example, the use of roles in entities. In our banking use cases, the ‘account type’ is a major entity, representing the users’ savings, checking, and credit accounts. While the entity is sufficient by itself, it might not be unique in use cases like money transferring, where two ‘account type’ entities are required. Defining a separate entity just for one use case is also not ideal. Hence we make use of entity roles. These roles represent the purpose for each use of an entity. Continuing with the same example, there will be two ‘account type’ entities for money transfers: one with the role ‘from account’ and the other ‘to account.’ The use of roles can be extended to a variety of use cases. In the case of a location entity in a travel app, the roles could be ‘departure’ and ‘arrival’ or ‘source’ and ‘destination.
  • Obtain missing information using slot-filling
    Intents like transferring money or checking account balance require some key information such as account type, account number and amount of money. It’s likely that the user doesn’t provide this information in a single query, and the banking assistant needs to prompt the user for it. Instead of creating a back-and-forth logic to fetch missing information, we make use of MindMeld’s recently released slot-filling or entity-filling feature. We define a slot-filling form for each use case and let the feature prompt the user for this information on our behalf. You can read more about this feature here. A sample conversation using slot-filling for the money transferring intent can be seen here.
  • Querying external storage with dialogue manager
    The current Banking Assistant architecture showcases MindMeld’s support for secure REST APIs by mimicking PUT and GET API calls to retrieve and update information from a local data file. This is done through the Dialogue Manager of the app. This allows for the secure exchange of data and gives users the freedom to connect their REST endpoints and easily expand upon the backend. With this support, it’s easy to modify the underlying data storage as requirements change over time, with minimal design modifications to the app itself. It also allows for updates to the user data through secure API calls.

Code snippets

To give a glimpse of both the dialogue management functionalities of the app and the slot-filling feature, here’s a snippet of a dialogue handler code. The logic in this function (check_balances_handler) is fairly simple as you are only expecting one entity — an account type for which the user is checking the balance for. If the account type entity is not specified by the user the slot filling logic will be invoked. You can find an example of a more complex handler function for the Banking Assistant here

Banking Account code

That covers a brief overview of our new Banking Assistant blueprint application! If you would like to try it out, you can find more information here. For help developing your own application, take a look at our documentation.

We welcome every active contribution to our platform. Check us out on GitHub, and send us any questions or suggestions at mindmeld@cisco.com.

About the authors

Ritvik Shrivastava is a Machine Learning Engineer at Cisco’s MindMeld Conversational AI team. He holds his MS in Computer Science at Columbia University, specializing in Machine Learning and Natural Language Processing.

Abhi Sidhu is a Software Engineer at Cisco who specializes in providing practical solutions to emerging technological problems. He holds a BS in Computer Science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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Are all meeting rooms equal?

Meeting rooms to help teams collaborate effectively

Work has shifted from cubicles to nearly anywhere you can get a Wi-Fi signal, signaling the need to reimagine what the new way to work will look like: a mix of an in-office and remote workforce. Distributed workers and in-office employees need a seamless collaboration experience. Technology will help drive this.

Last year, I traveled to a customer site to demo an early prototype of the Webex Room Phone. I met with the IT team in the conference room they typically used for team meetings. It had a BT/USB speaker and sharing hub, with two devices from different vendors. Unfortunately, their solutions did not have a viable way for me to present content and deliver my pitch to both in-person attendees and remote team members. This team was deploying and managing the larger videoconference spaces and board rooms, but they did not have a simple, high-quality solution to help their teams collaborate effectively.

Webex Room Phone— a seamless experience with Webex devices

This a common theme in many workplaces today. Larger conferences and boardrooms are fitted with elegant solutions, but there simply isn’t budget in smaller spaces. As a result, users cannot transition between spaces and collaborate effectively, and IT administrators cannot plan, deploy, and monitor the technology being used. We address these issues and give users the seamless experience they need with our Webex devices.

The Webex Room Phone is one such device. It helps support a modern workforce by providing:

  • Safe and distraction-free meetings with HD audio. The Room Phone utilizes speaker and mic technology that provides 360-degree coverage for 20’x20’ rooms (and 20’x32’ rooms with wired mics). This coverage, paired with echo cancellation and noise reduction capabilities, enables productive meetings with all team members, remote or not.
  • Easy ways to join a meeting. Do not worry about touching the device. Instead, join meetings through proximity with the Webex mobile or desktop app.
  • Simple management and robust analytics. IT admins can use Cisco Webex Control Hub—a single pane of glass for Webex management—to provision new devices, monitor usage, and troubleshoot issues.
  • So much more than just a conference phone. The Webex Room Phone connects to any HD display, so you can easily share content, view in-meeting participant information, and use digital signage capabilities when the device is not being used.

More than a conference phone

At Webex, we believe that less is more, which is why we’ve focused on packaging the Webex Room Phone in a simple, easily deployable way that provides a consistent experience with all other Webex devices (and allows you to scale this to every room you use). Designed for collaboration, touchless meetings, and an intelligent experience, the Webex Room Phone is so much more than just another conference phone—it’s a key element in the future of collaboration.

Sign up here to join the team behind Cisco’s latest Webex device: Webex Room Phone on Sept 14th to learn more on how it can help you scale your Webex device experience

flyer of webex room phone: helping you scale your WEbex device experience flyer with profile pictures of David Scott, Jessica Ruffin, Subbu Subramanian, and Anthony Nolasco

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A conversational AI and scheduling a meeting
Conversational AI at MindMeld

Karthik Raghunathan – Dive deeper into Cisco’s conversational AI platform for deep-domain voice interfaces and chatbots.

MindMeld and conversational AI

The MindMeld team is part of the Webex Intelligence team at Cisco, which develops machine learning-driven, intelligent experiences across Cisco Webex collaboration products.

Before our acquisition by Cisco in 2017, MindMeld was a San Francisco-based AI startup powering intelligent conversational interfaces for several companies in the food, retail, and media industries. Now, we’re bringing that same technology to Cisco’s products to make them smarter, more natural, and easier to use.

Webex Assistant and voice control

Last year we launched Webex Assistant, the first of its kind enterprise voice assistant for the meeting room. With Webex Assistant, customers can use their voice to control their Webex video conferencing devices, review the room’s calendar, join online meetings, call people in their company directory, and much more. While Webex Assistant had its origins as an intelligent assistant for the conference room, we greatly expanded its availability this year by bringing it to our widely popular Webex Meetings software. We also added support for a whole new set of in-meeting voice commands which allow users to create action items, take notes, and even set up future meetings, using just their voice.

Webex Assistant is powered by the MindMeld Conversational AI Platform. We developed this Python-based machine learning framework as a startup, and continue to maintain and improve upon it at Cisco. Teams across Cisco use the MindMeld platform for a wide variety of natural language applications such as chatbots, interactive voice response (IVR) systems, automated FAQ answering, and search. For instance, MindMeld is used for query parsing in both Cisco’s internal enterprise search and the external-facing website search on Cisco.com.

Open-sourced MindMeld conversational AI platform

Following the release of Webex Assistant, we open-sourced the MindMeld Conversational AI Platform. While it’s particularly easy to use MindMeld with other Cisco technologies like Webex, the platform itself is agnostic and can be used to build any kind of conversational interface. As a result, it is now used not only by internal teams at Cisco but also by the wider developer community to build production-quality chatbots and voice assistants.

Given its ease of use and flexibility, MindMeld has been a popular choice at several hackathons, including Cisco’s Smart Spaces Hackathon and the Government of India’s Smart India Hackathon. It was even featured in the winning team’s solution in the 2019 IoT World Hackathon.

Click here to learn more about the offerings from Webex and to sign up for a free account. 

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To learn more about the MindMeld Conversational AI Platform, check out our website and GitHub repository.

You can also follow the MindMeld team’s blog on Medium where we share regular updates about new MindMeld features, best practices for building conversational interfaces, and other snippets from our ongoing research explorations.

About the author

Karthik Raghunathan is the Director of Machine Learning for Webex Intelligence, which is the team responsible for building machine learning-driven intelligent experiences across all of Cisco’s collaboration products. Karthik used to be the Director of Research at MindMeld, a leading AI company that powered conversational interfaces for some of the world’s largest retailers, media companies, government agencies, and automotive manufacturers. MindMeld was acquired by Cisco in May 2017. Karthik has more than 10 years of combined experience working at reputed academic and industry research labs on the problems of speech, natural language processing, and information retrieval. Prior to joining MindMeld, he was a Senior Scientist in the Microsoft AI & Research Group, where he worked on conversational interfaces such as the Cortana digital assistant and voice search on Bing and Xbox.

Karthik holds an MS in Computer Science with Distinction in Research in Natural Language Processing from Stanford University. He was co-advised by professors Daniel Jurafsky and Christopher Manning, and his graduate research focused on the problems of Coreference Resolution, Spoken Dialogue Systems, and Statistical Machine Translation. Karthik is a co-inventor on two US patents and has publications in leading AI conferences such as EMNLP, SIGIR, and AAAI.

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grid view custom backgrounds and music mode
Webex Meetings August 2020 update: Increased security and media enhancement, custom backgrounds and music mode

August: Hot temperatures and hot Webex Meetings feature releases! Big things are in the works for Webex and we are super excited to share them with you. Over the next few months, you will see major enhancements. This month, the feature updates include increased security, grid view, music mode, and much more! Bringing you more flexibility to work wherever you need to.

Media + Security Enhancement

CipherSuite encryption – With this month’s update, we are updating the encryption cipher for Webex Meetings from AES-128-CBC to AES-256-GCM. AES-256-GCM is the best available cipher and it provides increased protection for meetings data and resistance against tampering.

Music Mode in Meetings and Events –You can now play music during your meeting and transmit the richness of melodies to all participants. This is especially important when delivering a virtual concert or music lessons over Webex. To enable this feature, simply press Ctrl+Shift+M to turn on Music Mode or click on “audio” on the menu bar and check “music mode.” Sit back, relax and enjoy!

Fluid high-resolution video even at 50% packet loss – This month’s feature update keeps your video flowing at high resolution even if your network suddenly experiences significant packet loss. Such as when your kids start to play video games or when remote classes start for everyone in the family. Before, when your network conditions significantly degraded, your video would transition to show your thumbnail image. Now, with media enhancements in Webex, you don’t have to worry anymore about disrupting your meetings if you are experiencing poor connection.

Desktop

Custom Virtual Background – On Windows and Mac, when selecting a virtual background, you can now choose your own image from your desktop to be used. This feature adds an additional level of personalization to your meetings. Have a favorite vacation spot? Add it to your virtual backgrounds and show it off in your meetings. Custom backgrounds are already supported on iOS and Android.

Custom virtual background with Webex Meetings

Grid view by default- In Webex Meetings, grid view is now the default setting when no one is sharing content, making the meeting participants appear equally. This creates a more collaborative feeling. If you prefer active speaker, you can still change your view to Active Speaker Video View or Active Speaker and Thumbnail Video View from the controls in the upper right area.

Grid View by default in Webex Meetings

Self-view enhancement – Your self-view is now shown in the video grid with the other participant videos by default. Your video will appear next to your colleagues instead of floating in the corner. This creates a more natural meeting experience. However, if you prefer to float your self-view instead, simply click “Show my self-view in a floating window.”

self-view enhancement

Hide non-video participants – You can now hide meeting participants who have their video turned off and chose to focus your meeting on those who have turned their video on. This creates a more engaging meeting experience and allows you to see those participating via video in your meeting.

Hide non-video Participants

Push to Talk– When muted, you can now hold the spacebar down to momentarily unmute. Instead of fumbling around trying to unmute, simply press and hold the spacebar when you want to talk. Release the spacebar to go back on to mute. The flexibility of working from anywhere might mean there are more background noises. Sometimes it is better to stay on mute until you need to speak up. With the new push to talk feature, you can stay on mute, limit background noise and simply chime in when you need to.

push to talk

Virtual Desktop Integration

VDI Dual-Monitor Support – Webex now supports a dual-monitor setup for Windows and Linux (Ubuntu + eLux) on Virtual Desktops. If you use a dual monitor, you will be able to extend the display of your session so you can utilize both of your monitors.

Mobile

IOS – It’s now even easier and faster to get to your Webex Meetings from your iOS devices. Just use your Apple ID. One fewer password to remember.

And last but not least…

Android – Webex Meetings is the FIRST conferencing service to offer live streaming for Android! Just like the in the Desktop app, you can start a live stream from a third-party source such as Facebook, YouTube or IBM directly from your mobile device and significantly expand your audience reach!

For more information on these features, please visit the Webex Help Portal

Learn More

See all the Webex Meetings updates here

Secure, first-party recording transcripts in Webex Meetings

Webex Meetings July 2020 update: Virtual backgrounds on Windows, Mac, Android, and more!

Webex Meetings June 2020 Update: Transcriptions, Background Blur and Mobile Grid View

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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A low angle view on a blue digital key made to resemble a circuit and placed on a surface with encrypted text.
# Stay safe – Always authenticate

Richard Barnes – Why authentication always needs to be the first thing you do with something you receive over the Internet.

Authentication lesson

Much like Ciscos collaboration products, WhatsApp is used by millions of people around the world to communicate and collaborate — and a little while ago, it was discovered that due to a vulnerability, WhatsApp also allowed anyone on the Internet to take over the phone it was running on.  What can developers learn from what went wrong here, to avoid making similar mistakes in other products?  The key lessons here are: 

  • Treat any data you receive from the Internet as potentially hostile 
  • In particular, always use authentication so that you can reject traffic from bad actors 
  • Use memory-safe languages and libraries, especially when handling data from untrusted sources 

 Heres how Facebook described the vulnerability in their advisory:

A buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp VOIP stack allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of SRTCP packets sent to a target phone number.”

Let’s unpack this

There are a couple of things to unpack here.  The phraseremote code execution hints at the severity of the vulnerability.  By exploiting this vulnerability, an attacker can run any code they want on the victims phone.  The really scary phrase, though, is specially crafted.  That means that anyone on the Internet could make up some packets, send them to your phone, and take it over.

The core mistake WhatsApp made here was trusting unauthenticated data.  Cryptographic authentication is the way we separate the good guys from the bad guys on the Internet.  Whenever a program or device receives data over the Internet, the very first thing it should do is verify that the data was sent by the entity that the product thought it was communicating with.  That way, we immediately reject traffic from unknown parties, so that the worst thing that can happen is that the thing were communicating with can send us bad data we’ve scaled down the risk from billions of devices to one.

As usual with cryptography, you should use standard tools for this, and most of the standard security tools include authentication.  TLS and its cousin HTTPS are the right tools for most things.  They provide authentication using digital certificates.  For real-time media, the best tool is DTLS-SRTP, which you’ll always be using if you’re using WebRTC.  If you can’t use DTLS-SRTP for some reason, you can fall back to Security Descriptions, which at least ensure that your media packets are from someone who was involved in the call signaling.  With all of these, you should configure your software using an AEAD algorithm such as AES-GCM to make sure that all of your communications are authenticated as well as encrypted.

In fact, WhatsApp usually uses Cisco software to encrypt and authenticate their real-time traffic!  WhatsApp incorporates the libsrtp open-source library that Cisco maintains.  In this case, though, WhatsApp seems not to have been getting all the protection libsrtp should have offered.  They seem to have done some processing on SRTCP packets before they use libsrtp to authenticate them.  Authentication always needs to be the first thing you do with something you receive over the Internet.

Buffer overflow

A second issue here is indicated by the phrase buffer overflow.  This is an ancient class of vulnerability, which is almost entirely prevented by using more modern languages like Rust, Go, or even Java.  If you’re stuck with C or C++, you should make sure to use defensive coding standards to avoid bad practices, and apply sanitizers and fuzzers to find memory corruption bugs before they turn into vulnerabilities.

It’s never pleasant to see large-scale, high-risk vulnerabilities.  They put peoples data, work, and lives at risk.  But its good when these vulnerabilities are found and fixed, and it gives us the opportunity to learn.  This case is a good reminder that we should never trust data from the Internet, and we should use modern tools to avoid memory corruption.

About the author

Richard Barnes is an IETF appointee to the ISOC Board of Trustees. He is employed as the Chief Security Architect for Collaboration at Cisco. He currently chairs the IETF PERC working group, and is actively involved in working groups across the security and applications areas. Mr. Barnes has been involved in the technical work and management of the IETF for several years. He has served as Area Director for Real-time Applications and Infrastructure (RAI) and co-chair of the IETF ECRIT and GEOPRIV working groups. He is co-author of several RFCs related to geolocation, emergency services, and security, including RFC 6155, RFC 6280, RFC 6394, and RFC 6848. He is also co-author of the book VoIP Emergency Calling: Foundations and Practice (John Wiley and Sons, 2010). Richard has also served as the chair of the RIPE Measurements, Analysis and Tools working group, and on the program committee for the Middle East Network Operators Group (MENOG). Prior to joining Cisco, Mr. Barnes was Firefox Security Lead at Mozilla. In that role, he was responsible for assuring the security of the Firefox web browser. Before joining Mozilla, he was a Principal Investigator at BBN Technologies, leading research activities related to real-time applications and Internet security. He holds a B.A. in Mathematics and an M.S. in Mathematics from the University of Virginia.

Click here to learn more about the offerings from Webex and to sign up for a free account. 

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Caught by the fuzz

Robert Hanton – Learn how Webex uses fuzzing and machine learning as one more way to help prevent security issues.

What is fuzzing?

Fuzzing” is a security technique that actually goes back to the 1980s. The essential idea is to automatically generate very large numbers of random or semi-random inputs for your system, feed them in, and monitor the system for problems such as crashes, lockups, memory leaks or long delays in processing the data. When a problem is found you then have a discrete and repeatable input that can be used to trigger the problem, diagnose it, and confirm that a code-change has resolved it.

 

While any function or module in a codebase can be fuzzed, it is particularly valuable to apply to any unvalidated input the system receives, as these inputs can (accidentally or maliciously) trigger unwanted behaviours. In the case of a collaboration system these can range from the signaling messages in a call flow, to the actual audio and video packets themselves, to control packets such as RTCP (RTP control protocol) that travel alongside the media.

Despite this, fuzzing is perhaps one of the least-utilised tools across the tech industry as a whole, as for a long time setting it up to be of value was regarded as something of a “black art”, and the purview of dedicated security experts. There was a time that was at least somewhat true, but modern fuzzing tools allow for very effective generation of inputs with a minimum of time and training. To understand why these newer generation of fuzzers are so effective, let’s quickly explore how fuzzing used to be done.

Older fuzzing techniques

The challenge of fuzzing has always been the generation of good inputs – the test values fed into the system to attempt to provoke bad behaviour. The very first fuzzers simply generated random data, but in almost all real-world scenarios, random data makes for very ineffective inputs.

To understand why, consider JSON, which has a relatively permissive format. A parser will, however, expect an input to start with “{“. If we are generating inputs of random ASCII, then more than 99% of our inputs will likely be discarded by the very first check in the parser, and the vast majority of the remainder shortly thereafter when they fall foul of other very basic checks.

Random inputs are not entirely without value – fuzzing certain binary protocol that have very little space in their format devoted to validation such as some audio and video codecs can be effective. But for the vast majority of formats fuzzing with random inputs is extraordinarily inefficient.

So, to be effective, a fuzzer needs to reliably generate inputs that are at least close to a valid input for the system under test. Traditionally there were two methods for doing this: mutational fuzzing and generation fuzzingMutation fuzzing involves taking a number of ‘real’ inputs (often taken from log files or recorded by a packet analyser such as Wireshark) and using them to drive a mutator function. This function would take a valid sample and mutate it in one or more ways by randomly applying a range of rules such as changing bits or characters, duplicating values, removing values and so on.

mutation fuzzing

 

This would result in a large number of inputs for fuzzing that would resemble real-world inputs (and hence not be immediately rejected for violating basic syntax rules) but which might result in internal states that the designer had never contemplated and hence find crashes, lockups or other issues. A mutational fuzzer could thus be set up relatively quickly if a comprehensive body of real-world inputs were available to seed the mutator. However, skill was involved in picking out a representative sample of real-world inputs, as the mutator would only exercise parts of the format that were reflected in its samples.This was a particular issue when extending a format and adding new functionality, as there wouldn’t be an easily-accessible body of data to draw on that included this new syntax.


mutational fuzzier

 

By contrast, generation fuzzing involves creating a data model describing the syntax that a valid potential input could take. For instance, if seeking to fuzz a SIP parser, you would need a data model defining the SIP protocol (or at least as the parts of it that your parser supported). A generator function would then use this to generate a set of inputs, both valid and invalid, based on that data model.

Given a complete data model, generation fuzzing can produce an excellent set of inputs that can thoroughly exercise the system under test. However, producing a complete data model generally involves a considerable investment of time by someone with a deep familiarity with the protocol, and the model must be continually maintained and updated to ensure that any extension is also covered by the fuzzer.

These barriers of time and skill for the mutation and generation techniques are what contributed to fuzzing being seen as the domain only of dedicated security experts. Companies such as Codenomicon (now part of Synopsis) produced commercial pre-packaged fuzzing tools for well-known protocols such as SIP; these provided turnkey access to high-quality fuzzing for those specific protocols for companies that could afford to license them, but otherwise fuzzing was a niche tool.

Instrumentation-guided fuzzing with machine learning

However, there is a new generation of fuzzers that can produce high-quality inputs that can exercise the system under test as thoroughly as a generation fuzzer, but can do so automatically and without the need for a predefined data model. They do this by instrumenting the executable under test, detecting what code paths its inputs exercise, and then using that data to feedback into its input generation to learn to produce new, more effective inputs.

The fuzzer of this type my team uses is American Fuzzy Lop (AFL), but other similar tools exist: other teams in Webex use Clang’s LibFuzzer. These tools instrument the executable under test in a similar way to tools that generate figures for unit-test coverage, inserting hooks for each line or function that detects when that fragment of code is exercised.

This means that when an input is fed into the system under test, the fuzzer can detect what portions of the code that input exercised, and that can be used to assign a fitness to the particular input. Inputs that don’t fit the expected syntax well will be rejected without exercising much code and so will be assigned a lower fitness than one that is a better fit for the expected syntax and hence exercises more code.

With the ability to very accurately assign a fitness to each input it generates, the fuzzer can then learn to generate better and better inputs that exercise more and more of the executable under test. AFL does this through genetic algorithms, a machine learning technique where pseudo-natural selection techniques are used to “breed” new inputs from the fittest of a previous generation.

That means that you just need to give AFL an initial seed input and it will learn to evolve a corpus of inputs that thoroughly exercise your executable under test. Thanks to the instrumentation you can also get real-time feedback on how much of your executable it has managed to explore so far, how many issues it has found, and other key information.

american fuzzy lop

Getting started with instrumentation-guided fuzzing

There are plenty of tutorials out there for AFL, LibFuzzer and other tools, so instead here is a grab-bag of tips and suggestions:

Unless your system is very small don’t fuzz the entire thing – instead create a little ‘fuzzable’ executable for each module you want to test that strips it down to the bare minimum that ingests an input, parses/processes it, and exits. The less code there is and the faster it runs the more generations the fuzzer can run and the more quickly you will get results.

You can fuzz anything with defined inputs, but focus initially on inputs your system receives from the outside world, particularly those received without any validation from other parts of your overall system. These are some of your most vulnerable attack surfaces, and hence where you really want to find any vulnerabilities.

Fuzz your third-party modules, particularly those that are not pervasively used across the industry. Third-party code has bugs just like first-party code, and just because you didn’t write it doesn’t mean you are not responsible for those bugs if you include the library in your system – your customer won’t care who wrote the code that crashed their system (or worse). Third-party libraries usually have well-defined inputs and hence are highly amenable to fuzzing. If you do find issues don’t forget to push any patches back upstream so the community as a whole can benefit.

While instrumentation-guided fuzzers can produce a fully-compliant input from any arbitrary seed, it can take them quite some time to evolve the basic semantics. You can speed things up significantly by seeding them with real-world input. Similarly, keep your corpus from previous runs and use it to seed the fuzzer when you run it again – that will save a lot of time.

While you’ll get the most benefit from it the first time you run it, consider automating your fuzzing. You can set it up to run periodically or on new changesets and alert if it finds new vulnerabilities introduced by code changes. If so make sure to use the corpus of the previous run to seed the fuzzer, as you want to make the fuzzing process as efficient as possible.

Like any security technique, fuzzing is not a silver bullet for finding every vulnerability your system might have. Using fuzzing does not mean you should not also be using static analysis, threat modeling, and a range of other techniques to make your system as secure as possible. Good security is about defence in depth; fuzzing is one more technique that provides its own unique set of benefits.

About the author

Robert Hanton is a Principal Engineer at Cisco Systems. He has worked in video conferencing ever since he graduated from Cambridge’s Engineering course back in 2005, working in companies with tens of employees, and companies with tens of thousands. He is the primary architect and service owner for some of the key media services in Cisco’s Webex conferencing product, responsible for providing millions of minutes of real-time video and audio every day to users around the world.

Click here to learn more about the offerings from Webex and to sign up for a free account.

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Man using Webex Assistant on Webex Room devices
Top 7 Webex Assistant Device commands to enhance your meetings!

Enhance your meetings with Webex Assistant

As we look to return to the office, the meeting room as you once knew it might be slightly changed. Deploying Webex Assistant will make the return back into the office a much easier one, as it allows users to interact with your Webex Room devices in a whole new way! Webex Assistant can help make calls or even share your screen without ever touching the device! Let me take you through a few commands which can be useful as you re-enter the workspace.

Useful commands as you re-enter the workspace

1) Start My Meeting – the ability to have what I nickname “No Touch Join” is an amazing feature. If your company has enabled booking of meeting rooms you can walk into any Webex Assistant enabled meeting room, if you are present at the time the meeting starts Webex assistant will ask you if you want to join the meeting now! We call this Proactive Meeting Join, and all you have to do is say “Yes” and the meeting will start. If you are running late or want to join early – no problem, you can just say the following phrase “OK Webex, Join the Meeting.” The device will take care of the rest and join the meeting for you!

2) Call a colleague – Sometimes you are in a huddle space or focus room, and you just quickly need to call a colleague who might be at home or at his desk. Instead of sending a Webex Teams message, you can just ask the Webex Assistant on the device to call that person directly from the device. To do this you can use the following command “OK Webex, Call Richard Bayes.”This will tell the device to search for Richard Bayes in the directory and call their directory number. If this user has Webex Teams or a personal device, it will ring them directly and you can easily have a call without pressing any buttons!

3) Share my screen – Webex Assistant can also easily share your screen into the call or meeting. Just by using the phrase “OK Webex, Share My Screen” you can start a screen share of any connected source without having to touch the device. Just another way to make your life easier. You can end the screen share as well with the “OK, Webex, Stop My Screen Share”

4) End the call – Another useful feature is the ability to end the call without having to touch the device. When you are ready to end the call just say the phrase “OK Webex, End The Call.”

5) Start or Stop a Recording – When you are in a meeting and you want to record it, Webex Assistant is also able to help start and stop the recording with the following phrase, “Ok Webex, Start a Recording.”

6) Turn up or down the Volume – Your colleague is sharing that new awesome marketing video and you want to get the full experience. If the touch panel is 6 ft away or being occupied by someone else then no worries, you can just say the following phrase “OK Webex, Turn up the Volume.” You can easily turn your Webex Room 70D into a party room! No one said work had to be quiet all the time, right?

7) Show the Room Calendar – So you just finish a marathon 2-hour call with Finance and you need some time to consume what was spoken about, write some notes and finish up some messages that you received during the meeting. Instead of being forced to leave the room right away, you can easily ask the Webex Assistant if the room is free so you can continue working and be productive. All you need to do is say the following phrase, “OK Webex, Show me the calendar.” Webex Assistant will return a quick summary of the next call and show a detailed list of the rest of the days meetings!

Ok webex what can you do?

That’s not all!

These are just some of the ways to get the most out of Webex Assistant, and we are always adding features and more commands to make your life a little easier so you can focus on the important things in the office or at your desk! There’s also Webex Assistant for Webex Meetings, which is the first and only enterprise digital AI meeting assistant on the market. Think Alexa or Siri for the workplace. It also uses voice commands to help improve your productivity and meeting experience. No need to take notes, capture action items, or find meeting controls. Webex Assistant provides real-time meeting transcription, highlights action items, and takes notes.

You can always ask your AI-powered assistant what it can do you for with the following phrase “OK Webex, What can you do.” This will return a list of different actions you can take!

Please make sure to register for our upcoming webinar, Safely Return to The Office with Webex Rooms, on August 18th, 2020.

Learn More

See all the Webex Meetings updates here

Secure, first-party recording transcripts in Webex Meetings

Webex Meetings June 2020 Update: Transcriptions, Background Blur and Mobile Grid View

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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woman standing at her computer and screen sharing
Screen sharing how-to guide: Tips for better real-time collaboration

Tips for better real-time collaboration with screen sharing

Effective collaboration is the holy grail for business: something constantly sought after, but often never reached. It’s not usually the fault of the team members and departments themselves, but more the communication and productivity tools they have.

True collaboration entails much more than a back-and-forth discussion in an email chain that reaches the double digits of replies. It means employees, and more broadly, business units, tightly coordinating with each other on strategy, planning, execution, and follow-up. In reality, companies can’t rely on email or traditional conference calls to support that level of collaboration — especially in real-time.

Screen sharing, however, can be used to power collaboration on all fronts: whether it’s uniting geographically diverse teams on a single video conference so they can meet face-to-face and walk through project outcomes or a quarterly report, or hopping on a quick 5-minute call to review and edit a presentation, screen sharing can greatly benefit teams.

Here’s a guide to using screen sharing for better real-time collaboration and some tips for leveraging its key advantages.

Use video whenever possible

No channel is more effective or efficient for communication than video. While it’s possible to have a conversation over the phone, video fosters deeper engagement and interaction, essential to collaboration. Seeing face to face or making eye contact while sharing your screen ensures your message resonates with everyone in the room.

Consider putting in place a policy that would have remote workers use video by default, or as often as possible. It can be hard to inspire true, real-time collaboration with professionals spread across disparate states and time zones, but video and screen sharing can provide the right conditions. For example, while teams can still utilize chat as much as they like, require that video be used for any kickoff meeting, scheduled biweekly update, or similar milestone meetings.

Ensure teams know how to screen share

The value that screen sharing features can provide won’t come in handy if your employees haven’t been trained in using the solution. As you roll out a new tool, take care to hold training and feedback sessions. The second type of outreach is crucial; that way, you can troubleshoot any issues before they become more significant problems with realizing value or return on investment from screen sharing software.

For example, knowing how to pass presenter controls is essential to collaboration on a video call. That way, each person who has something to say or share can do so, knowing that the rest of the attendees are focused on them and able to see the materials.

Enable meeting participants to go mobile

There’s no telling when a collaborative spark might ignite, and that includes when team members are on the road, in transit, or otherwise not in the office setting. A screen sharing solution with a mobile app facilitates collaboration by letting call attendees use their mobile devices to join the meeting and utilize screen-sharing features.

Encourage users to get creative

The beauty of screen sharing is that it can facilitate collaboration in different and creative ways. Encourage your teams to test out screen sharing for all types of meetings to find creative ways to use it. For instance, sales and marketing teams may work together on an interactive presentation in real-time, fine-tuning animations, or dynamic elements before the client meeting.

Have a recording policy

Recording a video meeting is helpful for future reference. Attendees can quickly call up what was said or share the contents with another member who wasn’t there. Recorded video calls help eliminate communication gaps and oversights that negatively impact collaboration. Also, this allows you to track the thought process if you were editing a document in real-time. It’s worth thinking at a high level about a policy for recording videos for preservation purposes.

Last but not least, don’t forget about security

While you want your teams and business units to work closely with one another, they are crucial for providing a secure platform for doing so. Different security topics you may need to consider include encryption, password management, access controls, cloud infrastructure, hardware security, and data storage. Security is as important as quality when researching software that allows screen sharing.

Ready to try screen sharing? Check out Cisco Webex to learn about our screen-sharing products or get started with a free plan today.

Learn More

Why screen sharing works better for sales than traditional conference calls

4 screen sharing tips to manage a growing business without an office

Personalize your team meetings with these top four screen sharing features

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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Virtual Background in Meeting - Objects_REVISED
Virtual backgrounds to inspire remote work culture: the Cisco Webex artist series

Remote work is now commonplace. Video calls are the norm. And most of us experience the “excuse the mess” worry of giving folks a glimpse into our personal lives and spaces.

Remote work equals the new normal

To be clear, this is not an entirely new phenomenon. We’ve sweated our “backdrops” for as long as the video conference has been around. The problem is that our environments are often caught in a perpetual work-in-progress state, leaving them not quite ready for the public stage.

Enter virtual video backgrounds. You’ve likely had some experience using video backgrounds while on video calls, regardless of your preferred solution provider.

Naturally, Webex is here with an expanded solution of our own. We’re certainly not the first or the last, but we’re excited to kick off the Webex Artist Series by offering our unique take on video backgrounds to further our mission of transforming collaborative work by crafting experiences people love.

The inspiration for our backgrounds

First off, practically any background you can imagine is available somewhere on the internet. You want to be at the International Space Station or in a submarine? It’s out there. This reality led us to focus on creating something unique to Webex and aligned with our passion for inspiring vibrant remote work culture.

There are two primary ideas at play.

  1. We’re a globally distributed organization working across various time zones, geographies, and cultures. This means we’re influenced by a wide range of “places,” all of which serve as inspiration for the experiences we create. Similarly, we design products for our customers’ diverse teams who are more often than not, remote, and distributed in various ways.
  2. Webex has a vibrant creative culture, with designers and artists who have a strong creative point of view they’re eager to express.

These ideas culminate in exciting new video backgrounds for the latest Meetings release for desktop. And backgrounds for our Red Dot Award-winning Desk Pro video conferencing device will follow. [Read more about Red Dot Winning Cisco Webex Desk Pro Design].

The collection

We’re starting with backgrounds from three sets:

Time and Place. These backgrounds represent different natural environments from across the globe, each evoking a mood through simple illustrated form and color.

young man using virtual background on Webex Meetings

Environments. These are intentionally unexpected and a little whimsical, inspiring imaginative ways to think about the spaces we occupy for work, play, learning, and more.

Young woman using environments on Webex Meetings

Neutrals. We see a need for backgrounds that have texture and color but recede, allowing the meeting participant to be the focus. These have a very practical use for when a calm, familiar backdrop is needed.

Mature man using background in Webex Meetings

These backgrounds are all inspired, illustrated, and rendered by our talented in-house designers in Shanghai, San Jose, Oslo, and Krakow. Go team!

Additionally, users will be able to choose a more traditional photographic background (landscape or executive office) or upload an image of their choice.

Virtual Background in Preview

Learn more about enabling virtual backgrounds for Cisco Webex Meetings, Events, and Training

The Webex Artists Series backgrounds are just the beginning in a series of personality-evoking experiences we plan to offer. Being on extended periods of video conferencing can be tiring. By offering you a range of options that suit your mood, personality, or audience, we aim to diminish your daily stressors and make working remotely delightful, and uniquely you.

With this and more experience-focused innovations coming in our flagship Webex Meetings product [Read more], we’re excited to offer you new and improved ways of working and connecting with others in the “new normal” of remote work.

If you want to learn more about Webex and the value, it can provide your business, reach out for more information, or get started with our free offer today.

Learn More

Delighting remote workers: Why user experience is important

Why remote work can be more productive work

How to prepare for the return to work

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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Woman sitting in front of computer working remotely
Delighting remote workers: Why user experience is important

As a User Experience (UX) Manager here at Cisco, I’m constantly looking at ways my team and I can make our Webex collaboration products better. This starts by solving the problems that enhance the daily experiences of our Webex user community. Good design can do more than engage people by bridging the gap between working and getting work done. Our designers are passionate about how we can make life better by reducing cognitive load so you can focus on your work and let technology take the load. Recently remote work has become our new normal, and balancing our work and home lifetime has become even more critical. Well-designed products can help eliminate the guesswork and enable us to accomplish more with our time.

How we work has changed

Today’s workspaces now include your kitchen, bedroom, and even your laundry room. And if you are like me, these workspaces may double up as the daycare center or classroom. You might have to think more about whether you brushed your hair or if your manager can see the breakfast dishes piled up behind you.

Fitting your lifestyle

As designers, we think about the multitude of platforms, physical spaces, and situations you might find yourself in to consider how our design fits and enhances the way you live and work. One of the ways you can see this on Webex, is through virtual backgrounds. They are a great way to show your personal identity, not just to cover messy workspaces. What’s unique about the Webex experience is the quality and purpose behind these backgrounds. Instead of the generic, landscape or office setting backgrounds, you’ll see in other solutions – Webex as original, own-able illustrations and textures that are not only highly functional but also provide a fresh dose of personality to your workspace.

fitting your lifestyle and virtual backgrounds

Besides the literal, recognizable office space, our design team has landed on three initial sets that you’ll only get in Webex:

  1. Time and Place. These backgrounds represent different natural environments from across the globe. Each evokes a mood through simple illustrated form and color.
  2. Environments. These are intentionally unexpected and a little whimsical, inspiring imaginative ways to think about the spaces we occupy for work, play, learning, and more.
  1. We saw a need for backgrounds that have texture and color but recede, allowing the meeting participant to be the focus. These have a very practical use for when a calm, familiar backdrop is needed. These have been my favorite backgrounds in my daily meetings.

Webex backgrounds are designed to work in any lighting In fact, Webex automatically and subtly adjusts the lighting levels and softens your camera’s focus to make your image on video more realistic – almost as though you were sitting in the same room with everyone else. This is just the start; we have some exciting themes we’re exploring that make your experiences more fun and engaging. Be sure to stay tuned!

Delighting you at every turn

Another way we’ve enhanced your experience through design is with mirror preview, where you can see yourself on video before joining a meeting. Our customers love it, and I use it frequently when a business meeting immediately follows a playdate with my 7-year old son. Mirror preview allows you to take a peek to see if you’re all set for the big meeting or adjust your workspace. More than a few times, I’ve caught myself in the mirror preview with a leaf in my hair or mud on my chin, after entertaining my son in the garden.

woman on Webex Meetings

The default grid view is another one of those delightful design features I love that just makes the experience of a virtual meeting that much better. You can see everyone’s faces at the start of the meeting, and I think it helps build that deeper human connection. I like using it with my team, so everyone becomes part of the same space. You can see everyone’s expressions and reactions and switch to speaker focus view if you want to focus on just the person speaking.

Default grid view and Meetings

Little things matter

We’ve also incorporated some other subtle design features you may not notice at first glance but are there to help make your work that much easier. For instance, pressing the spacebar to quickly unmute. By using telemetry, we discovered that mute/unmute is one of the most frequently used actions in meetings. Now that almost everyone is working remotely, users are more likely to mute themselves to avoid day-to-day background noises. It’s a simple thing but saves time and reduces the number of mouse clicks.

Another “small but mighty” feature we added is the share preview. As a designer, I cringe when I hear people asking, “Can you see my screen?” Many may experience waves of self-doubt when sharing content because they have no idea of whether participants can see what they are sharing or even whether the right content is being shared. By adding this preview, we make sure that you can see your content before its shared. So next time — maybe instead of doubt — you can confidently say, “As you can see on my screen…” from the beginning.

Share preview in Webex Meetings

These are just a few of the ways Webex we’ve designed Webex to fit within your evolving workspaces. I’m very proud to lead a high-performance design team that shares a passion for a better user experience. I am thrilled about what is to come, as we continue to improve the lives of millions of people who need to connect and collaborate around the world.

You can check out these cool features by downloading our free Webex trial today.

Learn More

Why remote work can be more productive work

Embracing the rise of remote working

Working smarter: Managing a remote team

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

Read more
background feature on meetings
July update of Webex Teams

Another month and another update of Webex Teams. If you’re conscious of your backdrop in your meetings, then this update is for you! Read on to find out more…

MESSAGING & APP EXPERIENCE

A new look for adding team members (Windows & Mac)

Adding new team members just got a whole lot easier. Now, if you want to add new members to an existing team, you will do so in a familiar view already used elsewhere in Webex Teams. You can also leverage another feature of bulk-adding people in this new screen, meaning if you need to add a group of new team members, you can do so easily with a quick copy-paste of up to 30 users at a time.

adding members in Meetings

Add links to your messages (Windows)

Today, you can add a link to text in Webex Teams through mark-down. We’ve improved that experience for you and made it a lot easier to insert a link into a message. You can now select an option to insert a link from the Format Text menu. This will pop up a new dialog box where you can add a link and edit the text of the link that you want to display in your message.

More organization for your settings and preferences (Windows & Mac)

We’ve made a couple of changes in your settings and preferences to make things more organized. We’ve added a dedicated ‘Messaging’ tab, where you’ll do things like setting your default download location, enable spell check, or configure views for your space list. Go to ‘Settings’ on Windows or ‘Preferences’ on Mac and select Messaging to check it out.

Forward a message on mobile (iPhone, iPad & Android)

See an important message you want to share with others quickly? Right now, on mobile, you need to either copy-paste or take a screenshot before starting your search for the other space you want to send it to. This update will let you do this with just a few taps. We’ll be saving you a few steps by allowing you to forward a message directly from one space to another.

Forward a message on mobile

Making the most of your message area (iPhone & iPad)

In group spaces (especially larger ones), when lots of people leave or are added around the same time, your message area can get pretty clogged up with notifications that (maybe) aren’t all that important to you. Sometimes, this can cause you to lose the context of messages sent before or after these in-space notifications. You’ll see these notifications grouped and collapsed, with the option to expand if you want to see more detail. This allows users to focus on more important messages.

Making the most of your message area with group and collapse

 

Compress a file on send (iPhone & iPad)

Sometimes when we’re out and about using mobile data, we need to share a file or an image. Depending on the file size, this can be quite costly on our data. Before, we had a universal option in ‘advanced’ settings on iOS to either always or never compress files you send on mobile. We’re giving you another option; to ask if you want to compress a file as you are sending it. This will be the new default for all users and can be changed in your ‘advanced’ settings.

compress a file on send and compression settings in meetings

 

MEETINGS

Pick your background for your calls and meetings! (Windows, Mac, iPhone & iPad)

Want to share your video during a meeting or call but hide the details of your background surroundings? Or maybe you just want to make it look like you’re on a beach soaking up the sun? If your device meets the hardware requirements, with this update, you’ll be able to blur your background or change it completely for your meetings and video calls. Just hover over your self-view video, select the magic wand to ‘Change Virtual Background,’ and then make your selection.

Background feature in webex meetings

Making meetings easier (Windows and Mac)

We’ve made some enhancements to the Meetings tab, which lives under the calendar icon in your Webex Teams app. You can use the ‘Join a Meeting’ search box on the top right above your meeting calendar to join a meeting by entering the meeting number, meeting link, Personal Room link, or meeting video address. Clicking on this search box will pop up a list of all your most recent Personal Room meetings. Your meeting list has been enhanced with a clear, daily calendar view with easy navigation to view any day you like.

CALLING

Webex Calling

Add external contacts to your contacts list (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

You can now add some of your contacts from Outlook (Windows) and your Contacts app (Mac) into your Webex Teams Contacts list and group them, making it easy to find someone and place a call. You can also create a new custom contact in your Webex Teams app, and it will be synced across your devices.

Add more phone numbers for your co-workers (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you add your co-worker to your contacts list, you’ll now be able to edit their profile and add additional phone numbers for them, such as home, mobile, work, etc. When you make an audio or video call, you’ll see all their number options, so it’ll be much easier to call them at their alternative number.

Every calling option at your fingertips (Windows & Mac)

Anywhere you see the green phone or call button and the video or meet button, you’re presented with many ways to make a call with options like work number, mobile number, video address, or Webex Teams call. If you try to call someone and you’re not set up with the corresponding phone service, you get a notification letting you know you can’t make that type of call. If you’re connected to a device, the icon you see to place a call or start a meeting will also change to make it clear that you’re connected to a device.

Access your mobile voicemail quickly and easily (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you go to the ‘calls’ tab on your mobile, you can now call your voicemail system by clicking the floating dial pad icon and selecting ‘call voicemail.’

Unified CM

Add external contacts to your contacts list (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

You can now add some of your contacts from Outlook (Windows) and your Contacts app (Mac) into your Webex Teams Contacts list and group them, making it easy to find someone and place a call from there. You can also create a new custom contact in your Webex Teams app, and it will be synced across your devices.

Add more phone numbers for your co-workers (Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you add your co-worker to your contacts list, you’ll now be able to edit their profile and add additional phone numbers for them, such as home, mobile, work, and so on. When you make an audio or video call, you’ll see all their number options, so it’ll be much easier to call them at their alternative number.

Every calling option at your fingertips (Windows & Mac)

Anywhere you see the green phone or call button and the video or meet button, you’re presented with many ways to make a call with options like work number, mobile number, video address, or Webex Teams call. If you try to call someone and you’re not set up with the corresponding phone service, you get a notification letting you know you can’t make that type of call. If you’re connected to a device, the icon you see to place a call or start a meeting will also change to clarify that you’re connected to a device.

Access your mobile voicemail quickly and easily (iPhone, iPad & Android)

When you go to the ‘calls’ tab on your mobile, you can now call your voicemail system by clicking the floating dial pad icon and selecting ‘call voicemail.’

More calling options! (Windows & Mac)

You can now call someone’s video address (for example, bburke@biotechnia.com) from anywhere in the app that you’d make any other type of call, like when you search for someone, or you’re in a space with that person.Calling options with Windows & MacShare your screen to a desk phone (Windows & Mac)

You can now call someone from the app and have them answer your call on their desk phone, and you can still share your screen with them. They can see your shared screen from their phone if the phone supports video; otherwise, they’ll see the shared screen from the app.

Trash read voice messages (iPhone, iPad & Android)

You can keep your voice messages list neat and tidy by removing the messages you have already listened to. When you’ve listened to a voice message and no longer need it, you now can send it to the ‘trash.’ From your ‘trash’ folder, you can either recover the message (in case you accidentally deleted it!) or you can choose to remove it permanently.

trash read voice messages and webex meetings

 

Add Webex Teams contacts to your mobile device contacts (Android)

If you have contacts and calling features enabled in Webex Teams, you can now export your contacts from the app directly to your contacts on your mobile device. This way, you can go to the contacts on your phone and initiate a Webex Teams call right from there. To use this feature, just tap your profile picture, go to ‘Advanced,’ and turn on ‘Contacts Integration.’

Control Webex Teams from a different application

You can now control Webex Teams from different apps, like Cisco Finesse. Using a different app to control Webex Teams, you can use any of your normal calling functionality, like making calls, answering or ending calls, putting calls on hold and resuming, transferring calls, and even having conference calls with other users.

INTEGRATIONS

Easy access to the Webex App Hub!

Now you can quickly find the Webex App Hub using the new Apps button at the bottom of the left column in Webex Teams. Easily browse for apps like Smartsheet, Servicenow, and RSS bot to set up business-critical notifications and get more work done without leaving a space.

New Asana bot for Webex Teams!

Meet the updated Asana bot for project management in Webex Teams! Now you can create, search, and update Tasks and Subtasks from any group or 1:1 space. Quickly set up real-time notifications for changes or tasks marked complete to keep your projects running smoothly amongst your team. Follow this link to get started!

new Asana for Webex Teams

For more information on this and upcoming updates to Webex Teams, check out our help page here.

Learn More

See all of the Webex Teams Releases here

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

Read more
How to prepare for the return to work

There are lots of questions facing business leaders these days, but the over-arching question is: what does “back to work” really look like? The answer is, there is no simple answer.

What do we mean by “back to work”

The concept of going back to work is actually a misnomer. First and foremost, people didn’t stop working. Overnight, some companies were forced to change where and how their teams worked, but their teams never actually stopped working.  Video conferencing and collaboration tools became the primary means of maintaining productivity. As a result of these tools and their increased acceptance by the corporate landscape, many companies have even reported seeing an increase in worker productivity, with some reporting a 47% increase.*

A second, and maybe even more impactful consideration is, there is no true “back to work.” As recent events evolve, and local, and state authorities continue to respond accordingly (a phenomenon referred to as “the hammer and the dance”), companies are forced to make plans for a flexible, balanced work environment. There is no clear path for when, where, and how people are going to work. That means it is much like schools and the education system, companies are also coming to terms with flexible schedules and continuing remote or distance working. This is the hybrid approach.

Considerations for a hybrid working model

Companies are beginning to offer hybrid working plans. But what does this look like going forward? For some employees who are deemed essential, they will return to the office full time. Others may opt for full-time remote work. And some may blend the two and operate under a flexible location model. In all cases, tools like video conferencing have to be enabled for all employees because of the changing landscape. You cannot just offer video conferencing to remote workers – everyone will need these tools, as team collaboration will happen across both in-office and remote workers. These hybrid models have now proven to be as effective (if not more) than office-based teams, plus companies realize they no longer need to hold onto and maintain such expensive real estate costs.

woman working from home

 

Office space

In some cases, you will see office space move from traditional headquarters in big cities to smaller offices located where their employees want to be or are already located. Why maintain class-A space in San Francisco or New York when you see your employees flocking to places like Truckee, California, or Rochester, New York? Office space in those areas is less expensive, easier to maintain, and is more efficient for your employees to access. You can build remote outposts to give a headquarters-feel to those remote-teams.

Blended workplace

The “return to the office” concept represents the real evolution of going “back to work.” What I find interesting is that the concept of the “office,” no matter the size of the company, will no longer be defined by a singular building, but by a combination of a headquarters, remote offices, and home offices. The connection between the variety of offices is crucial, which is why I foresee companies investing in video conferencing and always-on devices that enable virtual huddle rooms and stand-ups for people in an inter-connected office environment. I also predict people will still balance home and remote office time in perpetuity, allowing for more flexibility as the needs of family and things like distance learning and homeschooling compete with the needs of the workplace. Virtual collaboration tools like document sharing, screen sharing, and more also become valuable because they enable that flexible engagement model for the workplace while ensuring productivity is maintained at a high level.

Tips for maintaining an effective hybrid approach

To sustain an effective hybrid approach, your company should also consider these factors:

  • Are you offering flexible hours to families and people with children?
  • How is IT accessible to remote workers when they have issues with internet connections and VPN?
  • If you offer devices like desktop videoconferencing units, will IT be available to help manage them?
  • Do your managers have regularly scheduled check-ins with team members that go beyond deliverables and allow for inter-personal connections?

These questions are important to ask so that your remote and hybrid workers feel supported, connected, and part of the larger whole.  After all, you want the whole to be more than just the sum of its parts.

Final thought

Make sure you are your teams are communicating with one another about these types of questions so they can adequately embrace this new hybrid work model and be successful in the years to come.

If you want to learn more about Webex and the value, it can provide your business, reach out for more information, or get started with our free offer today.

Source

*Forbes

Learn More

Returning to work with Intelligent Room Capacity

How to create a video conferencing agenda 

How to share real-time data with customers through video conferencing

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

Read more
women using webex to connecting to make an appoinmtment
Creating moments that matter for your residents with Webex

Webex makes it easy to share special moments with virtual visits

Quality time with family and friends is priceless. Whether it’s laughing together, sharing stories, or merely talking about every day, connecting with others is vital for our emotional, mental, and social well-being. Webex recognizes the need for connection, so we have made it easy for care facility residents to share those special moments with friends and family. Create moments that matter more often, no matter where you are.

See our ‘Staying connected with virutal visitation’ ebook for more information

The way we connect is continually changing, with more and more people coming together virtually. Grandkids use devices to meet with their grandparents in care facilities without ever leaving their home; doctors provide health consultations virtually; and friends are using their tablets, phones, and even TVs to throw virtual birthday bashes. Webex can help make these virtual get-togethers happen or supplement your in-person visits with more frequent remote visits.

illustration of tree with words that read moments that matter, Cisco Webex

Why Webex?

It’s easy to meet virtually face-to-face with our mobile phones, but what about when you need to meet over a computer or tablet? How do you ensure privacy and security for those more sensitive meetings like doctor’s appointments? Webex can be used on any device, so residents without cell phones or who need larger screens can still meet virtually with family, friends, or doctors. We also have a secure platform that keeps telehealth meetings private and secure, so residents can get the care they need in a secure setting.

The best part about using Webex for virtual visitations is that neither you nor your residents need to be a technology pro to set it up. To ensure that residents are ready to use Webex, we suggest reviewing our quick start guide [LINK] with residents and showing them how to use Webex on their phones, iPads, or computers. As an administrator, you can schedule meetings for your residents and use our resources to set it up, so residents don’t have to lift a finger. It’s that easy!

Connect anywhere, any time with Webex

Whether a resident’s son is across the country, their grandchildren are too young to visit in-person, or life is just hectic, your residents can still connect with their loved ones from anywhere, at any time with Webex. They can share moments that matter with those who matter most. To learn more about how you can set up and administer Webex in your care facility, check out our ebook. It’ll help you create those moments that matter for your residents.

Stay connected with virtual visitation

Want to learn more about Webex and all its features and the value it can provide your business? Reach out for more information or get started with our free offer today.

Learn More

Improving patient diagnoses with video conferencing

Up-leveling patient care with team collaboration technology

Improving patient care and coordination with video conferencing tools

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

Read more
teacher teaching student on Webex technology
Webex for Education: Technology for collaboration in and out of the classroom

Accelerated need for technology in the classroom

Over the years, education has evolved from using chalkboards and projectors to a more technology-centric approach – with many schools utilizing smartboards, launching BYOD initiatives, or even providing individual laptops or tablets. In 2020, there is an accelerated need for technology and digital learning platforms, in both the physical and virtual classroom. Technology can help make this new way of educating a little bit easier for both you and your students.

Join our upcoming Webex Community Event, August 4th!

Webex: Simple and secure

Here at Webex, we understand that for educators to use technologies like Webex, it must be simple and secure, especially when working with minors. We take our security seriously, so you can focus on educating and engaging students like never before. Sarah Bandy, a reviewer on G2, chose Webex for precisely this reason. She describes why she chose Webex:

“We were really concerned about security when it came to putting together a virtual program aimed towards minors. It was really important to us to make sure that kids could login easily and that there was no way that we could be hacked while executing the program. The benefit of security and peace of mind is absolutely crucial.”

Need help with integrating technology in your classroom?

Laura Hamill, a Growth Enablement Specialist at Webex, previously taught English and has a few tips on integrating technology into your classroom. Above all, she encourages educators to remember why you’re teaching and to focus on the students when making technology transitions.

Transitioning to online platforms and incorporating technology doesn’t mean changing your unique teaching style or losing a second of connection with your students. In fact, you can even expand those connections and experiment with new ways of teaching. Learning how to use Webex can be quick and easy with our quick start guides, virtual online classes, and exploring its many capabilities. We’ve also got a sneak peek of a few of Laura’s key tips. Check them out!

  • Create a routine. Things have been chaotic lately, so sticking to a schedule or creating a routine is vital for both educators and students. Plan out how your class will start their day and utilize a lesson plan. Embrace the teachable moments and learning opportunities together.
  • Give yourself and your students time to adjust. Whether it’s adjusting to a new way of teaching, learning, or simply figuring out how to use new technologies, give yourself the time to do so. You don’t want to overwhelm anyone by immediately diving into something new.

Teachers, need more tips? Read Laura’s Teachers, here’s why you need Webex article for more tips.

Resources and information for Webex for Education, remote learning webinar

Want more tips and tricks on managing your classroom or using technology to make teaching a bit easier? We’ve got you covered in our back to school guide. We’re also hosting a Webex Community event on August 4, centered on Webex for Education: Collaboration in and out of the classroom. Join our esteemed panel of educators to hear how they use Webex collaboration to extend access, emphasize equity, and raise the quality of education for all of their students. Learn from their experiences, and listen to their plans for the upcoming school year.

Join the Webex Community event- Webex for Education: Collaboration in and out of the classroom, Tuesday, August 4, 2020 

Learn More

The Future of Education

Webex Integration Partners join Cisco in offers for education

Experience the new Webex for Dedication – Simple and secure out-of-the-box

Blackboard Learn and Webex join forces to expand the reach of education

Education Resources

What is distance learning?

Welcome to virtual learning

Cisco Webex Education Connector

Cisco Education Home Page

Read more
virtual background on Android phone
Webex Meetings July 2020 update: Virtual backgrounds on Windows, Mac, Android, and more!

Webex Meetings expands support for virtual and blurred backgrounds

July brings some exciting news, especially for users who want to change up or clean up their workspace backdrop. With most of us working from home, it’s perfect timing that Webex Meetings now supports virtual and blurred backgrounds across Windows, Mac, and iOS platforms. AND we are the first to bring the capability to Android users!* Android support gives Webex Meetings users more flexibility for creative backdrops on more platforms than any other video conferencing solution.

iOS and Android users can also choose custom backgrounds from their photo library. This feature gives you more privacy, removes distracting elements from your surroundings, and gives you more creativity to express your personality in video meetings.

Woman using Webex virtual background feature on Webex
Virtual background on Android phone

Other news this month

The July Webex Meetings update also includes support for four new languages on the desktop and web apps: Czech, Hungarian, Polish and Romanian. The mobile app already supports these languages.

Desktop App

  • Content share preview – No more asking, “Can you see my screen?” You will now be able to see a preview of what your meeting participants see when you share. Click on the Share button, and a small window will replicate your audience’s view. This feature will make you confident in what you are sharing and saves time because you no longer have to ask if everyone can see your share.

Content share preview in Webex

  • Participant Sorting and Raise-hand Functions – this feature will likely be most appreciated by teachers in today’s distanced learning environment. Now, when someone in the meeting or virtual class raises their hand in Webex, their name immediately pops to the top of the participant list – in sequential order – so that teachers can quickly see who needs help. Previously, participants who raised their hands stayed at the same position in the participants’ list and may not be easily seen, especially if they are at the bottom of the list in a large meeting.

  • Lobby support – Users outside of your organization using video conferencing systems or Webex Teams apps will now be able to wait in the Personal Room lobby. This will be enabled when the site is configured to place external users in a lobby and when the Personal Room is in an unlocked state. Before this enhancement, external users would be subject to an administrative setting that controlled whether they would join the meeting directly or be completely blocked from joining the Personal Room meetings. With this enhancement, we are simplifying the experience by making sure that all devices and apps follow the same rules when joining an unlocked Personal Room meeting.

Mobile

iOS:

  • New host control improvements on mobile offer a host of benefits for all users, but especially for the education sector, giving teaches tools to manage their virtual classrooms better and protect their students. Teachers have the option to configure “mute on entry” from their mobile app, which lets students and other participants enter a meeting silently, so they don’t disrupt the class. Turning off share allows teachers and hosts to limit content sharing rights in class or meeting to just the presenter. Sharing rights can be passed to other participants during the meeting as needed. Teachers and meeting hosts can also lock and unlock non-personal room meetings from their mobile apps. These are excellent safety features for school administrators, as it prevents unwanted people from arbitrarily entering a virtual classroom.

the lock and unlock non-personal room meetings

 

  • Microsoft Intune SDK support (in beta)- Microsoft Intune SDK is now integrated into the Webex Meetings desktop app, which means that our app is protected by site configuration. This feature’s benefit is that users who need Microsoft Intune protection policies can now sign into a Microsoft account. After Checking policy data with the site and restarting the app, protection policies will be in effect (access pin code after launch).

Android:

  • Alexa voice playback meeting recordings – Android users can now use Amazon Alexa to playback Webex Meetings recordings. Users wake up Webex Meetings by saying, “Alexa, open Webex Meetings.” Users can list/playback recordings with voice commands such as:

– “Alexa, ask Webex Meetings to list today’s recordings”
– “Alexa, ask Webex Meetings to list yesterday’s meeting”
– “Play,” “Resume,” “Pause,” “Exit,” “Next,” “Previous”

For more information on these features, please visit the Webex Help Portal – What’s New for the latest version of Webex Meetings

*Android support available now; Windows and Mac background features will be turned on at the end of July.

Learn More

See all the Webex Meetings updates here

Secure, first-party recording transcripts in Webex Meetings

Webex Meetings June 2020 Update: Transcriptions, Background Blur and Mobile Grid View

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What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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many faces looking at the computer screen representing multiple diverse people
Making Webex even more engaging and interactive

Webex tips to keep your audience engaged

We’ve all been in that Webex. The one where the presenter drones on and on with way too many slides. They might want you engaged in the topic, but what they do is kill you with PowerPoint. After 20 years in the collaboration space, I’ve seen it a lot (and, sadly, hosted bad sessions of my own). My wife works in corporate learning and development, so we have a vested interest in improving the web meeting experience!

Learn about the best video conferencing & online meeting software

3 ways to engage and interact

Over the years, I’ve learned a few tips and tools to make the Webex experience more engaging and interactive, and I’d like to pass them on to you. This blog covers how connecting face-to-face, varying the content, and building audience interaction can help make Webex even more engaging and interactive. I am going to share how to do all of the above with tools included right in Webex, as well as using 3rd party tools. On a tight budget? It’s worth noting that almost all of the 3rd party tools mentioned are offered in a freemium model, where you can use the service for free, with paired down features.

1) Connect face-to-face

High-quality bi-directional video (where both the attendee and the presenter have their camera on) is an absolute requirement for every Webex. It’s how you understand the presenter’s emotion and how presenters know that their participants are engaged.  Webex has a video-centric experience, but all too often, people don’t fully utilize it.

Simple video tricks

Here’s a simple trick every presenter can do: find breaks in your session to stop sharing content. Why? Because once the ‘share’ is off the screen, Webex will maximize screens to video to engage with your audience. While the video is full screen, why not change the layout and encourage others to do so? Each participant maintains control over their layout and view, so you may need to show them how to enable the “Brady Bunch Mode” we call grid view. Webex supports multiple ways to layout your video, including up to 25 simultaneous streams in the grid view.

Newscaster experience

Want to go one step further and have that newscaster-like experience with full-screen video and content overlays? Prezi Video is a powerful tool that can stream content over video live during a Webex (currently supported on Windows desktop or OSX using a web browser).

? Prezi Video is a powerful tool that can stream content over video live during a Webex (and it’s currently supported on Windows desktop or OSX using a web browser).

2) Vary the content

The human attention span isn’t very long, no matter how interesting the topic. There is no reason to have 60 PowerPoint slides in a 60-minute meeting. The brain just can’t absorb it all. Rather than cram all of that info into one session, use varying types of content to reinforce a smaller selection of the most important topics.

Animation

One way to mix up your content is to add animation. To make sure your animations in PowerPoint always work in Webex, I recommend always using the share application feature (vs. share file) for any PowerPoint that contains animation. In the last section, I mentioned Prezi Video, but Prezi has another tool Prezi Present. With it, you can create some spectacular moving and zooming presentations that really grab attention.

cinema-animated-compressed file showing Prezi

Videos

Playing a video during a meeting is a great change-up from slides – it gives the audience a different voice to listen to and the presenter a chance to catch their breath. Webex supports multiple methods for adding video playback. The easiest is to share the video application and use the “optimizing for motion and video” function[1].

Optimizing for motion and video function in webex

Do it live

How about a product demonstration or a whiteboard? Webex has a built-in whiteboard[2] that allows you to collaborate with other meeting participants. Work from a blank whiteboard or open and annotate documents, images, and other files. If you want participants to see your whiteboard and not contribute, you can use the “Share My Meeting Window” option after starting the whiteboard.

Learn more about whiteboards in the Creating Digital Teams in Webex Teams series or live streaming with Webex Meetings for your vitual events.

share my window view in Webex Meetings

You could also use a 3rd party whiteboarding tool that might be easier for collaboration in larger groups or systems that don’t work with the built-in whiteboard. Miro, Stormboard, and IPEVO Annotator are just a few great whiteboard options. Miro even has Cisco’s Network Topology Icons that can easily be added to a board, so instead of showing a network (or flow) diagram, draw it live!

Design thinking

At Cisco, we use Design thinking as a problem-solving framework. I’ve found Miro boards to be a great way to emulate design thinking activities virtually during a Webex meeting (and they work in the multi-media viewer, which I’ll talk about in the next section). Check out this Miro board my colleague used during one of his sessions.

Miro board and Webex

Miro even has a helpful article on their site all about using it in live meetings.

Be sure to check out Justin’s blog article, where he mentions another whiteboard tool, Kaptivo (among other education integrations to Webex), a camera system that turns any regular whiteboard into a smart, digital collaboration tool.

3) Build audience interaction

Whiteboards are just one way to vary your content while building interaction – Webex includes several others! Ask the audience questions and display their responses or even turn it into a game with tools that integrate seamlessly into Webex meetings.

Raise your hand

Replicate the “everyone raises your hand if you…” classroom experience with the “raise hand” button.  The raise hand button can be found next to your name in the participant window of Webex meetings. The functionality is the same in Webex Training and Webex Events, though the layout is slightly different.

Steve Greenberg icon raise hand feature in Webex

 

Polling for large audiences

If you want to capture more data or have more complex questions and your audience is too large to ask one at a time, you will want to use Polling. Webex has a built-in polling tool that can be added to your meeting window. It’s easiest to set up your poll ahead of time by opening a Webex meeting (your personal meeting room will work) and creating a poll to save and load when you need it. Once inside a Webex meeting, go to the View menu, then select Panels > Manage Panels.

 

Manage panels in Webex Meetings

 

From there, you can add Polling to your meeting and start making questions. This help article has lots of info on creating your poll inside Webex[3].

Take polling to the next level

Take Polling to the next level with third-party applications that offer a wide variety of features – and work directly inside Webex’s multimedia viewer if you choose. The multimedia viewer can be used in Webex Meetings and Webex Events to open web-based content right inside Webex. Still, you can also use these tools without the viewer – whatever works best for your audience.

Participants – except those on video endpoints and mobile devices – can see your video or other types of content and the content in the multimedia viewer. If the multimedia viewer isn’t a good fit for your meeting, most of the tools below offer a URL, QR Code, or SMS, allowing participants to interact with your meeting easily.

PollEverywhere, Mentimeter, PigeonholeLive, and Sli.do are just a few great interaction tools that work well inside Webex’s multimedia viewer. Here is Mentimeter as an example.

Webex multimedia viewer in Mentimeter

The multimedia viewer on the right lets the participant enter their responses while still seeing the live video at the top. The live word cloud on the left changes immediately after they enter a reply! Mentimeter even provides a feedback and Q&A tool, all within the Webex application. And for any participant that can’t see the multimedia window, the direct access URL and code are at the top of the central meeting window.

PollEverywhere also allows SMS interactions, and Sli.do & Pigeonhole Live use QR codes, making it easy to use your mobile device.

PollEv.com

Sli.do does QR code

A word cloud is just one example of the variety of unique interactions these third-party apps offer. I’ve used PollEverywhere the most because it provides so many interaction options.

Icons on PollEverwhere

Gaming

Looking for more of a game-like experience? Kahoot and TheTrainingArcade also work nicely with Webex. Kahoot is laser-focused on emulating a quiz show, and TheTrainingArcade lets you build your own games.

Here’s a Kahoot game using the multimedia viewer.

Kahoot game using the multimedia viewer on Webex

And here’s a Jeopardy-like game from TheTrainingArcade as you would see it in the multimedia viewer.

Jeopardylike game from The TrainingArcade

Your turn

Whether you’re using the tools included in Webex, a free third-party app, or investing in a broader audience solution, there’s no reason to keep having less than stellar Webex meetings. Use your video, create polls and whiteboards, change up the content, or integrate an app using the multimedia viewer – these are great ways to keep your participants engaged if you want them to hear and retain what you have to say!

Want to learn more about Webex and all its features and the value it can provide your business? Reach out for more information or get started with our free offer today.

Learn More

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Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

Collaboration in 2020: Top Tips for Meeting Room Technology

Footnotes

[1] Only currently available in Webex Meetings, other methods available in Events and Training.

[2] Participants who join Webex from video systems or video conferencing applications cannot currently see or annotate shared whiteboard content.

[3] Polling does not work on video endpoints.

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Young woman looking at camera viewing other members of her team via video conferencing
4 ways to ensure your video conferences are secure

Video conferencing security for small business

Now that the professional world finds itself almost entirely online, it’s as good a time to reemphasize how critical cybersecurity is for small and medium-sized businesses. The rush to digitize workflows and procedures may have led some decision-makers to choose the most straightforward consumer-grade tools for preserving business continuity.

Why are there security and privacy issues?

Yet there may be underlying security and privacy issues with solutions that haven’t been vetted thoroughly. Considering the lightning-quick pace with which businesses had to adapt to stay-at-home orders, it’s possible not every solution was put under the microscope.

Learn about the best video conferencing & online meeting software

Video conferencing software

Video conferencing software may fall under this category. Thousands have turned to free tools to fill the collaboration and communication gap. But at the same time, businesses may be putting their operations, data, and employees at risk if they depend on video conferencing software with security vulnerabilities.

See how video conferencing is simple, seamless, and secure. With the Webex mobile app security is built right in

Top 4 tips for SMBs on securing your privacy on video conferencing platforms

Here are some tips for running secure video chats and picking the right solution to drive productivity in remote workforces — and, more importantly, to ensure security and protect privacy.

1) Control who is invited

Trolls are everywhere, and they may be targeting your business. Persons not affiliated with your company may look to do a little online gate-crashing and disrupt your meeting if they somehow get the URL or meeting invite link. They’ll be an annoying nuisance; at worst, they may spam your call with hateful messages and disruptive, insulting behaviors.

Yet you have the controls to keep the trolls at bay. Ensure that anyone you invite to a meeting is a known employee, client, or verified third party. Advise all these participants not to share the meeting link. Also, make sure to lock your video chat once it begins so that only approved invitees can join.

Locking down video conferences is an issue for internal meetings, but more so for external engagement efforts. If you’re hosting a public webinar and didn’t take these precautions, your proceedings may be derailed. That could lead to several consequences, not the least of which is damage to your business’s reputation.

Need help in Webex? Find our Cisco Webex security and privacy resources in our Help Center.

2) Leverage administrative security options

The example above is a cautionary tale, and it underscores how crucial it is for you to have robust administrative security controls. Yet, such capabilities will be sorely lacking in most consumer-grade tech; and if a tool does have such features, it is likely going to be basic and limited.

Maintaining control of security and privacy measures is essential. Most free-to-use tools are not sophisticated enough to match the needs of your business. Your wish list for security controls should include ways for you to:

  • Permit users to store their email addresses and names securely so they can quickly join in the future.
  • Require authentication for all hosts and attendees wanting to access the site.
  • Enforce various lock controls and meeting participant ejection protocols.
  • Enable hosts to customize meeting access security within predefined parameters.
  • Allow for meetings to be unlisted from public calendars.
  • Control screen sharing and recording functions.
  • Automatically end meetings after a certain time or if only one attended remains.
  • Mandate that attendees have an approved account to join.

Without at least these controls, your business may be woefully underprepared to enforce security and privacy in video conferences, putting your operations and employees at risk.

Learn more about administration security 

3) Review the privacy policy

This tip comes from the Federal Trade Commission, which has published a list of best practices for SMBs* that now rely on video conferencing. Checking the privacy policy is a must, and you really shouldn’t move on using a solution without doing so.

However, arranging contingency plans was a frenzy for many businesses, and reviewing the privacy policies of video conferencing tools may have slipped under the radar. This may cause severe issues if you assume a tool stores your data one way, but it does not meet expectations or security requirements in actuality. As the FTC advises, always check the type of data the conferencing software collects, its policy on using your data, and whether it shares information with any third parties. Read about Cisco’s promise to our customers on security in an open collaboration world.

4) Focus on encryption

Choosing a video conferencing solution with end-to-end encryption is the only real way to ensure security for your business calls and meetings. Not only is encryption an advantage for some businesses, but it’s also mandated for others in specific regulated industries like law, finance, and health care.

Most consumer-grade solutions are lacking in this department, and what encryption they do offer is far from the robust end-to-end protection your business needs.
A tool that offers features like password encryption, SHA-2 hashing, and Network-Based Recordings is your best bet for secure meetings.

In closing

Looking for a video conferencing solution that checks all the security and privacy boxes to ensure your meetings are private and productive? Cisco Webex is a leading choice among SMBs of all sectors. We place security and privacy at the top of our priorities, and with Webex, you don’t need to worry about sacrificing ease of use or user experience for security controls.

Want to learn more about Webex and all its features and the value it can provide your business? Reach out for more information or get started with our free offer today.

Learn More

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Resources

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Webex Products & Solutions

Webex Meetings

Webex Control Hub

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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How team collaboration technology can work together no matter where you are

What’s it like to achieve seamless collaboration with someone with no matter where the two of you are?

In many depictions from science fiction, such interactions often involved HD video as well as mobile communications. “Star Trek” had video conferencing and handheld communicators, while “Star Wars” featured high-quality audio links between ships, even in the depths of space. No matter where characters went in those universes, they could reliably stay in touch. Check out the Best Video Conferencing & Online Meeting Software

In the real world, available collaboration technologies have caught up with, and in some ways, even surpassed those once far-out fantasies. Employees can now join a video or VoIP call from their mobile devices, but take advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) to establish context around each meeting, fill in key details through chat, and improve customer experiences.

Check out a first-hand experience of the all-new Webex Meetings with faster join times and anytime-anywhere access:

While it’s always been theoretically possible to collaborate over long distances via email and phone, modern tech makes everything more accessible and real-time. Let’s look at two typical workflows, one with and the other without the most up-to-date collaboration technologies.

A day in the life: One meeting, many locations

Let’s imagine someone starting their workday at home, which has become pretty standard these days. After all, telecommuting has surged since the mid-2000s; one estimate put the number of remote workers in the U.S. at nearly 5 million as of 2018. And in 2020, many more workplaces are allowing their employees to work from home, or split their time between home and office.

Check out our Work From Home Best Practices

This hypothetical worker wakes up and then joins a web conference from their desktop PC for a little while. Built-in AI provides full context on who’s who in the meeting so that there’s no guesswork in understanding the purpose of the proceedings and the participants’ background.

Then it’s time for them to take their kid to school. Using collaboration technology they can transition the call onto their phone with just a swipe and keep listening while in their car, using wireless earbuds or the vehicle’s Bluetooth and a built-in mic.

After finishing the commute, they finally arrive at the office. They sit down at their desk and transition the same call that started back at home to yet another device, this time to their company laptop connected to a docking station and external monitor.

Once the call is over, they can follow up with a few of the participants via chat. The group chat space comes with read receipts and automatic saving of all messages and files so that it’s simple to find any item and understand how it fits into the workflow. The conversation, thanks to technology, happens in real-time, just like a video or VoIP call.

Help Center: Take a look around the Cisco Webex Teams App UI and get used to your app’s interface 

Takeaways

A few takeaways about this experience:

• The conference call worked reliably across a variety of screen sizes and device capabilities.
Cognitive collaboration features made it easier for participants to follow who was speaking and what was going on.
• The worker didn’t have to use any proprietary cables, dongles, or infrastructure – the team meeting worked entirely over just wireless connections and various apps.
• No emails had to be exchanged and read at any point during the workflow.
• Participants got a much richer experience than a standard phone call would allow, thanks to seamless device switching and added context through messaging.

From start to finish, this workflow kept the entire team connected and on the same page even as at least one participant moved between devices and sites. It’s a stark contrast from traditional approaches to collaboration, which are much more limited by location and hardware.

How collaboration used to work, and why it’s time to move on

The scenario above is an exciting look at how collaboration can play out when everything works. For many employees, though, this workflow is still out of reach due to ongoing reliance on older, less efficient collaboration.

Imagine the same worker, except this time, they begin the workday checking emails in an office. The inbox is overflowing since they’d been out on PTO for a few days. Some of the email threads aren’t even relevant anymore but reading through them first to find that out.

Responding to the handful of items that do require action takes up even more time. To top it all off, the inbox has to be kept open in its browser tab or mail client and checked obsessively throughout the day to see if important messages receive responses.

These types of productivity-draining workflows are all too common. A McKinsey analysis estimated that the typical worker spent 28% of their week on email alone. That’s too much time for too little benefit, as email isn’t real-time and is often challenging to stay on top of – all the more reason to move on to something better. Read how you can use technology to create work-life balance.

Watch how the new Cisco Webex is Built into Your Everyday Workflow

Charting a course toward anytime/anywhere collaboration

There’s a night-and-day difference between traditional and modern collaboration technologies. By investing in newer solutions for cognitive collaboration, video, voice, and chat, organizations can make life easier for their workers while also increasing company-wide productivity. Check out this article on getting the the most out of work-life balance.

Enabling seamless cross-platform collaboration is essential in the context of growing remote work and multi-device setups. Webex can help your team keep up with these trends and stay in touch.

Learn more about Cisco Webex video conferencing solutions and how technology can work together no matter where you are: Get started with a free plan today.

Learn More

Working smarter anywhere – Working remotely 

3 tips for working with remote team members

Tips for WFH when everyone else is home

Still Need Help?

What would you like to do?

Join a Webex online meeting.

Learn more about web meetings and video conferencing.

Sign up for Webex.

Visit our home page or contact us directly for assistance.

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illustration of person cleaning devices with disinfectant
Cleaning shared touch-screen devices

The benefits of touch screen devices 

During the last decade we have seen a rapid increase of touch screen devices in the market. The touch screen has become pervasive in homes, offices, manufacturing and medical environments. This is in part due to the high degree of flexibility that it gives to designers and end-users.  

A touch screen provides a space to share visual content and interact so intuitively that most toddlers can do it without any training. Professional devices in the office space and medical applications draw from this simplicity to create high value products to their customers. 

However, sharing uncleaned touch surfaces is a matter of concern. All public and shared interfaces like keyboards, computer mouse, and office accessories should be properly cleaned to avoid spreading germs. The good news is that simple disinfectants are effective against this! 

Easy disinfecting 

One of the advantages of touch screens are how easy they are to clean. All Cisco Webex Rooms touch screens have glass screen that is resistant to most common alcohol-based disinfectants. As recommended in our guideline, use a solution of 70% isopropyl alcohol onto a clean, soft cloth and wipe gently.  

Several of our products are actively being used in the frontlines of medical research and treatment in hospitals around the world. They help to connect specialists and provide better care to patients. In this situation, keeping devices clean according to medical regulations is critical. Fortunately, the design of Cisco Webex Rooms products allows for thorough surface disinfection. 

Avoid unnecessary touching altogether

Nevertheless, some users prefer to keep their devices personal or avoid unnecessary touching altogether. For these users we would recommend keeping a personal pen for the Webex Board, which can be ordered as a spare part through our partners. The PIDs, depending on the product are in the table. 

CS-BRD-PENKIT=  Cisco Webex Board S Pen Kit – 2 pens with 6 extra tips

 

CS-BRD-PENKITSOFT=  Cisco Webex Board Pen Kit – 3 pens with fixed soft tips 

 

CS-DESK-STYLUSKIT=  Cisco Webex Desk Pro Stylus Kit (2x stylus, 4x tips) 

 

Safety First

Cisco is actively working with the market leaders in the Global Infection Prevention industry on the best ways to clean and disinfect our products for the safety and health of our customers and their employees and will continue to update our guidelines regularly.  

Check out what’s new in RoomOS

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Connect with all of the Webex Rooms blogs

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The new Webex Assistant
Meet the new face of Webex Assistant

Your workplace digital assistant has a new look and, coming soon, an expanded experience.

The new face of Cisco Webex Assistant

You may be familiar with Webex Assistant, the AI-powered voice assistant for work. Now known as Webex Assistant for Webex Rooms, our original digital assistant allows you to control compatible Webex Rooms devices with your voice, making it easy to join a meeting with just a few words, manage your meetings and devices from anywhere in the room, and much more.

As we continue to enhance our collaboration platform with new AI-powered features, we’ve made some improvements to help make your day-to-day tasks more enjoyable. As of June, you’ll see that the hexagonal icon in Webex Assistant for Rooms has been replaced with the new, friendly face of Webex Assistant. With engaging visual animations, your digital assistant is ready to support you anytime you need it. Just say “OK Webex, what can you do?” to get started.

Expanding the Webex Assistant experience

Don’t have a Webex Rooms device? No problem. Webex Assistant is also available in Webex Meetings. With Webex Assistant for Webex Meetings, you and your team will benefit from higher levels of productivity and engagement in every meeting.

Young man smile through the desktop using the Webex Assistant experience

Featuring live transcription, automatic note-taking, voice-activated action items and more, Webex Assistant for Meetings makes the best team collaboration experience even better by allowing you to easily capture every detail during the meeting, so you can keep work moving forward after the meeting.

Learn more

Webex Assistant for Rooms is available now on compatible Webex Rooms devices. Check out the Webex Assistant adoption toolkit to get started.

To be among the first to experience the latest in video conferencing technology with Webex Assistant for Meetings, sign up for your free Webex Meetings account today.

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RoomOS June 2020 update

See what’s new with RoomOS

The beauty of RoomOS is that it is evergreen. Each month, we release new features so that your collaboration experience is always evolving and improving. It’s that time of month again, and I am super excited to bring you some more collaboration magic.

Personal Mode – Whiteboard Improvements

Previously, when you were in personal mode you could not save a whiteboard you worked on when you were not in a call. This made it difficult to whiteboard ad-hoc. We think you deserve a great whiteboarding experience regardless of your device, so now the whiteboard feature works just like the Cisco Webex Board does – meaning you can start, save and retrieve a whiteboard regardless of whether you are in a call or not. If you want to learn more, check out the help article.

Personal Meeting Room (PMR) Easy Join Improvements

Previously, the Webex button has allowed users to join a Webex Meeting or a Personal Meeting Room (PMR) by entering a URI or an 11-digit code. We’ve improved this process, so you can now search for a PMR using the “Join Webex” button, typing in the person’s name. That way you will get results both from your history, and from the cloud search! What’s even more exciting, is that this feature represents the first cloud feature coming to our on-prem customers by using Webex Edge for Devices!

Webex Meetings Joining improvement

Remote mute in Webex Meetings

This one has been highly requested, and we couldn’t be more excited to bring it to you! Now, we offer the opportunity to remotely mute participants in a Webex meeting on a cloud registered device. This is particularly useful for bigger, all-hands style meetings. Due to security reasons, no one can remotely unmute anyone – all participants need to manually unmute themselves if they wish to speak.

Young Man wearing classes in an app showing viewers how to Remote mute in Webex Meetings

Lock Meetings

At Cisco we talk a lot about security and privacy, and we really practice what we preach. In the Webex app, you can lock your meetings and your PMR, so no one can dial in and crash your meeting. We are now making it possible to do this directly from a video device, so that you do not need to open the app to lock/unlock the meeting. Whenever you are the host of a meeting a lock button will appear on screen, and the meeting will remain locked until you manually choose to unlock it. This way, you can be assured that no one external will “bomb” your meeting.

Webex Board and Desk Pro Touch-Redirect in call

We’ve had touch redirect for a while now, and this was a feature that was highly appreciated by our education customers. Now, you can also use the touch-redirect while in a call!

If you want to learn more, check out the help article.

That’s it for June, and I hope you all have a wonderful summer. Until next time!

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June update of Webex Teams

Summer is here! And with it comes the June update of Webex Teams and lots of fun new features. Let’s talk about what you can look forward to this month… 

MESSAGING & APP EXPERIENCE

Use Webex Teams in a Windows or Linux Virtual (VDI) Environment (Windows)

We’ve now added support for Webex Teams in a Windows or Linux virtual (VDI) environment. You can use all the built-in messaging, meetings, and calling functionality that you’re used to. Extra calling features are also available if your administrator has enabled them for you.

Mobile gets a makeover (iPhone, iPad and Android)

We’ve made some improvements to the design of the mobile app. Your profile picture, search area and device connection now remain at the top of the app as you move through each tab. There is also a new floating button for quicker access to tasks such as creating a space or sending a direct message.

Reactions that move! (Windows, Mac, iPhone iPad and Android)

We’ve made some exciting changes to our reactions – you’ll now see that they move! When you or somebody else reacts to a message you’ll see an animated reaction.

emojis: celebration, heart, thumbs up, smile, cry, astonish, and sad

See when people are busy through Outlook (Windows and Mac)

If you use the Outlook presence integration with Webex Teams, you’ll now see a new presence state – a Busy state in Outlook. When people are In a meetingOn a call, or Presenting in Webex Teams, they will show as Busy in Outlook.

Resize your app to be as small as you like (Windows and Mac)

Minimum size has been reduced and you can now resize the Webex Teams app to be as small as you like, making multitasking that much easier. Note that some elements may look unusual when the app is reduced past a certain size, and this is expected.

Add up to 30 people at once (Windows and Mac)

We’ve made it easier for you to bulk add people to a space or a team. You’ll be able to copy a list of up to 30 people and their emails from either Outlook or from Excel and paste them into any Add People input area in Webex Teams, including Create a Space, Create a Team and the People tab within an existing space. When you paste the email list, the 30 users are staged (you’ll see their profile pictures) for you to review and confirm before clicking ‘Add’.

30 profiles of men and women open up on Teams

Add links to your messages (Mac)

Today, you can add a link to text in Webex Teams through mark-down. We’ve improved that experience for you and made it a lot easier to insert a link into a message. You can now select an option to insert a link from the Format Text menu, this will pop up a new dialog box where you can add a link and edit the text of the link that you want to display in your message.

Team space showing a message being linked to a url

New faces & illustrations! (iPhone, iPad and Android)

You’ll be able to enjoy some of our new friendly characters and illustrations on the Space list, Open Search, Search results, Calls, and Filters.

friendly images including tangerine cat under water looking at an empty oyster shell and under a bunch of leaves. Small blue jays on tree branches

Have a peek into a space on iOS (iPhone and iPad)

When you have an unread space and you’re not sure if you want to open it or not, you can now ‘peek’ inside the space to see the most recent message there. To use, simply long press on a space and the preview will appear.

MEETINGS

See more people at the same time (Mac)

It’s here! The long-awaited grid view for Webex Teams meetings will be landing into your Mac app this June. You’ll now be able to see up to nine people at once during a meeting, making it that much easier to collaborate. The option will be available on the top right of your meeting window.

many faces looking at the computer screen representing multiple diverse people

CALLING

The calling service your administrator has set up for you determines which calling features you can use. If ­­­­you’re not sure what calling service you have, see Webex Teams | Find Out What Calling Service You Have.

Webex Calling

Add Contacts, Search Your Contacts, and Make a Call (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

Add your co-workers into your Contacts list and group them however you like, making people easier to find when you need to chat or call. And on your mobile app, you can call someone from your Contact list and the calls remains in Webex Teams (your device’s calling app isn’t used).

You can even look up your Outlook contacts (Windows), local address book (Mac), and local phone contacts (iPhone, iPad, and Android) from Webex Teams, so you can easily find your contacts and make a call.

Add Contact

Call Control for Webex Teams Calls (Windows and Mac)

If you’re using a Cisco 700 series headset, you can use its USB adapter or Bluetooth to answer and end your calls, put calls on hold and resume them, as well as mute and unmute calls. 

Voicemail (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

No more missing calls in Webex Teams. You get a dedicated Voicemail tab to manage all your voicemail. There’s a red badge counter that lets you know how many voice messages you have. You can check out the details of a message, play it, mark it as read, delete it or call back the sender. After you’ve listened to your messages, either with Webex Teams or your desk phone, the red badge counter disappears.

We already support this feature for Unified CM on desktop. See Webex Teams | Voicemail.

Voicemail (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

Desk Phone Control Features (Windows and Mac)

When you dial a number from the app on your desktop and the call goes through your desk phone, you can put the call on hold or resume the call from your desktop app.

Desk Phone Control Features (Windows and Mac)

Missed Calls (Windows and Mac)

See how many calls you’ve missed with a red badge counter in the Calls tab. The Calls tab shows a list of incoming and outgoing calls and you can call someone back from your Call History. Your scheduled meetings are listed in the Meetings tab, making it easier for you to distinguish between the two types of communication.

Call Forward (iPhone and Android)

If you’re going to be away from your desk but don’t want to miss an important phone call, you can forward your calls to another phone number. Or, if you don’t want to be interrupted, you can send all your calls to voicemail instead.

We already support Call Forwarding in Calling in Webex Teams (Webex Calling) on your desktop. See Webex Teams | Forward Phone Calls.

Call Forward (iPhone and Android)

Single Number Reach (iPhone and Android)

With Single Number Reach, all incoming calls to your users’ work phones ring other numbers at the same time. You can add any numbers you want in your call settings.

We already support this feature in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on desktop. See Webex Teams | Get Phone Calls at Any Number.

Unified CM

Add Contacts, Search Your Contacts, and Make a Call (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

Add your co-workers into your Contacts list and group them however you like, making people easier to find when you need to chat or call. And on your mobile app, you can call someone from your Contact list and the calls remains in Webex Teams (your device’s calling app isn’t used).

You can even look up your Outlook contacts (Windows), local address book (Mac), and local phone contacts (iPhone, iPad, and Android) from Webex Teams, so you can easily find your contacts and make a call.

Call Control for Webex Teams Calls (Windows and Mac)

If you’re using a Cisco 700 series headset, you can use its USB adapter or Bluetooth to answer and end your calls, put calls on hold and resume them, as well as mute and unmute calls.

Call Pickup (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

If you’re in a customer support role and your co-worker isn’t able to answer an incoming call to their phone, you get a notification in Webex Teams if you’re both in the same pickup group. You can answer their call from the notification you get in the app. You can also pick up the calls in other pickup groups.

Look up contacts in Webex Teams

Share a Specific Application (Windows and Mac)

When you make a video call, you can choose a specific application to share, rather than having to share your whole screen.

Hunt Groups (Windows, Mac, iPhone and Android)

If your administrator sets you up with the Hunt Group calling feature, you can sign in or out of a Hunt Group from your Call Settings. When you’re signed in and a call comes into a group that you belong to, you’ll see the Hunt Group number on your incoming call notification.

Share Your Screen (Windows and Mac)

You can call someone from the app and have them answer your call on their desk phone and you can still share your screen with them. They can see your shared screen from their phone if the phone supports video, otherwise they’ll see the shared screen from the app.

You can share your screen regardless of whether the person you called is using a cloud-registered device or an on-premises device. Your screen share is still sent with a high frame rate (30 FPS), high resolution (1080p), and includes audio.

Lock Symbol for Secure Phone Calls (iPhone and Android)

When you’re on a secure phone call, you’ll now see a lock symbol letting you know that it’s secure. We’ve already made this available in Calling in Webex Teams (Unified CM) on your desktop.

For more information on this and upcoming updates to Webex Teams, check out our help page here.

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AI brain illustration
Using AI to create more engaging meetings

Artificial intelligence (AI) has many possible use cases. It is an important part of everything from voice-activated assistants such as Apple Siri, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant, to specialized applications that can screen pharmaceutical candidates en masse.

It’s no surprise, then, that AI can also be incorporated into online meeting software. Numerous manual and time-consuming activities during a normal web conference can be streamlined through integrated AI. In Cisco Webex, AI can play an important role in creating a more engaging experience for all attendees.

Why AI is needed in online meetings

Think of an audio or video conference you’ve joined in the past. Was the joining experience seamless? Who’s been in a meeting where the first 5 min are a wash because one member is working through the trouble of joining…

Maybe you can recall a meeting that didn’t exactly go according to script or had a few hiccups along the way. The possibilities here are endless, but some of the common sticking points include:

  • Needing to enter a long dial-in number and PIN to get into the meeting.
  • Having to endure choppy audio and video quality.
  • Struggling with meeting controls for muting, sharing the screen, etc.
  • Capturing key action items via physical notes or and generating transcripts.

Together, such issues make too many meetings aimless and difficult to participate in. The costs of these unproductive meetings are high.

Not only do they eat up time that could have gone toward other activities (like all meetings do), but they also don’t even achieve their stated purpose. That leads to additional meetings needing to be scheduled, resulting in more time being consumed. It’s a snowball effect. This is where AI can help.

How AI supports more productive and less annoying meetings

The AI features in Webex are designed to save time and help during multi-tasking such as teaching kids while home, and driving for no-touch and other automating numerous tasks that previously required a lot of manual intervention. Let’s look at how some of these features work in practice.

Voice controls

Imagine a world where your voice can:

  • Join or leave the meeting.
  • Start or end the meeting.
  • Make or end a phone call.
  • Increase or decrease the volume.
  • Mute or unmute a participant.
  • Enter or leave a host’s personal meeting room.
  • Manage connected devices.

It’s all as simple as saying the relevant keyword (activation phrase) and then telling the virtual assistant what you want to do. Read more

Transcription

Taking notes during a meeting can be hectic. Sometimes, you literally cannot type fast enough to keep up with what’s being said. Notes can also be too fragmentary to be useful after the fact, as they might lack sufficient context.

  • Transcribe your entire meeting
  • Included out of the box
  • No 3rd party software needed
  • Safe and secure
  • Auto-generated closed caption
  • Automatic note taking

With AI in place, all of these problems become moot. All of these assets can be downloaded after the meeting is over, along with a complete recording of the session. Advanced keyword search allows you to quickly find what you’re looking for, even across multiple saved recordings if need be.

Other post-meeting actions

Sharing a recording or transcript is often a good step after a meeting ends, if only to make sure that everyone has it for their records. AI assistants can help you take other follow-up actions that extract even more valuable information and insights from a meeting.

  • highlighting and capturing designated action items during the meeting based on highlighted keywords.
  • AI may also do some of this information gathering automatically. These summary highlights, action items, recordings, and transcripts can be shared via email with all or selected meeting attendees for a clear overview of what was discussed and what might require subsequent action.

Security and compliance, assured

Recording and transcribing a meeting, even via AI assistant, can create some potential legal complications. Many jurisdictions require consent from all parties involved before a meeting can be recorded. There’s also the issue of where the data is being sent and stored by the AI algorithms in question.

All of the infrastructure behind a successful AI assistant – data centers, networks, clouds, etc. – must be secure against possible data leakage and cyberattacks that could expose the sensitive matters discussed. In Webex, all of the technical processing is done entirely within the Cisco ecosystem for maximum safety.

Implementing AI in your meetings

One of the biggest benefits of AI is that it’s always improving, as its algorithms are refined, and it has more exposure to relevant data. It can improve your web conferences right away and also give you access to continual enhancements.

Get started with a free Cisco Webex plan today!

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Man lying on couch with computer on lap during a meeting wearing headphones and petting a little dog on his lap
New ways of working is easy with Webex

Transitioning to the new world of work

As many people shifted to remote work over the past couple of months the world discovered that work can be accomplished from anywhere. In fact, some people even discovered that you can be just as productive or more … outside of the office. We, at Cisco, also had to transition to remote work just like everyone else.

So, fast forward to now and remote work might seem like a good option for more people longer term. Some might be considering a hybrid approach, consisting of a blend of remote work and onsite visits to the office. The big question is how to make it sustainable, seamless and safe for people and organizations. Especially when employees are engaging in private conversations and sharing confidential business information and strategies during their workday.

The good news is that Cisco has been thinking about this modern work experience and enabling people to work from anywhere. How do we make distributed teams as effective as co-located teams, maybe even more? Enabling them to do all the things that they would typically do in the office such as meet, share, collaborate and ideate on a whiteboard with a co-worker.

Shift from physical office to remote work experiences

Shift from Physical Office to Remote Work Experiences
At Cisco, we saw the shift occurring from the traditional world of work to this new reality – and we have been adapting to this new way of work with our own collaboration solutions.

Webex app (Webex Teams)

We bring this vision to life with our Webex App. Our modern collaboration tool provides users with the ability to call, message, meet and share regardless of location, on a desktop and mobile device. We keep work moving forward with easy integrations and meeting our customers where they are with APIs and SDKs, bots, buttons and cards, embedded apps, and native integrations to enable seamless workflows. Currently, we offer easy integrations with over 24,000 3rd party apps and over 64,000 bots. 

We are excited about our latest new integration with Box so users can easily access, co-edit and manage files from within the Webex App. The Box integration is in addition to existing ones in place with Microsoft OneDrive and Google. We are also launching the new Telehealth Connectors to help scale and streamline the virtual healthcare experience. Enabling healthcare staff and patients to connect via simple, easy-to-use video telehealth consultations, scheduled directly from their Epic EMR portal. 

A single app to work securely from anywhere, on any device

To support small and midsize organizations with up to 1,000 users – we are making Webex more affordable. The new Webex Work bundle is now available and includes essential, secure calling, meetings and messaging in a single, affordable plan that is easy to but, set-up and support. It also supports rapidly the changing needs of SMBs, with a utility-based model where you subscribe for a committed set of named users, then add and remove additional “uncommitted” users through the course of your agreement, via self-service provisioning in Webex Control Hub, billed monthly in arrears. For example, if you are a small retailer looking to ramp up staffing for the Holiday season, simply add more “uncommitted” users in Webex Control Hub when you need them and remove them when no longer required.

As you can see, we are making work easier than ever with Webex, no matter where you want to work from, or what work you do in this new world of work.  

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