Q&A: Cisco's Jeetu Patel on Apple, Webex, and the hybrid enterprise

"I don’t believe you can be a credible provider of enterprise software if you’re not part of the Apple ecosystem today," says Jeetu Patel, general manager and executive vice president, Cisco security and collaboration.

Apple, Cisco, Webex, iPad, Tim Cook, mobile, remote work, hybrid workplace models

Cisco’s Webex One event takes place this week, with the company introducing a much-improved version of Webex for iPad. I wanted to find out more about the Apple/Cisco partnership and the company's thoughts around the emerging hybrid workplace, so I reached out to Jeetu Patel, general manager and executive vice president, Cisco security and collaboration for more information.

A six-year partnership for enterprise tech

First, a little background.

As you may recall, Apple and Cisco in 2015 first announced plans for “a partnership to create a fast lane for iOS business users by optimizing Cisco networks for iOS devices and apps, integrating iPhone with Cisco enterprise environments, and providing unique collaboration on iPhone and iPad.”

Since then, we’ve seen Cisco commit to the partnership. Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke at Cisco Live and now we have Center Stage, Split View, picture-in-picture, and Apple Pencil support in Webex on iPad. Apple currently uses Webex for many of its external communications.

It may be of interest that Queen Elizabeth also uses the platform. She’s not alone. Cisco says Webex was used by more than 300 million people as the pandemic began.

Webex is just one of the more visible technologies from Cisco, but for most Apple users much of the platform innovation to emerge from the partnership may seem more opaque.

What follows is an interview with Patel conducted via email. (I have added explanatory links where required, though most were not provided by Cisco.)

Since Apple and Cisco announced an enterprise partnership, what have you achieved?

"One of our goals in working with Apple is centered on creating amazing experiences for Apple device users on Cisco networks. This involves testing for all verticals, all scenarios, and all configurations. We complement this by adding additional features that make the user experience even better. These features include innovations like iOS roaming optimizations and FastlanePlus.

"As new technologies and standards emerge, Cisco and Apple have continued to innovate to extend optimizations to these new environments (i.e. FastlanePlus on Wi-Fi 6 in 2020). By enabling Apple devices to operate more efficiently on the network, we’ve seen 8x reduction in real-time application reported issues with Fastlane, and 40% application performance improvement on Wi-Fi 6 networks, with FastlanePlus. 

"We’re also taking advantage of innovations from Apple such as biometrics and touch/Face ID which we’ve used in our passwordless solution in our Zero Trust efforts within Cisco’s Security business."

You announced Webex for iPad. Are you working to develop more native experiences across other Apple platforms? Why did you begin with the iPad? 

"Flexibility for employees in when, where, and how they work is critical. We started with the iPad because we saw a huge uptick in mobile (200% increase in Webex Meetings usage from mobile devices in the past 18 months) and will focus on providing the most platform-native and optimized video conferencing experience across iPad, iPhone, and Mac – keeping our shared obsession with the user experience at the center of everything we do. This is only the beginning of our partnership, and I am thrilled about the work our teams have done together already."

How closely with Apple’s teams did you work?

"We worked hand and hand with Apple, and look forward to a continued partnership in the future.  Our goal is to ensure that as Apple enhances its platform with new functionality, that Webex takes full advantage of those innovations to provide the best experience for our users on Apple devices."

Is it correct that Cisco now has a team dedicated to developing Webex for Apple products?

"The way that we think about software is that it's perpetually incomplete because there are always new ideas on how we can make it better. At Cisco, we have a dedicated team that is hyper-focused on building features that use Apple's newest technologies quickly after they are released. This team is focused on continuing to improve Webex by working with the Apple ecosystem."

What do you see as the big role of AI in enterprise tech? How profoundly does Cisco expect AI to transform the enterprise?

"We have been using AI very heavily for several years.

"Some of the innovations in Webex that we are proud of include audio intelligence capabilities such as noise removal, speech-to-text transcription, intent detection with natural language, camera intelligence technology, gesture recognition and more (see our most recent Webex innovations for hybrid work here). 

"Webex is directly driving expanded and effective use of AI in communication and collaboration, especially as the world migrates towards more distributed hybrid work patterns, and in integration of third-party enterprise applications with the Webex collaboration environment itself as a backbone for workflows and increased enterprise agility.   

"Cisco sees AI — especially deep learning — driving fundamental shifts in every dimension of the enterprise. This includes applications delivered to customers in every vertical segment, in management of operations and workflows, in support of customers, in communication and collaboration across internal teams, partners, suppliers, and customers, in compliance, in human resources, and in strategic decision making.

"These shifts are powered by more responsive, more sophisticated application behaviors harnessing the exponential expansion of available enterprise and market data. AI methods are ideally suited to leverage that data. However, the use of that data also creates new challenges in data security, system robustness, privacy, and ethical system considerations.  

"In addition, Cisco is leveraging its deep history and commitment to security, privacy, and responsible AI to pioneer and proliferate improved AI development flows that ensure full attention to fairness, transparency, accountability, privacy, data rights and security concerns in AI-based systems and applications."

The last two years have been dominated by the pandemic and the acceleration of an existing trend toward hybrid and remote working. Does Cisco think people will ever go back?

"We have entered the era of flexibility, choice, and inclusivity. Data shows work has changed forever and that the future of work is hybrid. We know people want choice, as 64% agree that the ability to work remotely instead of coming into an office directly affects whether they stay or leave a job.

"Work styles and work preferences are different for everyone. There is no one-size-fits-all. But technology is core to driving inclusivity and connectedness with employees regardless of remote or in-person preferences. Our goal is to help 'level the playing field' and enable a more inclusive future where everyone can participate, regardless of geography, language preference, personality type, or familiarity with technology. "

We’ve seen a big increase in Apple adoption across the enterprise in the last two years. IDC at one point described a 23% increase in Mac sales to the enterprise. Is this what Cisco sees?

"There is a high percentage penetration of Apple in the enterprise today. I don’t believe you can be a credible provider of enterprise software if you’re not part of the Apple ecosystem today. I expect Apple’s adoption to increase over the next six years as well with their priority for security and privacy today, a topmost concern for enterprises."

What role does employee choice play in this?

"Employee choice plays a big role when it comes to technology adoption in enterprises. Apple builds products people love. So naturally, employees love their products. We take a great amount of inspiration from Apple as they build legendary products."

Is it fair to characterize the last decade as being a revolution in enterprise tech? 

"Technology has revolutionized almost every aspect of our daily lives and transformed our society. Over the last decade, and especially in the last 18 months, enterprise technology had to transform and adapt to the new world of remote and hybrid work. This is only the beginning — the rate of transformation [we have seen] will dwarf in comparison to what we’ll see in the next decade."

Employees now want to choose their platforms, control their device choices, crave tech that’s as easy to use as what they use at home, and want to work remotely. How has Cisco handled that transition for itself and for its clients?

"We’re in an era of flexibility, choice, and inclusivity. People want assurance that they can use the tech that they want at any location and time that they want. We believe tech companies must adjust to this dynamic or be left behind. One of the key areas that is extremely important to focus on is interoperability across an ecosystem of providers which we take very seriously."

How would Cisco characterise its current relationship with Apple, and (in a broad sense) what do both companies see coming over the horizon for what they can offer the enterprise?

"Over the past six years we have worked together with Apple across networking and security, and now we’re addressing the hybrid work experience. We believe Apple products are truly world class and set the highest example for how products should be built for business. We value our partnership and look forward to our continued work together."

What else can you add that I might have missed with my questions?

"Hybrid work represents a massive shift in how we all think about work itself, not just how we collaborate. We’re in the midst of the biggest transition for organizations today as they work to engage a distributed workforce and reimagine work environments, safety, and tools for their employees. There are layers to getting hybrid work right to level the playing field and provide equal opportunity to all. 

"To get hybrid work right requires technology, culture, and facilities to integrate and align tighter than ever. Hybrid work is cross-functional – a joint effort between three key functions within an organization: IT, HR and Facilities. 

  • IT teams are thinking through the significant technology changes that they need to manage and support. 
  • HR and People teams are thinking about how hybrid work impacts culture, employee well-being, retention, and recruiting. 
  • Facilities teams are completely re-imagining the physical workspace. They’re thinking about how offices are configured to optimize the experience…not just for the people physically together in the office, but also the ones not in the office."

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