How Cisco’s Webex is adapting to India’s growing appetite for safe and secure video-conferencing

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July 28, 2020 4:19 PM

India is the second largest consumer base for Webex globally (second to only the US) and the Cisco campus in Bangalore marks the company's largest presence outside of San Jose.

webexIndia is the second largest consumer of Webex. (Photo credit: Saurabh Singh/Financial Express)

Webex is one of the oldest and most reputed players in the video-conferencing space. Founded in 1995 and acquired by Cisco in 2007, Webex has always attracted a select clientele, though with time and the ongoing global pandemic scenario, things have been changing. Like its oldest rivals, Microsoft and Google, and new emerging ones like Zoom, Cisco’s Webex is also witnessing a surge in usage — and expansion in its user base (for some context, the service registered a record 324 million attendees in March).

India is the second largest consumer base for Webex globally (second to only the US) and the Cisco campus in Bangalore marks the company’s largest presence outside of San Jose (where Cisco is actually headquartered). It’s obvious then that Cisco and Webex are well at home in India. Financial Express Online spoke exclusively to Daisy Chittilapilly, who is managing director, digital transformation office, at Cisco India & SAARC to understand the platform’s journey, how it is adapting to the growing demand from India’s hinterlands, its privacy standards and more. Excerpts.

Cisco and Webex have been around for so long, and it’s just interesting to hear directly from you what the strategy and the roadmap is right now, when all of your services and tools have become so relevant. Can you talk about your journey?

Daisy: Webex for Cisco is certainly not a new platform. But I think, materially, what is different in terms of the timing of when we are speaking today is the mass adoption of Webex that we have seen happening in a post COVID-19 world, for sure. In the way that Cisco internally leverages Webex, there’s no difference pre and post Covid, because we were always an 85% work-from-home enabled enterprise at the global level and in India as well. It was really a choice of the employees, whether they wanted to come into office physically or not. So, for us, not much has changed from an internal perspective, but certainly a lot has changed from an external perspective especially in terms of adoption, for both existing customers as well as first-time users.

In the last three months we’ve seen almost 1.6 billion people attending meetings on our platform; almost 240 million+ meetings hosted by about 125 million people, but with a participant list of a little over 1.6 billion people. And that’s come from all nooks and corners of the planet, across 239 countries.

India is the second largest consumer of Webex for Cisco globally outside the US, which as you know is our HQ. And in India, what we are seeing in terms of new adoption is almost 3 million plus clients – free trials have been downloaded by first time users. And in terms of meeting statistics to date we’ve done almost 33 million meetings with a little over 230 million participants in the country. In terms of stats, this is pretty phenomenal.

And it is not just (because of) COVID and lockdown syndrome because what we saw in June during Unlock 1.0 in the country, in India as an example, is actually a 25% bump in the number of meetings and a 70% bump in the number of participants in meetings. So clearly, adoption has gone through the roof.

What sort of initiatives have you taken in the past few months to help serve your clients better?

Daisy: This is unprecedented. We and our customers and partners have been reinventing on the fly, trying to stay alive and help people as much as possible.

I think we figured out quickly that we had to get people working from anywhere – working from home for the most part. Extending the boundaries of our existing clients was the first order of the day. In April, we had to move 600 of our largest enterprise customers into a work from home setup. And for Cisco, it was not just about Webex. Working from home is also about extending your networks to your home, having security layers that make sure that you are not compromised if you’re working from home or working from outside the enterprise boundaries. It’s also about ensuring that applications in your data centres are made available at home as democratically as they were when you were within the enterprise.

Our first response was to put out easily consumable software on a trial basis for 90 days to be used not just by large enterprises, but also by first time users. We are coming towards the close of those trials this month. Going forward, we’re trying to make sure that we are easily accessible and available to people who are probably not so well acquainted with our partner ecosystem. We’ve gone online with a forum for Webex portal and the beauty of all this is that people can buy in bite-sized chunks.

We see orders coming in from almost 170 cities in India. That means there is a lot of appetite for the right technology, even in the hinterlands of India. Almost 55% of the buyers are small and medium companies and other 20% plus are actually individuals, buying in their individual capacity.

Can you talk about some of the key features of Webex that set it apart from rivals? Who is your ideal target audience — this is important because this is changing for your rivals in the pandemic situation.

Daisy: We have four or five large customer segments in the country. We cater to telecom players, the government, enterprises, as well as small and medium businesses. Consumer segment is traditionally not a space in which Cisco has been strong. But, this is changing (gradually). We customise our product offers and services to the target segments that we would like to operate in. That is an ongoing thing, and we continue to evolve as we speak.

Interoperability is something that Cisco thinks about all the time – interoperability with Cisco’s other technologies, but also interoperability with other technologies, because customers don’t have a 100% Cisco world, we’re very cognizant of that. Cisco thinks of artificial intelligence and analytics as a capability embedded into every platform that we provide to our customers. WebEx can already do things like recognising you when you walk into a room. It can count and recognise how many people are in a room, count the number of people in a conference room, etc. With every version of Webex, the intelligence engine is getting better and better.

Can you also talk about your privacy and security standards?

Daisy: For us, things like end-to-end encryption are very important on the platform, and it’s always a balancing act between performance and security. But we do our best on both sides. So clearly, compared to a lot of our competitors as well, perhaps that is one element of differentiation.

We don’t record any meetings. Recorded meetings are announced to all participants. You have capabilities like transcribing meetings – it can do minutes of the meeting straight off the platform. In every meeting, whatever sort of enterprise you’re in, there is someone making notes, and then distributing those notes. Our Webex can actually do that, but if you don’t want it to do that, it can also not do that. Transcripts are available off the meeting.

We don’t expect customers to buy standalone technology and then think about how to build security over-riders on top of it. I think it’s expecting too much. It should be okay for customers to assume that a product is secure when they source it from someone like Cisco for sure.

Can you talk about your data centres and servers? Are they all locally available in India, and does data of Indian users stay inside India?

Daisy: It is not a capability (data centres, servers) we have in India today but it’s certainly something that’s being looked at very actively. We may consider bringing in these capabilities in compliance with India’s laws and legislations.

Our data centres are located all over the world. So we don’t have a single place where we host our data centres.

So, data of Indian users can be routed through China?

Daisy: I can confirm it is not. Our customers know (this) very well when they sign on Webex contracts. The customer contract clauses clearly mention data repatriation, and all of the Webex data exchange, and not just on Webex, by the way, because all Cisco platforms are governed by contract clauses which customers look at, their legal teams look at, and is in concurrence with the law of the land.

Can you talk about your India team and what sort of investments you’ve made in the country?

Daisy: We have direct employment of about 12,000 odd people. Again, India is not a new place for Cisco. We first came to India in 1995. This is the 25th anniversary of Cisco’s presence in the country.

The Cisco campus in Bangalore is often called the Globalisation Centre (of the) East, because it’s a mirror to our global operations – it is our largest presence outside of San Jose, which is our headquarters. In terms of the number of people, every Cisco function that you can find anywhere in the world is aggregated here. There are core capabilities that have been built. Core services, which are delivered from this. For example, one of our technical assistance centres is actually in Bangalore (we have only four such centres in the world). There are over 1,000 patents filed from our India R&D.

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