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Cisco Systems chasing Zoom with revamped Webex Suite



After watching Zoom Video Communications catch the imagination–and business dollars–of the public during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s mothership, Cisco Systems, decided that its own Webex franchise needed to get back into its virtual uniform and fight for the marketshare it lost in the last year and a half.

At its Future of Work online event, Cisco launched an entirely new Webex in an effort to regain its market position as the world’s top videoconferencing vendor, which it had held since acquiring the company in 2007. Over the years, Webex faced many competitors, but it managed to stay No. 1. But when Zoom took off like its name in 2020 under co-founder, CEO and former Webex product manager Eric Yuan, many industry watchers believed Webex’s best days were behind it.

In the U.S., Zoom currently owns 60% of the online videoconferencing market share and rising. Globally, Zoom handles about  300 million daily meeting participants. The top 10 competitors in to Zoom are Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Skype, Webex, RingCentral, 8×8, Fuze, LogMeIn, Mitel and Vonage, roughly in that order.

Globally, however, the story is different. A total of 41 countries–including Poland, Iceland, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates, each with a ruling market share of more than 40%–said Microsoft Teams was the No. 1 go-to digital meeting platform over Zoom, which is said to be reformulating its global marketing strategy.

No. 3 in the global market is Google Meet, with 21 countries–such as Denmark, Italy and Romania–choosing the platform. In fourth place is Skype, which saw the biggest loss with a 25.8% drop year-over-year in market share in a March 2021 study. In that poll, Zoom was named the most popular virtual call/meeting platform in the world and ranked No. 1 in 44 of the 118 countries polled. 

List of new features

To bolster its standing in this active market, Cisco on June 8 announced a list of new features designed to make hybrid working–from home and/or office–easier. In some recent research, Cisco found that prior to the pandemic, only 8% of meetings had at least one virtual participant. Looking ahead, that number is expected to grow to a whopping 98%, Cisco said. Clearly, hybridization is the way of the future, the company said.

Cisco on June 8 announced the following improvements, which are expected to be rolled out by midsummer:

  • New pricing: Webex will now be sold as a suite, in which customers will have access to everything Webex–including meetings, calling, messaging, polling and events–for one price.  Exact pricing will vary by customers, channel partner and other factors; customers should expect to pay about 40% less than purchasing things a-la-carte, Cisco said. 

  • End-to-end events: The term “event” is broad and can include everything from a small meeting to webinars to a large conference. The events portion of Webex includes all of the above, with the large event experience being powered by IP from its  Socio Labs acquisition

  • Audience interaction tools: One of the more compelling event features comes from the Slido acquisition, because it brings audience engagement capabilities such as polling, quizzes and Q&A. These can also be used in live events for a speaker to interact with the audience more efficiently. 

  • Audio intelligence: Building upon Webex’s current noise removal and speech enhancement capabilities, Cisco said users will have the new ability of speech optimization for remote and shared workspaces through My Voice Only to eliminate background noise–including speech from people in the background–and solely focus on the main speaker. 

  • Camera intelligence: Earlier this year, Cisco announced People Focus, which uses machine learning and AI to individually re-frame meeting participants who are spread across a meeting room, allowing remote participants to feel more connected and everyone in the meeting to benefit from seeing body language, facial expressions and more. 

  • New devices: The Webex Desk is an all-in-one collaboration device designed for desks at work or home. Immersive collaboration experiences are delivered via touch interactions in the Webex RoomOS that connects workflows with less context switching. The Webex Assistant Skills platform opens a group of voice-powered extensions to integrate more controls, content and applications for Webex devices.  

  • Secure experiences: Real-time data loss prevention (DLP) for Webex, which automatically blocks and removes confidential information, will be available in Messaging. With real-time DLP, users are prohibited from posting classified content rather than redacting or deleting content after it is posted. Additionally, European Webex customers will be able to host and process their content within the EU. Webex users will also benefit from the improved end-to-end encryption options. 

Usability needed an upgrade

Analyst Zeus Kerravala, principal at ZK Research who follows Cisco closely, said he believes Webex certainly had areas of strength–such as security and scale–but it clearly lagged behind many of the upstarts in usability.

“It didn’t have many of the whiz-bang features–such as virtual backgrounds–that users seemed to like,” Kerravala said. “Since then, the company has come roaring back and has quickly and methodically added feature after feature. Over the past nine months, Cisco has added more than 800 new features to Webex and added capabilities through four acquisitions, which include BabbleLabs (noise reduction), immobile (contact center intelligence), Slido (audience interaction) and Socio (events platform).”

Kerravala said that hybrid working is here to stay. 

“This puts an emphasis on workers’ ability to collaborate with one another,” Kerravala said. “Historically, the collaboration industry has been filled with disjointed tools that force users to be the integration point. The new Webex removes much of the heavy lifting and creates an experience that is easy, yet full-featured and secure.”

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AfterPay CEO believes Australia has an opportunity to be a tech talent exporter



Anthony Eisen, co-founder and CEO of Australia’s buy now, pay later platform AfterPay, has told the audience of Macquarie Technology Summit that Australia has an opportunity to be an exporter of top tech talent.

“Australia is an incredibly attractive place where you can base global talent that don’t have limitations anymore in terms of being able to do business globally, particularly if it’s tech-based,” he said on Thursday.

“I think there’s a real opportunity to make this more of an export-style industry for our country. I think the government recognises that, and they’re doing more and more to facilitate it.”

He described that Australia’s tech talent pool is “very strong” and something that AfterPay reaps the benefit of first-hand.

“We’ve seen Australian talent, when they have the opportunity to build globally scalable platforms, just shine very strongly, particularly as Australians in our company have moved internationally with our business,” he said.

Recent statistics by Hays, however, indicated that Australia and New Zealand’s tech sector continues to suffer from a severe skills shortage, particularly as international borders remain shut.

For Eisen though, he believes distance should no longer be an excuse for why talent cannot be easily sourced.

“The tyranny of distance is lost with technology-based businesses. The most fabulous thing about the opportunity to build a platform that’s scalable is that it does transcend borders, especially when you look at what we’ve been through with COVID,” he said.  

He pointed out that AfterPay continues to run its head office out of Australia, despite operating in countries including the United States, United Kingdom, and Asia.

“We haven’t regionalised our business, we’ve globalised our business, and while we have global functions now, it’s not about concentration in a geography … and that’s why I also say Australia can be a global head office in a lot of ways,” he said. 

“The global leadership team is spread out … [and] is split between Sydney, Melbourne, San Francisco, London, and we have a core group in Asia as well, so just approaching it that way I think is quite important and something we’re trying to get better at as we grow.” 

Besides exporting tech talent, being able attract talent to Australia and see them establish companies locally is equally important, Eisen said. 

“I think as Australia gets more and more on the map, being able just to attract that experience onto our shores is really important to mix with the talent that we have here,” he said.

“Australia has now produced a whole lot of pretty fantastic global startups that have become scale ups, terrific companies … but the more and more companies from Australia that can grow in that fashion, I think it’s really leading the light.”

During his virtual Q&A, Eisen also took the opportunity to highlight that AfterPay will soon be launching Money By AfterPay, which Eisen described as where “customers will actually be able to deposit money and they’ll have savings goals, and budgeting goals, and different services that go around our platform.”

In March, AfterPay, together with Zip Co, agreed to a buy now, pay later code of practice that was developed by the Australian Finance Industry Association as a vow to be transparent and focus on the needs of the customer.


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Telstra wins 15-year Yarra Valley Water IoT contract



Telstra has scored itself a contract with Yarra Valley Water to provide one million industrial IoT services on its IoT network.

The contract, touted as Telstra’s largest IoT deal to date, will span over 15 years.

As part of the deal, Telstra will enable Yarra Valley Water to utilise its new cloud-based platform-as-a-service IoT connection manager (ICM), as well as its cellular low power wide area network to access IoT coverage of about 4 million square kilometre for NB-IoT and over 3 million square kilometre for LTE-M. 

Telstra industry solutions and IoT group owner Mark Chapman claimed both networks were built specifically for scaled IoT deployments, including in challenging locations such as underground where digital meters are often located.

“Instead of getting four data points a year, our IoT connection manager will now allow Yarra Valley Water to get more than 17,000 data points annually for a much more accurate, near real-time, and robust understanding of its water infrastructure,” he said.

Leveraging both, according to Telstra, would enable Yarra Valley Water to automatically receive readings in near real time from in-field sensors so that the company can proactively prevent leaks from bursting, sewer blockages from becoming spills, and notifying customers about issues on their properties so they can act quickly.

“Internet of Things devices are a game changer for the water industry. By deploying a range of different sensors into our water and sanitation networks, we can detect leaks, minimise water wastage and save our customers money,” Yarra Valley Water managing director Pat McCafferty said.

In March, Telstra teamed up with the Queensland government and the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) to run an IoT pilot program to help local farmers gain access to more accurate weather forecasts so they can manage the effects of weather and climate change on their farms.

As part of the pilot’s first phase, 55 IoT weather stations will be deployed to existing Telstra mobile network sites, private farms, and at the Department Agriculture and Fishers’ research facilities in the Lockyer Valley, Esk, Gatton, Toowoomba, Cecil Plains, and Darling Downs areas, to gather “hyper-local” weather data.

The data collection and trial phases will run until late 2021, with Telstra saying the data will be freely available to project participants via the Telstra Data Hub.  

Back in 2018, Telstra partnered with “major water utilities” on its Digital Water Metering IoT solution in an effort to prevent water wastage and bring down customer bills. 

Telstra launched its NB-IoT network in January during CES 2018, with the company touting at the time the NB-IoT network would provide connectivity for IoT devices with smaller packets of data being sent, such as sensors in the mining, agricultural, transport, logistics, manufacturing, and industrial IoT industries.  

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Oracle pledges to power global operations with 100% renewable energy



Sunlight through the trees in the forest. Surrey, UK
Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Oracle has announced plans to power its global operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025.

This sustainability commitment will cover both its facilities and cloud operations, and builds on the existing sustainability priorities previously pledged by the company, including achieving 100% renewable energy use at all “next-generation” Oracle Cloud regions by 2025.

Oracle’s European Cloud regions are already powered with 100% renewable energy, and Oracle reports having 51 offices around the world using 100% renewable energy.

“Relying on renewable energy is an important step toward a more sustainable future,” Oracle CEO Safra Catz said. “Oracle will always make its biggest impact on the environment by providing customers with technology that enables them to reduce their carbon footprint, but this new goal reflects the shared values of our customers, partners, and investors.”

More from Oracle: Oracle wants to help you catalog your employees’ skills

Oracle has also previously committed to reducing e-waste, noting it collected 2.5 million pounds of retired hardware assets, of which 99.6% was either reused or recycled, during the 2020 financial year. It also touts decreasing the amount of waste sent to landfill at Oracle-owned buildings by 25% on a square foot basis since 2015.

It is also placing the responsibility on its suppliers, expecting that by 2025, all of its suppliers will have an environmental program in place.

“At Oracle, sustainability isn’t a slogan. It’s a concerted, constant, company-wide effort to do all we can to protect natural resources, minimise adverse environmental impacts, and lead the way toward a more sustainable future,” Oracle said previously in a blog post.

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A long-term battle: The tech industry’s role in combatting climate change

At a time when it has become a crucial part of staying in business.

Microsoft releases tool to calculate cloud-based carbon emissions

The company has also made further commitments to its goal to be carbon negative by 2030.

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Microsoft’s joining of The Climate Pledge aligns the two biggest cloud computing providers at a time when cloud demand has skyrocketed and will only continue to grow.

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Australian law enforcement found to have issues with data destruction



The Commonwealth Ombudsman’s Report to the Minister for Home Affairs on agencies’ compliance with the Surveillance Devices Act 2004, for the period 1 July to 31 December 2020 appeared this week, with three of the four law enforcement agencies inspected having issues with destroying data.

The report [PDF] looked at the Australian Federal Police (AFP), the South Australian Police, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), and the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI). Only the ACLEI law enforcement watchdog passed with flying colours.

For ACIC, the Ombudsman found three instances where protected information was not destroyed as soon as practicable. It added for each time this occurred, there was a “significant delay” between the authorisation and destruction of data.

“We identified one instance where protection information was not destroyed within five years,” the report said.

“The ACIC disclosed seven additional instances it did not destroy protected information within five years.”

The report also found issues with records kept to detail actions taken under warrant or tracking device authorisations to show agencies are acting lawfully.

“The computer access warrant action sheets we inspected did not provide sufficient information for us to understand what actions were taken under the warrant, or to confirm that the correct devices were accessed,” the report said.

“As a result, we could not verify that the computers the ACIC targeted were those it was authorised to access under the warrant.”

See also: ACIC believes there’s no legitimate reason to use an encrypted communication platform

For the AFP, the Ombudsman found four instances where it did not destroy information after authorisation for more than a month, and one instance where it took over five months.

“Further, the AFP did not destroy protected information or certify it for retention within five years,” the report states.

“In three instances the AFP did not destroy the records until more than five years after the warrant was issued and could not provide files to demonstrate the protected information was certified for retention within five years.

“In the remaining instance, the AFP certified the protected information for destruction within five years but did not complete the destruction until after the five year period.”

The inspection found instances where AFP reported destroying data, but the Ombudsman found the warrant was not executed, or information was not gained from it. The AFP also had issues with its action sheets.

The report found the AFP was still conducting surveillance in foreign jurisdictions without lawful approval.

“While the AFP disclosed this instance of non-compliance, it did not quarantine the associated data until prompted to do so during our inspection,” the report said.

“We suggested the AFP quarantine any unlawfully obtained data as soon as it identifies it.”

“We identified that, while the surveillance device was first used extraterritorially on 17 December 2019, the AFP did not send written correspondence to the Attorney-General until 19 May 2020.”

The report said only after the Ombudsman inspection, did it quarantine the data it retrieved.

The AFP also disclosed two instances where data was collected outside of a warrant. It also disclosed two instances where it failed to inform its overseeing minister of a warrant or authorisation ceasing, with the Ombudsman later finding another two instances.

With the South Australian Police, the Ombudsman found there was no process to destroy records.

“SA Police informed us it does not have staff delegated to perform the functions of the chief officer under s 46(1)(b) of the Act,” the report said.

“SA Police advised it requested internal legal advice about its delegations more than 12 months prior to our inspection and had been told not to proceed with any destructions until that advice was given.”

The SA force said it was gaining the relevant delegation and would start destruction as soon as the instrument was ratified.

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