Surface Duo (aka Surface Phone) launched

Late last night (UK time), Microsoft officially “launched” the next milestone in their Surface Journey with a new form-factor device under the prestigious brand of “Surface”. 

What is Surface Duo?

Surface Duo brings mobile productivity to a new level – powered by a new mobile form-factor, two screens and powered by a customised Android OS and Microsoft 365 apps and services.
Image of Surface DuoSomeone holding a Surface Duo
Surface Duo (images courtesy of Microsoft)

Surface Duo promises to deliver the easiest and most natural way to multitask on the go, bringing together the power of Microsoft 365 apps, services and experiences with the full ecosystem of Android mobile apps all of which can be fully managed, configured and protected with Microsoft 365 and Microsoft Defender ATP.

Of course, this is a Surface – not just a device running Android OS! One of the incredible capabilities of this new Surface is its ability to natively connecting to a full Windows 10 experience in the cloud with Windows Virtual Desktop, making Surface Duo perfectly aligned to its vision and enablement of the modern workplace – for execs, for first line workers or as the perfect companion device to everything else!

Running Windows Virtual Desktop on Surface let’s not only allow you to run Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) on a Surface Duo but it will fully support the native device experience and Windows 10 – supporting touch, pen, ink, and biometric authentication in across both the physical device and virtual environments seamlessly. 

When is it Available?

Surface Duo will begin shipping on September 10, 2020 and according to Microsoft, “represents the next wave of mobile productivity, inspiring people to rethink what is possible with the device in their pocket“. 

What’s the Spec?

Surface Duo will represent the thinnest foldable mobile device on the market with an 8.1″ PixelSense Fusion display connected by a revolutionary 360-degree hinge, allowing the user to view and interact with each 5.6″ display individually or together, across a variety of modes with native support already available across a wide range of Microsoft, and other applications including OneNote, Microsoft Teams and Outlook.

While the full specs haven’t been released, the core specs that have been shared are quite impressive and include:

  • Less than 5mm thick (so very thin) and only 9.6mm when folded/closed
  • Two 5.6″ high-res (1,800 x 1,350) Gorilla Glass covered 5.6” AMOLED displays that fold out into an impressive 8.1”, 401 dpi screen
  • Unique 360-degree hinge design 
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 SOC
  • Single USB-C 
  • Wi-Fi and 4G (yes, no 5G on initial launch)
  • 11MP Camera (but don’t let the low res get you down as this is Surface so will be a high-quality sensor with excellent low light (F-Stop) support – though I haven’t seen the actual spec on this as yet!

Someone holding a Surface Duo in folded configuration

The specs aren’t really the focus – its more about what and how the device helps embrace modern working. Microsoft’s Surface (and now Windows) lead, Panos Panay, and team, don’t really focus on speeds and feeds as the target market for this isn’t the consumer, it’s their loyal Surface and Microsoft 365 customers. 

Enterprise Security from Chip to Cloud

There has been a huge focus, on Security (as you’d expect from Microsoft) and Surface Duo has protection built in at every layer with deeply integrated hardware, firmware, and software to keep your devices, identities, and data secure.

Microsoft have taken their custom engineered Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), used across the Surface range and embedded this into Duo too, which enables full control over firmware components. Microsoft have released a detailed document on exactly how they will do this here:

How much does it cost and when can I get it!

Surface Duo pricing starts at $1,399 (US) – no UK pricing yet and not “currently” available for pre-order but expect this to change very soon!

What do you think?

I’ll certainly be getting one as soon as they are available and will provide a full hand-on review once I have my hands on one!

Keen on your initial thoughts on this. 

 

Skype for Business (3PIP) phone support extended beyond original 2023 end date

Image of 3PIP phones

Great news for any organisations using Skype for Business and moving to Teams, was announced yesterday.

Yesterday, Microsoft announced that they were extending support for their 3PIP gateway service (which was originally supported until 2023). Skype for Business Online is end of life from July 2021 and the 3PIP service provides support for any legacy Skype for Business Phone. By extending the support for the 3PIP gateway service, organisations will be able to leverage their existing Skype for Business phones for longer – saving money and giving them longer to invest in #MicrosoftTeams certified phones.

Image of 3PIP phones

We realise that being able to use existing hardware can provide important cost savings when moving to a new phone system.” Microsoft said in a blog post yesterday. “Today, we are announcing extended support for Skype for Business (3PIP) phones beyond 2023, so you can continue to use your existing Skype for Business phones as you move to Teams”.

Support for Standard SIP Phones

Microsoft also confirmed that they will be supporting core calling features on standard SIP-based phones from Cisco, Yealink, Polycom, and others with Microsoft Teams. Microsoft said this support will be available in the first half of 2021.

More Teams phones with “Buttons”

Microsoft also said yesterday that, due to customer demand, the leading Teams phone vendors including Yealink and Audiocodes will be launching new Teams certified phones with physical buttons.

It seems Microsoft’s plans to include Calling minutes in E5 have now been cancelled.

A few weeks ago we hear that Microsoft were going to include 120mins calling minutes within many of their ‘E5’ subscriptions (see previous post).

Thanks to Will for spotting and letting me know on my blog the official post by Microsoft has now been updated, which states that “The Enterprise Voice and E5 and A5 with Calling Minutes launch has been canceled.”

Hold on… What?

Yep you heard right, and if you check out the updated version of the Microsoft release you’ll see that they go on to say:
We will not be launching Enterprise Voice Plan 1 and 2 and the accompanying inclusion of domestic calling minutes in the E5 and A5 plans, as was previously planned for August 1, 2020. The launch has been placed on hold indefinitely.”

I personally think this is a really wierd move.. I’m sure there more that we haven’t been told yet, but so many of our customers were excited by this announcement and had started to make plans to accelerate their move to Microsoft Cloud Calling now that minutes were going to be included..

As soon as I hear any more I’ll update you all. In the mean time what’s your thoughts on this…? Were you looking at advancing your Microsoft Cloud Calling due to this announcement.?

“Tasks” across Microsoft 365 being revamped as Teams gets new Tasks app

Three months after if was officially announced, Microsoft has started rolling out the new Tasks app in Microsoft Teams.

Image courtesy of Microsoft

This new experience is powered by both Planner and Microsoft To Do and is fundamentally a rebrand (with some) of the existing Planner app which was already available within Microsoft Teams, creating one central hub for all things teamwork and tasks..

As we have become accustomed too with roll outs of features within Microsoft Teams, the new Tasks apps rollout will also be a gradual one which starts today and will complete by September.

It’s worth noting that Tasks for Teams mobile, is not expextes to be available until the desktop rollout has completed.

What about its name?

For now… Presumably to minimise confusion, the name of the Planner app inside Microsoft Teams will not change.

Microsoft has said that as they continue the roll out the new Planner experience, the app name will remain Planner, but will then change to Tasks by Planner and To Do, and then change to simply Tasks. Mobile users, meanwhile, will always only see the app as Tasks.

What is new?

The new features in the new Tasks app include

  • New list view,
  • The ability to edit multiple tasks at once.
  • Traditional board, charts, and schedule view from Planner, with the option for Lists aswell
  • New bulk editing capability, where you can edit multiple tasks simultaneously, for changing progress, priority, due dates etc.

You’ve got the Power

If you are fan and user of Power Automate (formerly Microsoft Flow) can also now add and configure integrations in the new Task app, to bring out tasks created in other applications into Tasks in Teams.

When will I get it?

To check if Tasks is available, you can click the ellipses in the Teams sidebar and choose Planner.

This all part of a new initiate by Microsoft dubbed as “Tasks in Microsoft 365.” This is the first stage of a project within Microsoft to bring together, streamline and consolidate the principles of tasks across all of Microsoft 365.

You can read more on the Microsoft blog herehttps://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/planner-blog/announcing-tasks-in-teams-a-coherent-task-management-experience/ba-p/969386.

Microsoft “Forms Pro” becomes “Customer Voice”

Dynamics Customer Voice

Yesterday at Inspire, Microsoft’s Global Partner Event, Microsoft made a massive announcement about changes coming to their survey and feedback tool known as Forms Pro). Released almost a year ago to the day, Forms Pro provided a host of additional features to Forms including functionality tied into the Common Data Service and was the suggested replacement for the previous “Voice of the Customer” which was part of Dynamics 365.

Introducing “Customer Voice

Dynamics 365 Customer Voice is a not just a name change for Forms Pro, it’s a new product which will replace Forms Pro – it’s primary focus being to request and manage customer feedback at multiple levels.

As MVP Megan Walker said in a blog, “it took a few steps to get there, but hopefully, now we can see that Microsoft Forms is one product, and Customer Voice is another“.

Customer Voice (which is available from end of August) will have the same notable features as Forms Pro but will also include a host of new capabilities and exciting features.

The user interface will also be separate and different from Microsoft Forms – a move that will hopefully remove a lot of the confusion of not knowing exactly which product was which when using Forms and / or Forms Pro since they do, in essence, look the same!

What are the new Features?

Customer Voice works more on the concept of Projects than just a whole bunch of unstructured surveys. These projects can hold one or more surveys – so the layout is slightly different but easier to manage – for example, you can group surveys based on products or surveys etc.

There are also new satisfaction metrics coming for sentiment, Net promoter or CSAT.

You can also pick new solution templates for projects such as

  • Multiple surveys
  • Branching rules
  • Custom templates and even third-party templates

The full list of features can be found on Microsoft’s office page here:  

Megan – a friend and experts in her field has also done a great video blog on these changes and new stuff…check it out here:

When will the changes kick in?

The transition from Forms Pro to Customer Voice will happen in Mid/Late August 2020 and all existing Forms Pro Surveys and responses will transition across to the new service.

What do you think, are you are Forms Pro user? What do you think of the latest changes?
Let me know

 

New Enterprise Voice Plans PLUS Microsoft to include 120 calling minutes in E5 plans from August 1st

Teams Phone

Microsoft have just announced some changes and enhancements coming to the way their Microsoft Teams “Cloud Voice” services are purchased and licensed.

Firstly, from August 1st, all Office E5/A5 and Microsoft E5/A5 plans will now include 120-minutes per month domestic user calling plans in eight countries at no additional cost. This will be for new and existing E5/A5 users including the following countries: –

  • UK
  • Belgium
  • Canada
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ireland
  • Netherlands
  • Spain

Secondly, Microsoft are also adding new Microsoft 365 Enterprise Voice Plans. This will make it easier for customers to add voice to Teams since these new bundles will include That means, in those countries, E5 now ships as a full phone system with PSTN connectivity and user phone numbers/minutes included in the single license.

The new Enterprise Voice bundles are a new offering / add-on that will includes.

  • Phone System,
  • Audio Conferencing, and
  • Domestic calling minutes

The new Voice bundles will come in different sizes and will include a different number of inclusive minutes (similar to how the Calling Plans are purchased today).

Voice Plan 1 works out around £4.50 per user per month cheaper than the previous separate items of Phone System, Audio Conferencing and 120 Minute Calling Plan

Office 365 E5/Microsoft 365 E5 will include PLAN 1 which equates to 120 mins.

About Microsoft Enterprise Voice

Microsoft 365 Enterprise Voice

…is a cloud-based telephony solution that enables users to make and receive PSTN calls in Microsoft Teams. It includes Phone System, Audio Conferencing, and Domestic Calling Plans. These will be now be available in a Plan 1 and Plan 2.

Calling plans

…are what Microsoft call the associated DDI and calling minutes which are assigned to users or common are phones for example and gives users a PSTN phone number and inclusive out-bound minutes to make PSTN calls outbound. Inbound PSTN calls are not minute capped or charged. E5 licenses already include “Phone System” which enables the ability to use Microsoft Teams as a phone, but there is a still a requirement to add either a Microsoft Calling Plan or to use Direct Routing (an SBC and service from an approved Telco) to enable a user to make and receive phone calls.

Pricing

Enterprise Voice Plans (for A3/E3/F3 users)

  • Voice Plan 1 (incudes 120 mins a month): RRP £9.80 
  • Voice Plan 2: (includes TBC mins per month) RRP £16.60

Note: Voice Plan 1 works out around £4.50 per user per month cheaper than the previous separate items of Phone System, Audio Conferencing and 120 Minute Calling Plan

Find out more

To find out more, you can refer to the announcement here:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/partner-center/announcements/2020-july

Microsoft Teams goes into innovation overdrive with host of new features…

After being criticised for several months now as playing catch up to Zoom, Microsoft has just announced a host of new innovate features in Microsoft Teams that will make virtual interactions much more natural, more engaging, and ultimately, more human.

Microsoft say these new features offer three key benefits

  1. They will help you feel more connected with your team and reduce meeting fatigue.
  2. They will make meetings more inclusive and engaging
  3. They will help streamline work and save time

Microsoft say that it is all about “enabling people everywhere to collaborate, to stay connected, and to discover new ways to be productive from anywhere” and it’s all backed up by months of scientific research and analysis to how people have been working, the pressures and announces they have faced as people have and continue to spend more time in virtual meetings than physical ones.

Let’s start with the Official Microsoft promo video

1. Feeling more connected and reducing meeting fatigue

Together Mode

“Together Mode” is a new meeting experience that will help reduce fatigue during remote collaboration. This feature will place participants in a shared virtual background to make it feel like everyone is sitting in the same room/space with all other meeting participants. Here, Microsoft is aiming to make your video meetings more engaging by helping us focus on the faces and body language of other attendees so that you can pick up the nonverbal cues that are vital for human interaction and something that is often absent from virtual meetings. According to Microsoft “Together mode with auditorium view” is already in private preview and will be rolled out to everyone else by August 2020.

Dynamic View

Also related to video aspect of meetings, the upcoming “Dynamic View” uses AI to dynamically personalise your video meeting view to suit your preferences and needs. Microsoft acknowledged that whilst the new “Together Mode” will offers a great new meeting experience, it’s not intended or suited for every meeting. With Dynamic View, users will be able to access new controls and get the ability to show shared content and specific participants side-by-side as well as have content and layout dynamically adapt to the meeting, number of attendees and content and other activities being drawn upon during the meeting.

An image of the new Dynamic view.
Microsoft image of Teams “Dynamic View”

Dynamic View will build on the other recent meetings enhancements, including the ability to see up to 49 participants (still rolling out) at once on a single screen, and virtual breakout rooms, which is coming later this calendar year.

Video Filters

Microsoft is bringing video filters into Teams to allow users to better customise their online appearance before joining a meeting with the help of common filters you are most likely used to on social media photo tools like Instagram etc. These filters are designed to subtly adjust lighting levels and soften the focus of your camera to make your video more “real”.

Reflect Messaging Extension

Also said to be coming in the next “few” weeks, Microsoft announced a new “Reflect messaging extension” is coming to Teams. Once installed (it’s an extension) Microsoft say it will make it easier for managers, team leaders, and teachers to track their teams’ performance, the status of a project, current events, or a change within the organisation for example. Note: IT admins will need to install the Reflect extension from GitHub, and then make it available to employees in their organization in the message extension menu

Reflect Messaging Extension

Reflect Messaging will also provide the ability to add custom questions to create a poll-like experience for team members.

2. Making meetings more inclusive, engaging, and effective

Live Reactions

Microsoft Teams will soon allow meeting participants to use emojis to share how they feel about the event. Emojis will appear on everyone’s screens, and the instant feedback experience will be similar to the Live feedback feature already available with PowerPoint Live presentations and in Skype Consumer as well as other popular Video Conferencing platforms such as Zoom. The latter will also be available in Microsoft Teams in the future, the company said today, while the Whiteboard app in Teams will be improved with faster load times, sticky notes, text, and drag and drop capabilities.

Emoji Feedback in Teams

Microsoft also is said to be raising the maximum number of Teams meetings participants from 300 people (just rolled out) to 1,000.

Chat Bubbles

Microsoft research suggests that during meetings, “chat has become a much more lively space for conversation and idea-sharing, and offers an option for people to participate in the discussion without having to jump in verbally. But it can be challenging to pay attention to video feeds, presentations, and chats all at the same time“. Currently, Teams users need to manually open a chat window to view the chat screen. This is set to change as Microsoft Teams meetings will soon get support for what they call chat bubbles, which will make chat messages appear on the screen for chat participants while they are in a meeting.

Speaker attribution for live captions and transcripts

Microsoft is also enhancing the live captions features for teams and making transcripts more accessible and fluid also making it easy for participants to see who is speaking. Thsi is similar to what Cisco have done with WebEx in the latest update and it’s great to see this coming to Microsoft Teams later this year. Teams will also get support for more languages, as well as Live transcripts participants can download once the meeting has ended. speaker attribution

New Live Translations with Attributions in Microsoft Teams

Interactive Meetings for 1,000 attendees

Microsoft will soon allow for interactive meetings for up to 1,000 participants to allow for large groups, to come together for meetings or classes. As an alternative to Live Events (which are for town hall and broadcast sessions), Teams will now also allow you to bring more people together to watch a presentation or discussion where Teams will soon support a view-only meeting experience for up to 20,000 participants.

Teams Whiteboard Updates

The Whiteboard feature in Teams will soon be updated with a host of new features making it more aligned to the Windows and iOS version of Whiteboard. This will include faster load times, sticky notes, text, and drag and drop capabilities and will also be optimised for users that don’t have access to a touchscreen device or Surface Hub to participate in whiteboarding sessions during Teams meetings.

An image of Microsoft Whiteboard updates.
Enhanced Whiteboard feature in Teams Meetings

3. Streamlining work and saving time

New Task App

Microsoft have announced a new Task app that will be available in late July/August. The Task app will give Teams users a tab within Teams that unifies all of their tasks and actions across Outlook, ToDo and Planner. In addition, it will support smart lists which will dynamically group things like “Tasks Assigned to me” and will unify tasks across different shared plans, whether you’re on desktop, web, or mobile.

Task App in Microsoft Teams

Suggested Replies

Suggested replies will enable users to utilise quick “AI-generated” responses based on contextual understandings of previous messages. These will work in a similar way to the newly rolled out “auto-replies” in text messages or email, allowing users to reply with a single click to common responses without having to type out a full message in their response.

Suggested Replied in Teams – coming July/August 2020

Microsoft Teams displays

Microsoft has also announced new extended partnerships with Yealink and Lenovo to bring what it calls the “Microsoft Teams display initiative”.

This will allow Teams users to make use of a centralised hardware offering that makes use of an ambient touchscreen coupled with a microphone and a camera to host meetings. Lenovo already have a product about to ship and yesterday announced an extended partnership with Yealink to bring new device categories into the mix later this year / early 2021.

New Teams devices – coming 2021

Touchless Meeting Experiences

Whilst Teams already has support for touchless proximity join, Microsoft has announced a host more touchlessness for its meetings which will include voice commands for leaving a meeting, adding participants, muting and unmuting rooms, adjusting audio volume, turning cameras off and on as well as wirelessly casting to any Teams enabled device.

In conjunction with this, new companion features will be rolling out to the Teams mobile app to provide Teams Rooms remote control features that will allow users to be able to be conduct entire meetings, brainstorming sessions, and presentations without ever having to physically touch meeting room equipment with their hands!

An image of Room remote for Microsoft Teams devices.
Upcoming room remote for Microsoft Teams devices

Summary

This must be one of the biggest sets of updates announced by Microsoft and shows the commitment to driving innovation, inclusion and accessibility.

Teams is the place where people everywhere come together to get work done and I’m seeing an explosive pace of deployment and adoption within my customers at @Cisilion.

One thing is for sure, with all the innovation, new features and changes to Microsoft Teams, a solid and robust Adoption and Change Management programme is needed to ensure users are educated about the changes, given the opportunity to learn and test the new features and that IT and your Teams champions have the chance to help users embrace the new features.

One last time – the new Microsoft Teams

When are these rolling out?

FeatureRoad mapped Launch Date
Together ModeSept 2020
Dynamic viewSept 2020
Video FiltersDec 2020
Reflect Messaging ExtensionAug 2020
Live ReactionsDec 2020
Chat BubblesDec 2020
Speaker Attribution for live captionsAug 2020
Speaker Attribution for live transcriptionsDec 2020
Interactive meetings for 1,000 peopleDec 2020
Whiteboard UpdatesSept 2020
Tasks AppAug 2020
Suggested RepliesAug 2020
Current Roadmap dates for new features

Microsoft Surface Go 2 – Two-week in review

18 months I did a review of the original Surface Go since I was immediately impressed at just how well suited this was as a secondary device and how for many role it was the perfect front line worker or education device.

One of the confusing factors about the original Surface Go, was really where it fitted in with the rest of the Surface family for business and who the target audience was. I certainly found that many of my customers sometimes struggled between whether their users needed a lightweight, cost effective Surface Go or whether they needed the big brother – the Surface Pro. 

Tech reviewers often slated the Surface Go (despite its sales success) as they would compare the processor and other tech-spec items, namely the (sluggish at times) Intel-Gold processor and larger than necessary screen bezel which, depending on the use and workload you put it through they were right!

The new Surface Go 2 addresses every “issue” the first model had, so long as you don’t need a mobile power-horse of a laptop of course. 

Introduction the Surface Go 2

The Surface Go 2 (I have the Intel M3/8Gb/128GB LTE version) in my opinion, and through a couple a weeks of using it as my daily driver – this upgraded version has perfectly sufficient processing power, RAM and storage for everyday use – which for me is internet browsing,  Office 365 apps (Word, PowerPoint etc) photos viewing and basic editing and consuming content like Netflix etc., and is a compelling and affordable alternative to a traditional laptop.  

SurfaceGo 2 unboxed
Surface Go 2 with Type Cover and Pen

Great Look and Feel

There are some subtle but important changes to the Surface Go 2, which make it look a lot more like an iPad Pro than the Surface Go, which is due to the smaller bezels. Overall the, dimensions of the Surface Go 2 are unchanged, but by slimming down the edges around the screen, Microsoft has managed to upgrade the screen size by 1/2 an inch which, though it doesn’t sound lot, gives the Surface Go 2 a much more modern look

SurfaceGo2 vs SurfaceGo
Image of original Surface Go screen vs new Surface Go 2 with thinner bezels

 

Specifications, Speeds and Feeds!

Looking purely at the spec sheet, the Surface Go 2 is still only a baby in terms of not only size, but performance, with a less powerful processor, smaller screen and of course, smaller keyboard but, just like the first generation, it is, however, in my opinion, great bit of modern workplace kit and deserves serious consideration when looking at future 2-in-1 purchases for both home and work.

Most of the real improvements to Surface Go 2 are tucked away under the hood.

  • Much-improved battery life. The original Surface Go was really let down by its battery life and despite the advertised “up to 9 hours“, I never got it to last more than about six. So far in testing, the Surface Go 2 has managed to serve me all day (8.5 hours) with a “normal” workload – Word, some PowerPoint, Teams Calls (I do a lot of these), and of course Outlook and some web browsing.  I did do a “how far can you go” test by setting to screen brightness to 70% and attended an all-day Teams “Live Event”, and my Surface Go 2 still had some juice in it after nine hours which I was really impressed with to be honest!
  • USB-C Charging – for when you do need more juice, the Surface Go 2 supports charging via USB-C and I could even charge it with my USB battery pack – it was quite a “trickle” charge to be fair but it charged so great for when it’s in your back-pack! 
  • 5 Mega Pixel Front Facing Camera – The Surface Go 2 has a much better front camera to what you’d expect and is better than most laptops that I come across.  This is vital of course for all those Microsoft Teams or Zoom Calls you might be doing as we all adjust to life during and after lock-down. 
  • Fast 4G (LTE) – One thing i haven’t had much use for due to COVID-19 lockdown is mobile data which is another thing that I love about the Surface Go 2. Popping a SIM into the device means you are connected all the time and for someone that “usually” spends a lots of time traveling and between meetings, being connected on the go (as well as being able to charge on the go) are great assets for the mobile modern workplace
  • It is faster. The internals, like I mentioned, have been upgraded (the higher models anyway). The model I have has the newer Intel Core M3 chip, 8Gb RAM and a 128 Gb solid state drive along with LTE (mobile data).
SurfaceGo2 Showing Mobile Data
Using Mobile Data

What about cost?

Surface Go 2 starts from just £399 (inc VAT) and as always with Surface devices, specification options, regional variations, promotions and volume, and accessories all affect the end price.

Note: Surface Go doesn’t ship by default with a Pen or the Type Cover Keyboard which to me are what makes a Surface a Surface.

Without these promos the price for commercial organisations is around:

Model Typical Price (inc. VAT)
Surface Go 2: Pentium Gold/4G/64Gb (no extras) £379
Surface Go 2: M3 / 128Gb / 8Gb with Type Cover and Pen £790
Surface Go 2 LTE: M3 / 128Gb / 8Gb with Type Cover and Pen £895 

I know what you are thinking…. Apple iPad Pro right?

Well, to be honest, an 11-inch iPad Pro with 128Gb Storage, Apple’s new Smart Keyboard and Pencil is well over £1,250 (inc. VAT).

How Microsoft’s new digital skills initiative aims to skill up 25 million people

#Microsoft today, has launched an initiative to help 25 million people worldwide acquire the digital skills needed in a #COVID19 economy grounded in three areas of activity:

(1) The use of data to identify in-demand jobs and the skills needed to fill them;

(2) Free access to learning paths and content to help people develop the skills these positions require;

(3) Low-cost certifications and free job-seeking tools to help people who develop these skills pursue new jobs.

Within the announcement, Microsoft said they are also developing a new learning app in Microsoft Teams to help employers upskill new and existing employees. This will bring together best in class content from LinkedIn Learning, Microsoft Learn, third-party training providers, and a company’s own learning content and make it all available in a place where employees can easily learn in the flow of their work.

Read the full Microsoft blog and announcement here;

Cisco Live 2020: “To power an inclusive future for all”

The Cisco Live 2020 keynote yesterday (June 16 2020) followed the same theme as many of the other leading tech vendor events and focussed primarily on the current social and economic climate brought about by the global COVID19 pandemic before touches on new Cisco Webex and Cisco SecureX features which were the core focus of announcements on day 1.

Key Priorities Announced

“Possibilities” was the main theme of the keynote on Tuesday 16th June, in which Chuck Robbins summarised the current climate and demand on technology as the need to reimagine applications, secure data, transform traditional network and data centre infrastructure, and the “empowering” of teams through technology as being more important now than ever. which namely allowed Cisco to ire-introduce and emphasise some of the new core features coming to their Webex and SecureX platforms. 

Outside of this, most of the keynote didn’t focus on new announcements, but openly discussed the chaos that #Covid19 has thrown on the world nicely introducing the keynotes’ main theme – simple “Possibilities”. 

2020 has been a difficult and challenging year,”, “We started out with a new decade with hope, and we never imagined that in June we would have experienced what we’ve experienced this year.” Chuck Robbins, Cisco Live 2020

Chuck Robbins went on to talk about the combination of the COVID19 pandemic, and the fundamental change to business, employees and how we work, combined with the urgency, rapid change in direction and crazy tasks that every organisation has been faced with ensuring the technology, people and business can function from home which has of course been a challenge for many organisations globally. 

One of those big challenges included shifting office workers to a remote work style. This stark change, on top of all of the exterior issues, has taken a toll–both on the enterprise and individuals.” Chuck Robbins, Cisco Live 2020

Additions to Webex and SecureX

Javed Khan, VP of collaboration at Cisco, was next on the virtual stage joined by Gee Rittenhouse, senior VP at Cisco, to discuss some of the new features being added to their WebEx and SecureX platforms.

Webex 

With so many people working from home now and for the foreseeable future due to #COVID19, video and web conferencing use has skyrocketed across all major platforms, namely Zoom, Microsoft Teams and of course WebEx.

By April 2020, Cisco said they were seeing more than 25 billion meeting minutes a month (which was up nearly 3 fold  which is three times the size of the normal monthly average and said that “We have the unique opportunity to use our collaboration technology and our amazing people to help power an inclusive future for all.

We already know the future of Webex (currently in preview) will bring an enhanced experience leveraging what Cisco have called “Cognitive Collaboration” which will deliver insights about upcoming meetings, contacts as well as information about your day to reduce the need to keep flicking between Webex and Outlook.

NewWebEx
New WebEx Preview interface

 

Next, Javed Khan formerly announced the addition of the Webex Assistant, a personal digital assistant that can be used within the WebEx platform to enable handsfree operation and event in meeting administration WebEx meetings. With the Webex Assistant, users can “ask” Webex to record the meeting, take notes, and even send highlights to attendees when the meeting has finished. 

Picture of Cisco WebEx Assistant

Security built in was another focus of WebEx improvement, with extended data loss prevention (DLP) retention, Legal Hold tools for chat and content which is also coming to Webex Meetings. Cisco also announced an expansion to their end-to-end encryption including AES 256 Bit encryption with GCM mode for increased protection for meeting data and resistance against tampering. Security around meetings has of course been very top of mind for many whereby Zoom have had their reputation dented over claims and fears of poor security across their platform. 

Cisco also announced the Webex Desk Pro – an “AI powered” collaboration device that features a 27-inch 4K display, 71-degree HD camera and digital whiteboarding which looks like a cross between a Surface Studio and a Cisco EX device.

Picture of a Cisco WebEx Desk Pro

Cisco said that they would be “doubling down on AI” and that they would be adding even more intelligence into their contact centre solutions, converting customer support agents into “super agents” to ensure that they always have all the all the right information at their fingertips to allow them to solving customer issues faster than ever.  Javed Khan said that the goal of Cisco Contact Centre platform is to “improved customer satisfaction and improved customer loyalty.”

It’s also very apparent that Cisco are going to be dropping the “Webex Teams” name and moving to “Webex App” or simply back to just “Webex” as part of their next update integrations. I think this is a good move as to be honest, customers got confused when Webex Teams simply got Teams, which, let’s face it, every assumed they meant Microsoft Teams!

SecureX Update

From a security perspective, another huge focus for Cisco, Gee Rittenhouse talked about some of the new optimised features within SecureX, which he called 
“the most comprehensive cloud native platform in the industry.”

Gee Rittenhouse continued his explanation of the SecureX platform, stating that “In one place, you can see your entire environment, threats and incidents, and resolve policy changes.” 

Cisco SecureX dashboard

This was followed by a quick demo in which Cisco illustrated how Cisco SecureX customers could directly see all the possible security threats across their network through a single view/dashboard.  They demo showed a “kill chain” explorer view whereby, upon clicking on a particular detected threat, the system generated a relationship graph so that the SecOp team can see everything related to that single threat along the ability to then block it across the organisation with a just couple of clicks. There is also some automation behind this allowing some auto remediation as you’d expect. 

Cisco said they have a huge and growing number of integration partners, and are sharing intelligence and threat protection details with other leading security vendors including Microsoft, McAfee, and many others

Summary

As you’d expect from Cisco – huge focus on collaboration and security which right now is top of mind as many organisations get ready for a quite different future for the time-being at least.

What did you think? Did you attend the conference? What were your key takeaways and what did I miss?