In collaboration with Fernando Quintanilla, Ervin Carrillo, and German Cheung

We work from just about anywhere. Coffee shops, airplanes, kitchen tables. The nature of our work is hybrid and when we aren’t in shared spaces with our colleagues, we rely on our collaboration suite to keep us connected. As the collaboration leader for video endpoints across Cisco, my day revolves quite heavily around Webex and delivering consistent collaboration experiences to Webex users.

As we work across the world using collaboration tools both internally and externally, managing that experience is becoming more complex. With earlier tools, learning when, where, and why our collaboration services, devices, or applications faltered was like trying to find a rogue brace in 100,000 lines of code. Shortly after we migrated to our Cisco Collaboration Meeting Rooms Cloud solution, we began working on Webex Control Hub. Ever since, we’ve become smarter about pinpointing those rogue braces.

Control Hub is a centralized collaboration management portal that offers troubleshooting, analytics and compliance capabilities for our collaboration portfolio. We have multiple services, like Webex Meetings, Webex App, Webex Devices, Webex Calling, and with Control Hub, we get to see what’s happening across the board in our environment. In a word, it’s amazing.

Diving into Webex data to troubleshoot

In the past, let’s say Fernando called to escalate a connection issue he had with Webex Meetings. We’d have to wait on Cisco Technical Assistance Center (TAC) to get backend Webex data and send it our way. Then, we’d go down a rabbit hole trying to pinpoint the issue, pulling information from different sources while trying to piece together a picture of what went wrong. Meanwhile Fernando is frustrated he can’t join calls. It’s affecting his work productivity. It’s not great for business.

Today, when Fernando says he has a problem, we find it quickly. Control Hub populates a single dashboard with data from our entire environment, from aspects like users, devices, places, and services. Control Hub visually organizes that data to show me where Fernando is having issues, whether it’s a network issue, or a loose cable on his Cisco Webex Desktop Pro device. It’s a user-friendly interface, and in an instant, I spot when Fernando’s call is disrupted, for how long, what his bandwidth was, his latency – I get the entire picture, not pieces.

Webex Control Hub dashboard view
An administrator’s view of Webex Control Hub

If Fernando was on a conference call at the time of his connection issue, Control Hub offers up meeting information in a single view. All the participants, the types of endpoint clients they’re using, the meeting type, how long it takes to join the meeting, and network statistics of the call are visible. As an admin, joining the call to evaluate it in real time and troubleshoot live is an option.

In Control Hub, we pull logs from a device, whether it’s on the network or not. We comply with data privacy in every region, and while we can’t see everything, alerts and some diagnostics pop up, which is always better than nothing. We get way more troubleshooting capabilities for devices that aren’t on the network.

When viewing the logs, the simple dashboard reports when changes happen, and this information is collected. It narrows down the field of what is going on when a user says, ‘my device isn’t working’.

I’ve helped Fernando within a few minutes instead of a few hours. With analytics, I’ve identified if this is a particular pattern other users may be having and proactively monitor or alert them before it becomes an issue. Control Hub enables us to be more efficient, more resilient, and more focused on providing an exceptional collaboration experience.

Winning with user and device management

Managing thousands of devices and users comes with its own nuances, not to mention security protection challenges. Control Hub simplifies provisioning, authentication, and authorizing users on our Webex platform. We ensure that only successfully authenticated users are accessing spaces and services they’re meant to, using Key Management Service (KMS) – meaning unauthorized users will not be able to join your calls or spaces.

Once users are added, we manage their services and settings from Control Hub. This makes onboarding so much more straightforward. When new hires join Cisco, they turn their laptops on, sign in, and get straight to work meeting their new colleagues. When employees refresh their laptops or buy a new device, they don’t need to go through a long migration or setup. They log in, authenticate with Single Sign-On and Duo, and it works. We download device logs and push configuration changes to devices as well. It helps us make the collaboration experience better for everyone.

We also run proactive scripts that help us monitor devices regularly. These scripts perform audits on the devices for status, and if something pops up a couple of times, we open a case. The reason we do this is to make sure that the devices in our demo centers and offices are working to specification. Meaning, if Sam walks into a conference room in San Jose one week and into Bangalore another, her experience of the devices is consistent, no matter where she is in the world.

Simplified support and APIs

A lot of internal development went into simplifying the bot creation process with BotLite, a bot-making platform powered by MindMeld and Webex Teams. Using bots transforms so much of our work in terms of how we’re able to better support our user base and how our user base becomes more comfortable with self-service.

German Cheung, a Cisco technical systems engineer, has developed diverse tools via Webex Bots that add a lot of value to our services. The BVE Support bot, for example, provides various tools to our multi-tiers support teams based on their roles without breaking apart the role-based access permission in Control Hub. With the intelligent workflows and automations built into the bot, our support teams can interact with the bot to check, diagnose, pinpoint, and fix the issues in a few clicks. The bot helps to standardize the procedures of diagnosis, troubleshooting, validation and fixing. It also helps to reduce human intervention and the misconfiguration caused by human errors. MTTR (Mean Time to Repair) has decreased significantly. The bot remediates issues caused by access permissions, case escalations, and repeated steps. For example, one bot tool, UCM Calling Enablement in Webex, completes all checks across multiple infrastructures and services, and fixes issues automatically in about 15 seconds. Manually, that task usually takes anywhere from several minutes to several hours. The bot resolves cases quickly and more importantly, the user experience is that much better.

A great deal of information comes from various contributing platforms that help us make calls, launch applications, and develop bots. When we think of Webex, it’s not only about video endpoints and Webex meetings. We also have Webex apps that encourage engagement or streamline our workspaces too, like Miro, Slido, and M365. We manage those configurations within Control Hub.

Cisco IT has a culture of developing creative solutions. Webex has an open architecture; it allows you to develop your own solution. If we don’t offer it, it means the APIs are there if you need to develop something, just for your company and your users.

Needles in haystacks are painful and unnecessary

Is there a way to avoid twenty-questions when a senior leader says, ‘my device isn’t working’? Yes. What about when a user encounters dropped calls in Webex? Sure. Data is a beautiful thing when it’s used insightfully. While it’s still a work in progress, Control Hub gives us more time to make a great collaboration experiences even better – and with exceptional support.

Do you have a Control Hub story? We’d love to hear it.