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Chambers Talks Tough At Cisco Live

August 4, 2015  

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San Diego – There is one word that perfectly describes this year’s Cisco Live Event: transformation. Whether the conversation centered on people, processes or technology,  it was clear that change is coming at a faster pace than ever before. This year’s event in San Diego drew upwards of 26,000 people who were introduced to Cisco’s over-arching vision of the new Digital Era and a vastly changed leadership team.

That change could be seen, felt and heard in every corner. The World of Solutions area treated visitors to demonstrations of connectivity in action, from the home and classroom, to transportation and lighting systems. Software developers plied their skills in the DevNet Zone, alongside working demonstrations of automated systems, as well as drones and robots that entertained thousands of visitors.

Cisco Live was also the final appearance of John Chambers as CEO, as incoming CEO Chuck Robbins prepares to take the helm. Over the three days, the two leaders often worked in tandem to reinforce their solidarity and reassure the audience that while the new Cisco will be different, it will also rely heavily on the foundations built throughout Chambers’ lengthy leadership.

One of the most anticipated events was Chambers’ keynote address. His presentation, entitled “Thriving at the Speed of Innovation”, was a standing room only attraction that set the thematic tone for what was to follow over the course of the next three days. While its marketing strategy the Internet of Everything or IoE loomed large in conversations, it was no longer the headliner. Rather the dominant theme was the advent of the digital era and the promise, and challenges, it will bring.

Chambers claimed that the digital era would completely transform by a factor of five to tenfold what the Internet has done to date. “Today are we ready to run the fastest race that’s ever been done,” he said.

The digital world promises to change people’s lives, healthcare, education and business models, he added. “It’s not just connectivity. It’s how we can build the best IT foundation for the future.”

A recurring theme throughout the event was the fact that almost 90% of CEOs believe they must become a digital company in order to compete; yet only 7% actually have a digital strategy. As Chambers pointed out, “organizational, process and cultural change also has to happen. Not just technology. Companies must have the courage to make this change.”

Cisco’s digital strategy moving forward, he added, is based on the idea that everything needs to be connected for the purpose of fast innovation. The logic is, fast innovation will require fast IT; and the Internet of Everything will be the foundation for fast IT. Security will serve as the umbrella in a world where the majority of data will be processed on the edge of the network. “The ability to use fast IT is key to our futures,” Chambers said.

By 2020 75% of business will become fully digital, yet only 30% of those digitization efforts will be successful, Chambers told his audience. “The number one reason they will not succeed is they will fail to innovate and reinvent.”

An interesting side note was that the digital age will not be led by the U.S., with Chambers citing major advancements in Europe and in particular France. He also noted that the profit (not revenue) projections for IoE are a staggering US$19 trillion globally, led by manufacturing (US$3.9 trillion); retail (US$1.5 trillion); finance (US$1.3 trillion); and healthcare (US$1.1 trillion).

Chambers plans to be actively involved in an advisory role for the foreseeable future. Given the fact that Cisco’s focus and direction is undergoing an unprecedented change that will take years to execute; however, he stated that the handover to Robbins is timely. Robbins has already made a bold statement out of the gate with the unveiling of a new executive team, half of which are women who participated in a dedicated roundtable discussion on women in technology.

In discussing the executive shakeup Robbins pointed out that the process involved months of behind the scenes effort to ensure that the right team was in place that would be committed to moving the company into a new direction.

“It’s clear we have been out-executing most technology companies in the last few years, and there’s a great deal of innovation we continue to drive inside the company. Looking forward we thought about how can we build on that pipeline of innovation? We have to crank the pace up like we’ve never seen before.”

Moving forward, Cisco’s focus will be on four priorities, Robbins said. The first is speed and business acceleration, followed by simplification. “We have to simplify and articulate what we are doing internally and externally to help the team move more quickly together.”

Third is continuing with operational capabilities to drive revenues. The final piece is building on the culture created by Chambers to move faster on decision making. “How do we move from selling architectures to tightly integrated products? How do we make the transition for engineering, services and sales? It’s not about technology for technology’s sake. It’s about more tightly coupling technology to business challenges and creating architectural connectivity across everything we do.”

The conference also served as the springboard for a number of major announcements from Cisco, including partnerships with 35 independent software vendors (ISVs) to accelerate the creation of innovative cloud services for the Intercloud. The selected ISVs will be offering cloud services to help customers capture IoE opportunities across three key areas: next-generation developer platforms, big data and analytics and IoE cloud services.

Cisco and its partners plan to offer these next-generation cloud services to customers via the Cisco Intercloud Marketplace, a partner-centric global storefront for Intercloud-based applications and cloud services. Intercloud Marketplace is scheduled to launch in fall of 2015.

Cisco also unveiled its latest hybrid cloud software innovations for Cisco Intercloud Fabric, including new security capabilities, extended VM onboarding capabilities, and additional hypervisor support.

On the networking front, Cisco announced new offerings to embed security throughout the extended network, from the data centre to endpoints, branch offices. This, it said, will be achieved by adding more sensors to increase visibility; more control points to strengthen enforcement; and pervasive, advanced threat protection to reduce time-to-detection and time-to-response.

Cisco also offered up a newly expanded SDN hardware and software portfolio that it said will enable customers to build flexible and agile networks across multiple deployment models, including application centric infrastructure (ACI), programmable fabric and programmable networks.

Ultimately the takeaway for industry was clear: those who fail to heed the call of the digital age and innovate will be taken out by those that do. “You have to change dramatically in order to win,” Chambers said. “Either we disrupt or we get disrupted … Disruption is going to get ugly.”

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