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Analyst conference big on big picture design, not nuts and bolts

As expected, Cisco's annual analyst conference this week was big on long-term outlook, short on near-term issues. The company did not waver from the sober guidance it provided for its fiscal Q1 but sis not dwell on it either.

What it did hammer home, with the distinct ebullience only CEO John Chambers can deliver, is that it's not about technology - it's about business architectures, fundamentally changing the way a company operates and how it executes on its business model. I know, we've heard this all before. But the message was especially bullish this time around, with the roles of some intriguing new products definitively spelled out.

Chambers said Cisco met with seven CEOs or CIOs in the short Labor Day week. The conversations revolved around transforming their business - not about routers and switches.

"An architectural play -- I can sell that to any CIO in the world," Chambers told the analysts.

The key ingredients for business transformation are collaboration and virtualization, Chambers said, with the goal being to establish a "Dynamic Network Organization" that's completely collaborative, with teams organized by products, geographies, architectures and organizations.

To accomplish this, businesses should set up organizational structures that allow for virtualization, Chambers told the room full of financial analysts. Virtualization the technology allows for rapid resource provisioning and replication, and optimized utilization; virtualization the business process allows for rapid assemblage of dispersed skill sets, collaboration among far flung employees and speedier execution of business tasks, such as compiling the numbers to close out a financial quarter.

In a business transformation context, collaboration implies use of social networking, unified communications, video and virtualization technologies to quickly pull together employees into teams working on the same project or toward the same goal. In this vein, Chambers said Cisco's recently-introduced Quad collaboration tool - which is a Web-based platform for the enterprise designed to pull together Facebook-like update posts, instant messaging, document sharing, video communication, microblogging and communities - will be a key business productivity tool for the next seven to 10 years.

Chambers and Jim Grubb, his product demo sidekick, then demonstrated how the new Cisco Cius tablet for business - which integrates IP telephony, WebEx conferencing, mobility and more in a dockable touchscreen PC/phone hybrid - can transform interactions between teachers, parents and students into more collaborative and interactive discussions with just a few mouse clicks. Chambers said Cisco has 444 enterprise field trials of Cius underway.

"The key takeaway," Chambers said after the presentation, "it's an architectural play. Education will not be top down it will be collaboration. How do you change the user experience?"

So what then becomes of Cisco's core business of routing and switching? Chambers said Cisco is protecting that business from declining growth and commoditization through 50 internal ASIC projects, continued development of software, hardware and integration to keep it intact and vibrant. All while attempting to enter 30 or so market adjacencies.

"Cisco designing a 30 to 50 gear bike," Chambers told the analysts. "It's hard to commoditize this. In five years, we'll still have No. 1 lead in routing and switching. Is this commodity-like behavior? I doubt it."

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