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3 things Cisco's new CEO Chuck Robbins needs to focus on

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Chuck Robbins was recently named the new CEO at Cisco Systems, succeeding John Chambers. 

Credit: Cisco

As Cisco transitions from long-time CEO John Chambers to Chuck Robbins, here are three important goals for the networking leader's new era.


Last week, Cisco made history, in a way: for the first time in over 80 quarters, someone other than John Chambers led the quarterly earnings call.

Although July 27th was the official passing of the torch from Mr. Chambers to Chuck Robbins, for me the earnings call was more symbolic given the highly public nature of the event, particularly in light of Cisco's position as the industry bellwether.

Now that the reins have been turned over, I'd like to offer Mr. Robbins some advice as he looks to take Cisco to the next level. If you've read any of my posts in the past, it's no secret that I was a fan of John Chambers. Under his leadership, Cisco became the company that it is today and literally changed the way we "work, live, learn and play."

However, the market today is changing faster today than ever before, and the Robbins-led Cisco needs to be different than the Chambers-led one. In this previous blog post I mentioned that my favorite Chambers-ism is him asking for three things Cisco could do better. So even though he hasn't asked, Chuck Robbins, here are three things Cisco could be doing better.

Approach IT through the lens of the network

Chambers has made it clear that one of Cisco's goals is to be the No. 1 IT vendor. Currently, when the term "IT" is tossed around, companies like HP, Dell, and IBM are the ones that come to mind because IT strategies have long been built on compute and storage products.

To combat this, Cisco has pointed to the growth of its own server platform, UCS, as proof of its "ITness." However, I believe that's a mistake, as IT is now changing. Cloud, mobility, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are all network-centric IT models, meaning the network is growing in importance and traditional IT is becoming less important.

I believe Robbins's best strategy is to be patient and let the market come to Cisco, instead of trying to out-IT the HPs and IBMs at their own game. Think of it this way – just as IBM solves business problems through compute-oriented solutions, Cisco should focus on solving business problems through network-oriented solutions. Becoming the No. 1 vendor is within reach, but it should be accomplished through the lens of the network.

Be more aggressive in market development

Somewhere over the past five years, Cisco allowed the competition to define a market before it raised its head and spoke up. Network fabrics, software defined networks, and even elements of collaboration are examples of this. Other vendors got the jump, defined the market, and Cisco had to either play catch up (fabrics) or try and redefine the network (SDN versus ACI), neither of which is simple.

I'd like to see Cisco be more aggressive with emerging technologies and use its position as the networking market leader to define markets, instead of letting startups and competitors do that.

Expand the open Cisco 

Historically, Cisco has been beat up by the competition for being closed and proprietary. However, over the past few years, Cisco has embraced the concept of openness and some of its products are among the most open in the industry. For example, Cisco's SDN platform, ACI, was designed to be open, and the result is an ecosystem that is a veritable whose-who of the data center that includes the likes of VMware, F5, Citrix, VCE, Microsoft, and others.

Security is another area where open has meant a broader ecosystem, including Lancope and Radware. I understand why vendors think being open creates a risk to their business, but it's been proven over and over again that being open is a good thing, as long as the vendor has quality products. I'd like to see Cisco use this open strategy across all of its products, and see its ecosystem of technology vendors become even bigger.

I'm certainly looking forward to seeing what the Robbins version of Cisco becomes, but I believe the three points above are all critical in the company going to the next level.

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