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Chuck Robbins rewires Cisco

chuck robbins cisco ceo

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins was happy with Q4 results, but the company is slashing its workforce to refocus on the very hottest areas

Credit: Reuters/Mike Blake

When Chuck Robbins took over the CEO position at Cisco from the popular and iconic John Chambers there was a tremendous amount of speculation as to whether Robbins would just continue the path that Chambers was going or would he run Cisco his way. After less than a year, Robbins is coming out of Chambers shadow much the same way Steve Young did when he took over the QB position in the post Joe Montana era.

This week Robbins restructured Cisco’s enormous engineering unit to better align with market trends. In an email to the company Robbins outlined his plan to create four engineering groups. Bob Brown covered the basic structure of the reorganization in this post, but I’ll go into a bit more detail.

The new units are networking, cloud services and platforms, security and applications and Internet of Things. The structure of the groups is much better aligned with current customer and market trends rather than along technology lines like routing and switching and then having something like cloud overlaid on top of the technology.

The Networking group will be led by Pankaj Patel, who has announced he is leaving Cisco at the end of this fiscal year. As to who takes over in August? Well that’s something only Robbins probably knows right now. The Networking group will have sub groups that include Core Software Group (CSG), Core Hardware Group (CHG) as well as Enterprise and Service Provider segments and a Technology and Architecture Office. Also, worth noting is that Network Orchestration (APIC EM) and Network Management (Prime and other software) fall under CSG.

As part of the reshuffling, Kelly Ahuja, an 18-year veteran will be leaving Cisco and Yvette Kanouff will be now taking the lead on Service Provider (SP). Kanouff has a good handle on current and future SP trends and should be an excellent lead for a group that’s had its ups and downs over the past decade.  

This structure makes more sense than in the past when Cisco built products in "enterprise" and "service provider" silos.  With cloud and mobility blurring the lines between these segments, the core hardware and software groups creates common technology that can be leveraged by the different segments and architectures. This is much more efficient, cost effective and offers time to market advantages over with the previous organizational model.

Cloud Services and Platforms will be headed up by Zorawar Biri Singh, who will also continue his role as Cisco’s CTO. In the dual role, Singh will need to run this group but also coordinate initiatives across all groups and Cisco’s Executive Leadership Team (ELT).

Interestingly, Business Insider reported that the Insieme team, or MPLS (Mario, Prem, Luca, Soni) will continue to report to Chambers but Singh will need to work closely with this team to ensure the great work done by this team can be realized across the organization. While it’s no secret that MPLS has ruffled some feathers along the way, their efforts have resulted it Cisco’s leadership in many areas, most recently the Nexus/ ACI product line and before that, unified computing systems (UCS). Under the leadership of this group, Cisco has not only thwarted the white box, SDN threat but also become the market leader in SDN.

Intercloud is a part of Cisco’s business that has gone somewhat quiet since it first launched. Under Biri, it appears that Intercloud will be a broader, deeper initiative that will expand to include developers. This seems logical given the evolution of the cloud into micro services and containers, particularly in an increasingly mobile world. Intercloud has tremendous potential but needs a shot in the arm for Cisco and its partners to realize its full value. One can’t give Intercloud a swig of 5 hour energy, so the next best thing is to have the newly appointed CTO run with it.

Also, reporting into Cloud Services and Platforms is the Computing Systems Product Group (CSPG), which includes UCS and the new Hyperconverged product, HyperFlex.

Additionally, almost every cloud first organization I talk to today is interested in big data and analytics. Because of this, the Analytics and Automation business unit will be part of Biri’s team and be headed up by Senior Vice President Mala Anand.

The last member of Singh’s team is Susie Wee’s DevNet team that is focused on building a developer ecosystem. Prior to Wee’s leadership DevNet was more talk than anything. However, the program has flourished since she has taken the help, partially because of acquisitions like Tropo, which added a big group of developers but more because DevNet is finally focused on driving developer value and not just Cisco value. I could argue that DevNet should sit along side all of the groups but given Singh is the CTO, it will be his responsibility to ensure that DevNet is having an impact across Cisco.

Security will continue to report into David Goeckeler. The security group at Cisco has had a marked turn around under Goeckeler’s leadership as the group has evolved away from being a bunch of disjointed products into a true architecture that differentiates the company from the hundreds of point product vendors. Security is, by far, the top initiative for almost every company today and that’s not likely to change any time soon.

Lastly, Internet of Things and Applications will fall under the leadership of Rowan Trollope. This structure is an absolute “no brainer” as there has never been anyone at Cisco as obsessed with user experience as Trollope. Ask anyone that reports into him and they will echo this sentiment. If an application takes too many clicks or is awkward to use or even if the user has to scroll too far to get to the important information, it’s completely unacceptable to Trollope. Prior to Trollope’s arrival at Cisco, the collaboration group had seen consecutive years of decline (not quarters) but the new, easy to use products such as the DX endpoints, new TelePresence systems and Cisco Spark have re-energized the collaboration group.

Moving forward, Cisco will be going to market with IoT experiences like the Digital Ceiling and the customer experience solutions the company launched at Cisco Live Europe. These “experiences” must have the same level of dead easy simplicity as the collaboration tools have had.

The new structure should help Cisco build products and compete more effectively in a rapidly changing, digital world. It’s also worth noting that all four leads, Patel, Biri, Geockeler and Trollope are now part of the ELT and will report directly into Robbins. This shows that Robbins will be taking a very active roll in the direction of Cisco products.

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