Calendar year 2016 was a big year of change at Cisco.
Coming into the year, I wasn’t sure how aggressive new CEO Chuck Robbins would be at making changes. It turns out, he was far more active than I would have ever imagined, and 2016 will be remembered as the year Robbins stamped the company with his own thumbprint.
During the year Cisco made several, the biggest of which was Jasper Technologies. That transformed Cisco from being an IoT evangelist into a major player. We also saw the company enter the analytics market with its Cisco Tetration Analytics Platform.
The fun didn’t stop with acquisitions and product announcements, though. Cisco now has a multi-pronged approach to innovation, which sets itself up well for the future.
2017 will bring even more change
Cisco certainly had a big year of change, and I expect 2017 to be even bigger. Why? Talk to any Cisco executive, and they will tell you in the digital era, companies must move with unprecedented speed and be willing to disrupt their own markets to thrive. The engine is revving, and here’s what we can expect from Cisco in 2017.
- Cisco will take a chunk of the security market. The security market is easily the most fragmented of all of the IT submarkets. It’s currently a $75 billion market, with no single vendor having anywhere close to double-digit share. Cisco, in particular, has fumbled around in security for years with different initiatives and architectures that have been ineffective.
Times are different today. As I pointed out in an earlier post, Cisco has never been positioned better in the security industry, and the company is finally using its greatest asset—its dominance in the network—to create tangible differentiation. Look for 2017 to be the year it breaks away from the competition and takes a chunk of the security share.
- Cisco breaks away in collaboration. Collaboration at Cisco has had its ups and downs over the past few years, but the company now pointed in the right direction. Spark was launched as a Slack-like team collaboration tool, but in actuality, it’s much more than that. It’s a fully integrated cloud, hardware and software experience that can deliver seamless, easy-to-use experiences on a mobile phone, desktop or meeting room. Expect Cisco to continue to innovate around Spark and create its next wave of growth in collaboration.
- The data center gets a shot in the arm with an acquisition. The Unified Computing System (UCS) carried the data center business unit at Cisco for years. Recently, though, the growth of the product has slowed. In fact, this past quarter saw the data center revenue fall 3 percent.
UCS is a great product, but the compute industry is shifting to hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). Cisco’s current offering, HyperFlex, is an OEM from SpringPath, and channel feedback has been that they would prefer Cisco to own the product rather than OEM it. The OEM allows Cisco to dip its toe in the water, and in 2017 Cisco will jump in with both feet by acquiring SpringPath, which will stimulate data center growth.
- Expect Cisco to focus on analytics. When one thinks of analytics, the name Cisco is rarely top of mind. However, analytics is becoming a core component of Cisco’s strategy. Not only is it at the core of the recently announced Tetration product, but it is also fundamental to the company’s differentiation in security, Internet of Things, network operations and collaboration. Expect to see Cisco do more analytics on more network data to differentiate its offering from the many smaller competitors that can’t match its footprint.
- Cisco will push its engineer base to learn new skills. Markets transition. That’s a fact. And when then do, the engineers who work with the technology need to change their skills. Most vendors don’t see the transition, won’t admit its happening or don’t want to upset their engineer base by forcing them to change. And that always ends up being a disaster.
Think of engineers who worked with mainframes, Token Ring, TDM voice, SNA and other trends. Most are gone, as are the vendors that sold the stuff.
One of Cisco’s competitive advantages is its huge base of engineers, many of whom are steeped in the way networking was done. Based on my discussions with Cisco executives, including Jeanne Dunn, who runs Cisco’s learning group, I believe Cisco wants to disrupt its engineer base and have them learn new skills—such as automation, data sciences, programming and business skills. Some won’t like the changes to the certification requirements, but the fact is Cisco engineers need to start developing skills for the digital era.
- Executive churn will slow down. Since Robbins took the helm, there has been a steady churn at the executive level, including Kelly Ahuja, Rob Soderberry and the famed “MPLS” group—just to name a few.
I believe Robbins’ team is set now. And while there might be the odd departure here and there, this is the team he’s going to run with.
One question I’ve been asked is if the company would replace the recently departed CTO Zorawar Biri Singh. I believe engineering is in the best hands they can be under the co-leadership of Rowan Trollope (IoT and applications) and David Goeckeler (networking and security), and the structure will stay as is. Get used to the faces at the top; they should be sticking around for a while.
One thing that will remain the same at Cisco is the company’s commitment to changing the world. Cisco’s former CEO, John Chambers, had a great desire to have Cisco make the world a better place. As I pointed out earlier this year, Robbins has picked up the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ball and is running with it faster than ever.
The world is becoming increasingly digitized, and many of the digital enablers—such as IoT, cloud and mobility—are network centric. The coming year presents Cisco a great opportunity to flex its enormous networking muscles and move into the next wave of growth.