Cisco's new CTO talks first impressions

It's been three months since Padmasree Warrior left Motorola to become Cisco's CTO. Since then, she's not been available for interviews - until now. Network World Managing Editor Jim Duffy caught up with her at the Cisco Live! customer conference in Orlando.

It's been three months since Padmasree Warrior left Motorola to become Cisco's CTO. Since then, she's not been available for interviews – until now. Network World Managing Editor Jim Duffy caught up with her at the Cisco Live! customer conference in Orlando.

What's your assessment of Cisco's technology direction in the three months you've been CTO?

Cisco has a lot of technology depth. It is very good in having a deep understanding of some of the core domains that Cisco serves, like routing, switching, security, understanding what's involved in bringing different types of networks together. It is also very good about thinking and being ready and being willing to change for the future. There's more thought and hunger to understand software as a service and mobility, which is my background.

Where is the company weak?

The opportunity or the difference that I find from the companies that I've worked with in the past – Cisco is very good at catching transitions as they occur. What we need to get better at doing is painting a picture of what the vision should be and actually creating a transition ourselves. Not just catching them but actually how do we create a transition? … We are beginning to do that with the concepts around visual networking. That's an area where Cisco is painting a vision for the future and leading, because no other company talks about visual networking. And I like that word a lot because it combines video with social networking concepts.

What are your priorities?

To really crystallize and help Cisco beyond even the strategy; put some metrics in place to drive growth. A framework for metrics around the 22 company priorities for the year. How do we know when we've crossed the chasm? Because all of those are different: Green is different from visual networking is different from collaboration. So part of my role is to put concrete operational metrics around future growth strategies.

The second focus area is to work a lot with customers, to understand their needs going forward. How can we build to the future that together we create.

The third thing is to look at disruptions: What's changing in the industry in terms of the compute model, in terms of understanding the disruptions, and then putting our plans in place.

I strongly believe visual networking is a major priority because it enables us to do so many things so differently. Of visual networking as broader than video, video is a subset of it.

Collaboration is another one. Collaboration to me means two things: One is sharing ideas when we're in a business environment; but the other is actually not just sharing ideas but working to develop business processes together, not just within a company but intercompany. (Compare Collaboration products.)

Virtualization is the next priority. Virtualization enables us to do more things in the cloud., bringing strengths to the enterprise but protect some of the things we have in the current traditional model for large enterprises.

Mobility is also going to drive some of the focus. To me, mobility is different from the mobile device itself because mobility really means having access to information and content; Green will be focused on just because sustainability is going to be such an issue for the whole world; Globalization in terms of not just talent but more as market opportunity -- how can we innovate in India so we can take that solution quicker to the buyer rather than doing it from here.

Coming from Motorola, how do you size up Cisco's mobility portfolio?

The focus is very different. Motorola was very much a mobile device company also focused on some of the infrastructure and applications. Cisco is coming from the network, really using the network as a platform to deploy some of these solutions onto any device. The strength that Cisco has is that we can deploy services and applications across any device because we have the network we can use as a platform. And then going forward, if you think about the software-as-a-service model, we can provide even mobility services. Cisco is probably better positioned to provide any device/any service across any network. The value is going to be in the service delivery. Remaining agnostic to any particular device is actually a strength for Cisco.

Are there any technology areas where you think Cisco should decelerate or exit?

I can't tell yet that I have come to that conclusion. We are looking at it, especially with the Development Council, in terms of if you want to invest more aggressively in virtualization, collaboration are there things we need to invest less in. I don't have the answer yet but I hope to get there. We, as a team, hope to get there in the next six months or so.

How do work you with the Chief Development Office (CDO) and the CDO Council?

There's a very tight linkage. I work with three major constituencies: the field organization, the Development Council… we have a very good connection because the development council is more focused on execution. They're executing on products more near term making sure that things are delivered on time. There's a strong connection in the sense of if I think this is a particular area I think we should go after we work together. I would go to the council, I would share my vision, they would give me feedback. So, it's a dialogue going back and forth.

The third organization I work closely with is the IT organization. Because a lot of the things that we want to do in terms of future implementation we want to test out. And (Cisco CIO Rebecca Jacoby) has an organization that thinks about how to deploy some of the technology.

Another big part of my role is going to be to drive innovation, both at Cisco or incorporating it from the outside. So I also work closely with the M&A organization that Ned Hooper leads. I truly believe that innovation comes from having an inside engine but also tapping into what's happening outside.

What's Cisco's most immediate technology need?

I don't think it's a Cisco need as much as an industry need. If you think about what's happening with the industry, you can think of it as either a convergence or a collision. Convergence because we are truly merging content, communications, computing and commerce. It's a collision because different industries come at it form different angles. Google and Amazon come form the application down into the infrastructure; infrastructure companies are going up. Wireless and wireline are converging as well. So it changes the landscape of who competes with whom in the future and who becomes your friend.

So what I think what Cisco needs more of in terms of technology and talent is moving from infrastructure to more providing the applications associated with the infrastructure. You have to think about how users interface with the technology. So user interface becomes a very important aspect that we have to think about. As the enterprise gets more consumerized, it has to be very simple, it has to be one click. It's user interface, usability – how simple is it to set up. It's that kind of focus that we need more of.

With 22 priorities a year and major initiatives to be No. 1 or No. 2 in visual networking, collaboration, unified communications in consumer, SMB, enterprise and service provider… Is there ever a feeling that Cisco's bitten off more than it can chew?

I actually thought that when I came to Cisco. The first week I was here I sat down with (CEO) John (Chambers) and said, 'How can we have 22 priorities?' Now I'm a big believer in it. There's two ways of looking at it: One way is to say, let's just have two priorities and execute really well on those two priorities. The danger with that is nobody knows which ones are the right priorities – you could put all of your eggs in the wrong basket. That's a huge risk.

The other reason why you need a company to be able to handle multiple things at the same time is…it's not like the same people working on video are working on virtualization. Two sets of leaders are leading those efforts. So if you want to grow from a $40 billion company to a $60 billion or $80 billion company, John's vision with the councils and the boards is (correct). As I see more of that, I actually think it's a great process which companies don't have, and they fail miserably. When companies and decision making are very siloed, each business unit starts competing with the other. That can destroy a company. I'm much more a believer in the collaborative model. Just because I don't think anybody knows all of the answers, no matter how smart you think you are. The way the Internet drives information aggregation – you can't keep up.

The trick is, what are the metrics that you are going to use across the 22 priorities? How do you replicate that model?

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