Cisco CEO Robbins: Wait til you see what’s in our innovation pipeline

chuck robbins cisco ceo

It’s been a little over a year since from the venerated John Chambers. In that time, the face and pace of the IT realm has transformed -- from Dell buying EMC and HP splitting up to the swift rise of IoT and harsh impact of security challenges. Robbins has embraced this rapid change and, he says in this wide-ranging interview, moved the company forward with relentless speed to address everything from hyperconvergence to application-centric infrastructures.

Robbins recently talked with Chief Content Officer of IDG US Media John Gallant and Michael Cooney, a Network World Online News Editor, about how the company will transform now that some of its most well-respected innovators have left the company as well as how it plans to further implement SDN technology while bolstering its core networking gear.

John Gallant: You and I first spoke just a couple of days before you started as CEO, a little more than a year ago. How is Cisco a different company today and what would you point to as your major accomplishments during that period?

When I took the role, John, we talked about my desire to move with greater speed. I wanted to drive a level of clarity and simplicity internally in how we communicated. I wanted to create a leadership structure that gave us the opportunity to do both of those things. I also was very interested in evolving our portfolio to one that comprised more recurring revenue made up of subscription and software and SaaS-type businesses and overall I’m pleased with the progress that we’ve made. We worked hard on communicating more clearly to all constituents; customers, partners, press, as well as our investors. We’ve begun to articulate how our business model transition will occur and I believe the speed aspect is reflected in what I think is the incredibly robust pipeline of innovation over the next six, 12, 18 months that the teams are working on right now. I’m very pleased with where we are.

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JG: At that time, you talked about Cisco driving the deployment of what you were calling a hyper-distributed architecture. Can you first remind readers what that means and then tell us what progress you’ve made on that front?

As we think about, particularly, enterprise customers, the perimeter of their infrastructure continues to extend to the furthermost point that they have devices connected, whether those are users or whether those are mining facilities or vehicles. [The infrastructure] continues to become more and more distributed and the need for security and the ability to process data, do analytics filtering, all of those things throughout the infrastructure is the point that I was making. This is not going to be a centralized IT solution. It is going to be IT capabilities, technology capabilities deployed all throughout.

We’ve made a great deal of progress, particularly as we’ve added Jasper to our portfolio and giving our customers the ability to really integrate their native IT connected devices with machine-to-machine connected devices. {Ed. Note: Jasper is an Internet-of-Things technology platform.} We’ve made a tremendous amount of progress with our security architecture, driving security into the network all the way to the edge and all the way through the cloud. Giving our customers the ability to push compute capabilities and analytics to the edge for the purpose of processing data and gaining insights from these new connections, I think the teams have made good progress on too. I’d say we’re in the early stages but overall, really good progress.

JG: What surprised you about being CEO of Cisco in the year that you’ve been doing that?

The most surprising thing to me was, I guess, was the readiness from the organization to adapt to the change that we needed to adapt to and the speed at which they were prepared to move. That’s probably been the most positive surprise for me; that the organization is embracing the push to the business model shift, the accelerated pace that we want to drive, the simplicity, the clarity. It’s been very refreshing.

JG: Since we last spoke, there has been some pretty dramatic change in the IT industry. You’ve got, among other things, the largest merger ever with the creation of Dell Technologies. You have a huge company, Hewlett-Packard, splitting up into the consumer and enterprise components. You have IBM and Oracle going through these giant transitions to the cloud with some success and some failure along the way. What risks and opportunities have these changes created for Cisco as you strive to be the most important IT company, which is a phrase John Chambers used in a number of interviews with us in the past?

What’s clear, based on the decisions that all of the major IT players are making, including the four that you mentioned, is that the environment and the industry and our customers’ expectations are moving faster than they ever have. Whatever that leads you to from a business conclusion perspective, you have to get there and you have to be decisive. All of these companies and Cisco have made decisions they believe were appropriate for them in light of the transitions that are going on. The overarching message is that all of us in technology and every industry around the world have to adapt very quickly, have to be willing to make the decisions that we need to make in order to remain competitive, in order to meet the changing dynamics in the marketplace.

As it relates to opportunities for us, some of the companies you mentioned are partners and some are competitors. Anytime there are either major divestitures or major integration work going on, typically it gives an opportunity to us - assuming that we’re competing with that particular company - to gain market share and to continue to be a steady presence with our customers. I feel like our culture and our environment is quite prepared to make the decisions that we have to in order to deal with the changing landscape.

JG: When you think about HP Enterprise or Dell in particular, those are companies that are in security and in networking, in the server market. Specifically, how will you capture market share now as they’re going through such big changes with customers, as well as internally?

I think about those two companies differently, obviously. Dell and EMC, we continue to think of them more from a partnership perspective. We clearly have some competitive overlap with VMware but there is still an opportunity. The VCE partnership continues to be positive for us and we continue to talk about how we can look at joint opportunities together in the marketplace. As it relates to HP, they have been largely a networking competitor for many years and we don’t see a significant shift in how they’re approaching the market right now. We will continue to compete much like we have historically.

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