For years, Cisco, along with many other network device manufacturers, has approached network management primarily as an enabler for network device sales. While this makes sense given the very different nature of the markets for switches and routers compared to network and system management software, times have changed.However, let me first relieve any concerns from independent software vendors that partner with Cisco. Cisco's direction does not indicate an interest in becoming a full, multivendor provider of management software. The new interest in network management should make partnering with Cisco easier and more effective, just as it should enable Cisco customers to take a more strategic, systemic view of their networking investments. Ultimately this will mean higher value and higher return for both partners and customers.A balanced summary of the new directions, given the breadth of Cisco's product portfolio, is far beyond the scope of this column. But here are a few significant indicators of this more strategic direction:* Last year Cisco began to map out a strategy for service provider management that is stunning in scope. It reflects a true management architecture for gathering and correlating management data, and making information available to multiple management partners. This strategy has its roots in Cisco Intelligent Agents (CIA), including agents such as Service Assurance Agent, and percolates upwards through what Cisco terms "Intelligent FCAPS policy engines" for consolidating agent data for access by other management tools. It is complemented by Common Services for topology, workflow and event management, providing better interaction between other vendors' management applications and Cisco gear. Finally, Cisco is using a publish-and-subscribe message bus for integrating agent and application data.* On the enterprise side, Cisco is also consolidating features, functions and usability under the CiscoWorks brand. One area of focus there is visualization - what Cisco calls its "management intranet." This allows administrators to access any Cisco management tool from any PC-based Web browser. Another area of management integration is CiscoWorks Resource Manager Essentials (RME), which provides broad-based administrative capabilities, including configuration control, across a wide number of products. CiscoWorks is also looking at integrating data store, data access and policies across multiple types of network devices for eclectic or vertical (for instance, voice-over-IP) environments, and is expanding capabilities for interacting with partners' products (for example, exchanging data).* Cisco has already had a long history with standards bodies such as the Distributed Management Task Force and the TeleManagement Forum - but the difference now is that Cisco is building more intelligence and common architectural directions into its products.* Cisco is paying increased attention to adding value through partner initiatives.* Cisco initiatives in security, VoIP, and wireless LANs address fundamental management requirements and in some areas reflect significantly advanced attention to management fundamentals.The fact that the enterprise and service provider management paradigms are in many respects coming together can benefit Cisco, if Cisco is willing to proactively exploit the confluence. For instance, SAA is already a prime source for many enterprise service-level management and performance management products, and NetFlow is becoming a more important option for enterprise customers looking to measure and manage the impact of application services on the infrastructure.Clearly, there has been a fundamental shift in the way IT must operate - away from viewing technology as overhead and toward running IT as a business. Control, optimization, and managing to the business (which means managing to the service for both IT and OSS) are becoming increasingly important. Cisco customers have long viewed the company as a "systems" provider for their networks, and management is a central contributor to any systems investment.It should be made clear that this attention to management strategy is still relatively new, and must face both technical and cultural obstacles before it can reach its full potential. But if it should, the upside potential for Cisco and its customers will be profound indeed.