Cisco chief outlines digital transformation opportunity, strategy

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

SAN FRANCISCO — The challenge of digital transformation for businesses, that of interconnecting a variety of sensors and systems, is at once unfamiliar and familiar territory for Cisco and its channel partners, CEO Chuck Robbins said at the company’s second Partner Summit of 2016 here. While it’s exciting and new to customers, the idea of living in a world where “everything is going to be connected” is in the wheelhouse for Cisco partners, he said.

“For all of us in this room, who’ve been working together for two decades, we’ve seen this movie before — connecting disparate systems, disparate protocols, and creating value for customers,” Robbins told partners.

The difference — what will make this “the biggest technology transformation of our lifetime” in Robbins’ estimation — is twofold: First, he said, the change is going to happen incredibly fast. And second, it’s going to be nearly universal in scale.

“It’s going to happen across every industry at once,” Robbins said. “Customers in every category are looking for how technology changes everything, how it creates new revenue streams.”

There are a couple of forces at work that will present both challenges and opportunities to the channel, in Robbins’ estimation. Over the last couple of years, Cisco (and to be fair, many other players in the tech industry) have talked about a shift from selling products, to selling business outcomes. That only accelerates as customers start buying digital business transformation concepts rather than technology products, and Robbins said it will “fundamentally change how we engage.”

The opportunity is huge if you accept the premise that every industry is going to go through this transformation, and Cisco’s assertion that to get the most of the transition, customers will have to be on the latest and greatest infrastructure. Robbins quoted recent Gartner numbers that suggest for every dollar spent on innovation in digital transformation projects, customers will have to spend seven dollars on the modernization of their infrastructure. Almost 90 per cent of customers, Robbins said, “do not have the right technology in place to accelerate their digital strategy.”

“We have the collective portfolio, we have unbelievable capabilities, and we have the most comprehensive ecosystem on the planet to help customers through this disruption, to help them lead their own disruption, and to create unprecedented value for our customers,” Robbins said. “Our customers know there’s so much to be done, and they’re looking for partners to help them achieve the possible.”

With so much up for grabs, Robbins seized again on the frequent Cisco assertion that the company and its partners will have to speed up in everything they do — especially decision-making — in order to capture the possible opportunities. He said Cisco will have to make intelligent decisions based on available data, but can’t afford to wait too long to make its moves, indicating he’d prefer that Cisco and partners err on the side of making bold decisions too soon than waiting too long for all the details to be clear, and the opportunity in the rear-view mirror.

“If you wait until you have all the information, you will die,” Robbins warned partners.

He outlined what he called a fundamental paradox in customer needs and wants right now, saying they at once understood that technology has never been more important than today, but they want their technology to “get out of the way” of the business.

That’s leading to four key operating principals that will guide everything Cisco does in product and architecture development. Robbins said that the company has to focus on making technology more simple, automating as much as possible, taking advantage of intelligence in the technology, and building security into everything.

“Everything has to be simple, intelligent, automated, and secure,” he told partners. “This is the only way we can possibly move with the speed we need to move.”

Robbins finished his address by rallying the troops, underscoring again the scale of the opportunity Cisco believes in digital transformation of businesses, and stressing commitment to partners in meeting that opportunity.

“We have navigated every transition we’ve faced through the last two decades, and we’re going to navigate this next one,” Robbins told partners. “Given the challenges and complexity our customers are facing, I believe there’s never been a better time for you, and we will do everything in our power to help us win together.”