Robbins to partners: Software equals differentiation

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins

DALLAS — It has been said that in the future, every company will be a software company. And kicking off the company’s Partner Summit 2017 here, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins urged partners to think about their own software games. In his broad presentation of the company’s vision to partners, the CEO called partner-developed applications written to Cisco’s growing number of APIs “an unbelievable opportunity”

“The API structure we’re putting in place across the portfolio allows you to differentiate your offerings more than ever before, not just by adding the best services around our products, but by adding your own [intellectual property] on top of the platforms we’re building,” Robbins told partners. “It opens up a huge new set of opportunities for you, and creates an opportunity for our customers to create more innovation and move faster.”

Robbins said the company has invested heavily in its DevNet developers program to help partners build out their own application development efforts, programming on the infrastructure.

“If we go this together, we drive more predictability and profitability,” Robbins told partners. “If you differentiate your solutions to customers through your IP, that comes with higher profitability. And if we help them navigate their whole journey, we’ll continue to be a strategic partner to our customers.”

The need for such differentiation and customization is driven by the digital transformation agenda that’s driving boardroom discussions across almost all industries, and Robbins stressed that every company is changing business models as a result of technology, business, and social trends.

“As are you. And as are we,” he added.

He took partners through the company’s own transformation since he took the reins as CEO just over two years ago. Last year, the company grew 31 per cent on recurring revenues, he said, and software now represents 11 per cent of overall product revenues, a $1 billion (U.S.) run rate business and growing at 40 per cent year-over-year.

The shift to software, he said, means the the company and its partners alike have to change their focus a little bit — getting beyond the comfort zone of finding and closing new deals, and getting better at supporting customers through the lifecycle of their technology purchases — a push Cisco started last year with its Customer Success efforts, helping partners to make sure they’re not only selling the company’s wares, but they’re making sure companies get the most out of those purchases.

“For 25 years, we’ve been really goo at selling stuff — at landing,” he told partners. “Now we have to build our capabilities around the software business, around adoption and renewal. It’s a great opportunity for all of us to add more predictability.”

Much of his presentation closely followed his presentation at the company’s Cisco Connect event last month in Toronto, stressing the five big pushes around which Cisco is focused: security, reinventing the network, embracing multicloud, data and analytics, and employee and customer experience.

And he offered perhaps the one sentiment that will always stay the same at Cisco — the network has never been more important to businesses than it is today.

“From the edge, to the cloud, to SaaS, to the data centre, to the mobile worker, the common denominator is the network. The network needs to do more in the new world,” he told partners.

Robbins opened his presentation to partners harkening back to being asked to join the Cisco channel sales organization almost 20 years ago, when Cisco was first making its big shift from direct to partner sales, and he ended with his pledge that long-term push will continue.

“We are going to make this transition together with you. Partner will be, and will remain, at the heart of this company as long as I’m here,” he said.