LAS VEGAS — Despite a laundry list of challenges, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said Tuesday he believes IT will fare well in the near future regardless of the fate of the broader economy.
Kicking off the company’s first in-person Cisco Live since before the pandemic here, Robbins opened his keynote by listing a number of the big problems facing the world — runaway inflation, the war in Ukraine, the still-existent uncertainty around the COVID pandemic, and stubborn and long-lasting supply chain issues.
“Other than that, things are pretty smooth,” Robbins quipped in his typically dry style.
While all of these things are leading up to a great deal of trepidation and what can most charitably be described as concern that the world is facing down economy’s big R-word, Robbins indicated he believes IT will hold its own or even punch above its weight for the near future.
In past recessions, tech CEOs have discussed the possibility of IT doing better than the rest of the market because of the ability of technology to improve challenged corporations’ standing, allowing them to do more with less in many cases. But this time, things are different, in Robbins’ estimation. This time, business leaders have first-hand and recent experience with the ability of technology to allow their organizations to adapt and survive in the face of one of the most significant disruptions many businesses have ever faced.
“During the pandemic, they learned technology was very powerful,” Robbins told attendees. “All of my peers — the CEOs, the heads of state, the heads of government, now understand what you do more than ever before. They got up close and personal with it, and then their imaginations started racing.”
That’s a far cry from past slowdowns when in reality, tech spending was often among one of the first things to be chopped from slimming budgets.
“I’m not naive enough to think that we won’t see some slowdown, but we won’t see it as we saw it in the past when IT was seen as a cost centre,” Robbins told press and analysts in a post-keynote panel discussion. “It’s a big shift. There’s an understanding of the power of the technology to both lower costs and improve revenues at the top levels of business today.”
He encouraged attendees, customers and partners alike to embrace those lessons learned and “continue to drive the transformation in whatever entities we work in.”
“You have the full support of the executives, and there are so many problems we can actually solve with this technology,” Robbins told attendees.
And just in case you’re a big believer that “this too shall pass” in today’s big challenges, Robbins added a caveat that Cisco, its customers, and partners should, at least to some degree, be ready to embrace chaos.
“The new reality is that there’s always going to be some kind of crisis,” he told attendees.
Regarding priorities for his own organization, Robbins identified the need to keep innovating, drive security, and simplify Cisco’s offerings from the perspectives of both IT management and users.
The company’s shift towards software and services and its move to offer more of its portfolio as a service has been one of the most prominent marks of the Robbins era of Cisco. The chief executive said that evolution continues, calling customer choice a fundamental tenet for the company.
In his session with press and analysts, Robbins reflected on how that is changing how Cisco works with partners and how it will work with partners going forward. He noted that Cisco partners have always been good at transition and transformation, but the nature of those transformations has changed.
“Twenty years ago, it was about the next generation of technology — from routing to switching to security to VOIP and the like,” he said. “But the last seven or eight years, it’s been more about business model transformation, which is much more complex to drive.”
Today, he sees the role of partners following the trend set by the most prominent word in technology, in the cloud, and work.
“It’s almost a hybrid business model in a lot of cases,” he said. “We’re going to need traditional design and integration services in some aspects. And there are some aspects where customers are going to buy a service from us, and we’re working with them to help drive the adoption of that technology.
As has been the case in many of these transitions over the year, some partners are “going even harder and faster than we are,” a large number of partners are keeping pace with Cisco’s transition, and some “won’t make the transition.”
“That’s just the way it’s always gone, historically,” he said.