Cisco sets sights on simplicity

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins at Cisco Live 2023

LAS VEGAS — Cisco announced a torrent of new products across its broad portfolio at its Cisco Live event here this week, but paradoxically, the day’s message is to keep it simple.

In his show-opening address to customers and partners, CEO Chuck Robbins said his company, and the technology industry in general, has “loved features” for years, creating new functionality to get customer attention without paying much attention to how or even if customers use those features. 

“For years, this has been a features game, but if you can’t deploy them, they’re no good,” Robbins said. “The number one feature we need to focus on is simplicity, the simplicity of your experience deploying our technology.”

The company’s approach to making this happen involves slashing the number of discrete products it focuses on in terms of broader plays as it continues its evolution towards creating a smaller number of larger “platforms” upon which its offerings and those of partners will reside. So while individual networking components will continue to exist and be marketed, the focus will be on the Cisco Networking Cloud, which aims to abstract as much of the nuts and bolts of the network as possible, and the Cisco Security Cloud, which creates a similar framework for its security offerings.

Those two are joined by the newly-minuted Full Stack Observability Platform, introduced here this week. It brings a great deal of Cisco’s monitoring and alerting capabilities under one roof as part of its play for helping customers rearchitect their applications. 

Over time, even those disparate platforms will develop common threads. Jonathan Davidson, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco’s networking business, showed off a combined user interface with single sign-on across Networking Cloud and Security Cloud management consoles. The goal, he said, was “no more swivel-char between various applications” for network admins.

Cisco executive vice president Jonathan Davidson at Cisco Live 2023.

“We believe we have an opportunity to simplify your job, to unify the experience,” Davidson said, highlighting what he described as simplified licensing, such as the ability to subscribe to Catalyst hardware, software and support as a single item.

If it executes its approach of simplifying around platforms, it will make integrating acquisitions easier, Robbins told press and analysts in a post-keynote briefing. While the company is keen to highlight homegrown innovations, it has a long history of buying smaller companies to expand its solution set. Future acquisitions will have to integrate into those platforms, which Robbins said will make bringing new companies into the fold much more manageable. 

The company also added supporting its customers’ sustainability efforts to its core raisons d’etre. In part, Robbins joked with attendees because it has to help its customers get their sustainability efforts under control to meet its own “scope 2” and “scope 3” emissions goals. But he also said the company sees an opportunity. He said more customers are approaching Cisco about sustainability, and Cisco has much experience. In this discussion with press and analysts, Robbins said he sees an opportunity for the company to use that knowledge to help its customers. He likened it to its Internet Business Solutions Group of nearly two decades ago, a group that Cisco spun up to use its experience in networking to help its customers build their e-commerce offerings. 

“We’ve been a leader in this a lot longer than many companies,” Robbins said, and its has both wisdom it can share and systems it can offer.

And, of course, because Cisco Live is a technology conference held after November 2022, artificial intelligence was front and centre. AI has featured most prominently in the company’s collaboration portfolio, powering features like automatic transcription and real-time noise reduction, with much more to be announced even this week. But the company’s announcements here at Live feature plenty of references to AI-powered capabilities, with demonstrations including automated security policy deployment based on a generative AI engine and an automated SOC incident response assistant, both of which are slated to roll into Cisco’s security offerings by the end of the year.

Cisco executive vice president Jeetu Patel at Cisco Live 2023

Jeetu Patel, the company’s executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration, said the company has to introduce and adhere to a “responsible AI profile and framework” and work with regulators to ensure the upside of AI is maximized, and the downside minimized.

“It’s going to be such a game-changer in this era, and we want to innovate not just for the short term but also for the long term,” Patel told press and analysts. “I’ve never been more pumped about a transition or as paranoid about what could go wrong.”

“We want to do great things with AI,” Robbins said in his keynote presentation. “And we want to do it in a responsible way.”

Robert Dutt

Robert Dutt is the founder and head blogger at He has been covering the Canadian solution provider channel community for a variety of publications and Web sites since 1997.